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August 07 2013

Four short links: 7 August 2013

  1. Toxic Behaviouronly 5% of toxic behavior comes from toxic people; 77% of it comes from people who are usually good.
  2. More Encryption Is Not The Solution (Poul-Henning Kamp) — To an intelligence agency, a well-thought-out weakness can easily be worth a cover identity and five years of salary to a top-notch programmer. Anybody who puts in five good years on an open source project can get away with inserting a patch that “on further inspection might not be optimal.”
  3. On Location With Foursquare (Anil Dash) — Foursquare switched from primarily being concerned with the game-based rewards around engagement and the recording of people’s whereabouts to a broader mission that builds on that base to be about location as a core capability of the Internet.
  4. The Flipped Flipped Classroomthe “exploration first” model is a better way to learn. You cannot have the answers before you think of the questions. (via Karl Fisch)

November 22 2012

Four short links: 22 November 2012

  1. Mark Your Territory — Urine integration for Foursquare. (via Beta Knowledge)
  2. TL;DR — news summaries. Finally.
  3. Zombie Ideas and Online InstructionThe repeated return of mistaken ideas captures well my experiences with technologies in schools and what I have researched over decades. The zombie idea that is rapidly being converted into policies that in the past have been “refuted with evidence but refuse to die” is: new technologies can cure K-12 and higher education problems of teaching and learning. The most recent incarnation of this revolving-door idea is widespread access to online instruction in K-12 education cyber-charter schools, blended schools where online instruction occurs for a few hours a day, and mandated courses that children and