Music and code: Great insights from David Johnson, Zed Shaw and others

March 26th, 2012 § 4 comments § permalink

Some random thought about music theory and structure (namely, loops) floating around my mind led to an interesting discussion of music and code this weekend. The discussion was topped off quite nicely by a comment Zed Shaw wrote on Reddit about why being a musician can make you a good programmer.


If you can’t see the embed above, view the discussion on Storify.

Journalism as a software application

March 24th, 2012 § 8 comments § permalink

Let’s say journalism — as a concept — is a software application. Software is a set of instructions that tells a computer what to do and how to do it. To make this comparison, I’ll use WordPress.

Journalism is a tool to be used, both by those who practice it and those who engage with it.

Journalism is inherently interdisciplinary, both in the subjects it covers and how those subjects are covered.

Journalism can applied to any subject, or theme. There are some basic themes you can start with and modify. Child themes can be derived from parent themes; for example, online learning as a child theme of education.

Journalism has core features. Research, reporting, verification, creation and more.

Journalism has more advanced functionality you could call plugins. These can improve the process or the product (here, meaning outcome). Analysis, visualization and feedback/participation mechanisms, for example. Sometimes that functionality gets incorporated into core.

The point is not to make an arbitrary comparison. And, yes, some of these comparisons are apples to oranges.

The point is to think more abstractly both about the concept of journalism and about journalism concepts. The basic ideas. The individual pieces. The fundamentals.

Journalism should be seen as a modular platform that we can customize, develop and improve.

Journalism is an open-source framework constantly in development.

No one owns journalism. No one controls journalism. Anyone can implement it. Anyone can fork it. Anyone can hack at its core.

What are you developing?

Update: I changed “practice” to “concept” in the first line. I think that’s more the frame I was looking for, as indicated by the 8th paragraph.

Quantifying impact: A better metric for measuring journalism

January 14th, 2012 § 31 comments § permalink

Before Isaac Newton, words like mass and force were general descriptors, as James Gleick writes in The Information:

“the new discipline of physics could not proceed until Isaac Newton appropriated words that were ancient and vague—force, mass, motion, and even time—and gave them new meanings. Newton made these terms into quantities, suitable for use in mathematical formulas.”

The term information was similarly amorphous until Claude Shannon, while working at Bell Labs, quantified the concept in bits.

* * *

The journalism goals and business goals for news organizations are out of sync.

Pageviews. Unique visitors. Time on site.

Some journalism might be best quantified partly or wholly by one or more of those ways, but we need to explore deeper beyond these fairly simplistic metrics.

We know how these terms are defined, but what do they really mean? What do they help us achieve?

In creating a theory of information and quantifying information in bits, Shannon aimed to remove meaning. “Shannon had utterly abstracted the message from its physical details,” Gleick says.

For journalism, the goal should be to add more meaning to the information we use to measure our work. Granted, our current metrics aren’t meaningless. We use them because they do have meaning: views, comments, shares, etc. each has a meaning and can be measured based on that one-dimensional measure. The quantities of metrics increase because the works of journalism they describe are meaningful. Or, put another way, impactful.

So, what if we measured journalism by its impact?

» Read the rest of this entry «

Notes from Happy Cog event on web design process and practice

November 24th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

On the evening of Nov. 18, I attended An Army of One or a Nation of Millions? Web Design Process and Practice with Happy Cog, presented by the Art Directors Club of Metropolitan Washington and hosted at the building of my soon-to-be employer, The Washington Post.

Collaborative design process can be...

"Collaborative design process can be..."

(Disclosure: I attended as a guest of the Post; I am not — yet? — an ADCMW member.)

I’ve included my chronological livetweets from the #adcmwhappycog event (P.S. not my idea for a hashtag), plus some tweets with photos by @AnneLikesRedChris Cashdollar (@ccashdollar) and Kevin Hoffman (@kevinmhoffman) gave the presentation, which I will embed or link here after it’s posted online.

Read their great insights and comment below with your thoughts:

greglinch: #happycog is different from other shops bc everyone works on a project. Also, everyone works in more than just their speciality.

greglinch: The official hashtag for the @happycog event is #adcmwhappycog. They’ll be discussing their processes and more.

greglinch: .@happycog processes generally include: project definition, IA, viz design (design systems for ease in future), programming #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: Process values at @happycog: collaborative, iterative and flexible. #adcmwhappycog

AnneLikesRed: http://twitpic.com/380xjq #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: All of the things I’ve mentioned in the past few tweets is more of a framework then part of a rigid process. #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: For each project, @happycog asks: What is the design challenge at hand & what is the culture of the org they’re working with? #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: What the @happycog process could be like. RT @AnneLikesRed: http://twitpic.com/380xjq #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: .@happycog will sometimes disconnect and completely focus on the work — sometimes working on paper to start. #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: Sample sketches from Build-a-Bear project, which never launched but, bc of that, they learned a lot #adcmwhappycog http://yfrog.com/28jgmfj

greglinch: At wireframe stage, they focused on the upsell and the call to action — the two fundamental reqs. #adcmwhappycog http://yfrog.com/mn3wqj

greglinch: Another view of #adcmwhappycog event. RT @robleto: Happy Cog speaking at ADCMW @ Washington Post http://instagr.am/p/Srh1/

greglinch: “Fast results have a cost.” Also, they have no-meeting zones to focus on work — and those are disconnected from email, etc. #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: Where are all the #ONADC tweets, peeps? Share the love! Read about @happycog event with: #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: Project definition/IA when working with clients: Early, open discussion with focused meetings #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: Wireframes at @happycog focus on hierarchy + persistence, *not* visual design #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: When you’ve worked with a wireframe for weeks and need to scrap it, it can be hard to get out the thinking of that wireframe. #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: “Rules need to be understood to be broken” #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: At @happycog, they’re great at generating ideas — they need to improve at removing ideas. #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: Photo of @HappyCog commenting system that’s character-limited and can be tweeted. #adcmwhappycog http://yfrog.com/0le4ifj

greglinch: They put ideas on the @HappyCog blog that are incomplete so people can weigh in and build on them. #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: .@HappyCog is mostly waterfall, with only a bit of agile, for their process. #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: “Use deliverables for discussion” — @HappyCog. #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: Mental Models is a book about “aligning design with human behavior” they recommend http://j.mp/bPBZIK #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: Use “existing research and design team as guinea pigs” for project. For Philly tourism site, asked what they’d do on weekend. #adcmwhappycog

AnneLikesRed: http://twitpic.com/381br2 #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: “Balance classification with context” — make sure info is where it needs be, not just like indexes in a library card catalog #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: Roughy 80 people attending #adcmwhappycog event.

AnneLikesRed: So true! http://twitpic.com/381fal #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: “The actual dynamic of group decision making” — You need convergent and divergent thinking #adcmwhappycog http://yfrog.com/jau2rzj

greglinch: Book recs: Rework http://j.mp/c1PlYh and Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making http://j.mp/af7oqi #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: Core Values: full participation, mutual understanding, inclusive solutions, shared responsibility #adcmwhappycog http://yfrog.com/9fvddnj

greglinch: “Pathways to Action Model” — process design, vision space, problem space, solution space, make it real #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: Collaborative Design Process: creative concepts, client review, single concept iteration #adcmwhappycog http://yfrog.com/17izxqj

greglinch: Techniques they use w/ clients to learn more include a scale for balancing site’s feeling & MadLibs #adcmwhappycog http://yfrog.com/c95s9bj

greglinch: “Being dogmatic is for the birds” — find the unique process needs for each project. #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: During Q&A: “People who tell you CMSes are separate from design is lying to you” — it does impact design decisions #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: Quite a coincidence that an attendee mentioned Edward de Bono + his book — I just discovered him on Tues http://j.mp/bCF2Pe #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: .@happycog looks for models — such as from other industries — that can solve specific interaction problems. #adcmwhappycog

greglinch: And that’s a wrap! Hope you all enjoyed the #adcmwhappycog tweets. My fingers (and iPhone) get the rest of the night off.

Steven Johnson and Scott Berkun on innovation

October 15th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Update: I’ve embedded a second video about The Myths of Innovation (thanks to a tip from Scott Berkun) and added a link to a related Q&A published on Berkun’s blog.

“Innovation”  is probably one of the most — if not the most — overused words you’ll read or hear on The Interwebs.

Despite how commonly it’s thrown around, there is still value in discussing innovation if you can avoid the silliness. Below are two people well worth listening to when they discuss this topic: Steven Johnson and Scott Berkun.

Steven Johnson and “Where Good Ideas Come From”

In late September, TED posted video of a July talk by Steven Johnson (embedded below).

Watch the video on TED.com

I’d been eagerly anticipating his book by the same name, Where Good Ideas Come From, so I watched the above TED talk, an animated summary (embedded below) and awaited the book’s release. Then I read that Johnson would be speaking at Politics and Prose in DC as part of a book tour, so I jumped at the chance to attend.

What I appreciate about Johnson’s approach is not that he claims to be selling some secret sauce, but instead reverse-engineers important innovations.

Based on my live tweets, below are notes from the event (in chronological order, edited for clarity and with some links added):

  • Johnson worked on the new book deliberately for four years. He started thinking about origin of ideas when writing Ghost Map.
  • He looked both at the places and environments that bred human and biological innovation, respectively.
  • He found seven recurring patterns in the innovations he explores, which became the chapters and helped structure the book. [Patterns/chapters: The Adjacent Possible, Liquid Networks, The Slow Hunch, Serendipity, Error, Exaptation, Platforms)
  • In all these moments of inspiration, it usually happens slower than we assume; involves borrowing and remixing ideas.
  • We have a desire to tell inspirations as moments of insight -- the "eureka" moment. But often that's not the case.
  • One man read Darwin's commonplace book and found that theory of evolution wasn't just a moment, but evolved over time. [read Johnson's post, The Glass Box and The Commonplace Book, which inspired the name of my Tumblr. Fred Wilson sees his Tumblr as one too.]
  • He found that innovative individuals have many loose ties to other areas — and hobbies. “Chance favors the connected mind.”
  • Question about the role of the sub-conscious. Answer: It’s not that the dream is expressing something, but that dreams help explore possible connections.
  • Me: Audible gasps when delivered big reveal in story about how GPS was born.
  • Me: Fascinating to hear about how ideas and slow hunches led to several of ‘s books. I’m always intrigued by such inspirations.
  • When profit motive causes people to close or protect ideas, you diminish ability to connect them with other ideas.
  • Musicians explore “adjacent possible” when Brian Eno has them play other instruments before recording the album.
  • Co-working spaces can foster innovation bc they bring people together, but not too structured or too unstructured.
  • Stewart Brand wrote “How Buildings Learn” — ability to change and adapt space is important.
  • In the recent past, we tended towards specialization. We’re moving back to being more interdisciplinary — we need to.
  • He disagrees with Nicholas Carr’s assertion and says that books are important not because of focus, but because of the ability to connect with distant ideas.

Scott Berkun and “The Myths of Innovation”

Thanks to a tweet from Mark Briggs, I participated in a webcast by Scott Berkun earlier this week called The Myths of Innovation: Remixed and Remastered. The webcast — and Q&A published on Berkun’s blog — was timed to coincide with the release of the paperback/updated version of his book.

View an overview of The Myths of Innovation on YouTube

View a Carnegie Mellon lecture on the The Myths of Innovation on YouTube

I’ll be sure to link the webcast replay when it’s available (also, check out The Top 10 Innovation Myths slideshow). For now, my live tweets from the webcast are below (in chronological order, edited for clarity and with some links added):

  • “Best thing since sliced bread” phrase refers to innovation not of just that, but that PLUS auto-wrapping to keep the bread fresh.
  • Avoid using: fundamental change, transformative, revolutionary, breakthrough, innovative, game-changing, out-of-the-box.
  • When he hears those words/phrases, he challenges the speaker to explain why something is being described as such.
  • You should worry about clear communication first, not “innovation.” “Don’t use it, you don’t need it.”
  • Innovation means significant positive change. It’s an outcome, not something you do as a daily activity.
  • Facts from @berkun: most products/companies suck, good products are rare, start with being consistently good, good is hard enough.
  • Occam’s Razor principle: if you have two solutions to a problem, the simplest one is probably the best.
  • “Big ideas look weird in the present.” The solution: learn to recognize and appreciate — don’t reject — weird ideas.
  • “Innovation is often best measured in relative fashion,” he says. “For any invention, there are multiple views on the value.”
  • Views of innovation: What you think, the person who buys thinks, makers think, the market thinks, historians will think.
  • “Creativity is a kind of work” that comes from effort, experience, etc. [It's not magic.]
  • Edison’s research lab was innovative because it created an environment for experimentation
  • “No idea in the world was achieved successfully on the first try” (via @followsprocess, see original)
  • Interesting juxtaposition: Edison’s lab shows tools and messiness vs. Apple stores make products seem like magic.
  • Things that are rare: teams that trust each other, leaders willing to take risks, people who value interesting mistakes
  • To increase goodness: make team smaller, give it more authority, increase trust & cover fire, choose adventurous people.
  • Keep an idea journal — even w/ weird ones — and come back to those later, you never know when they might be valuable.

Weigh in: What are some other valuable resources have changed your thinking or inspired you on the topic of innovation?

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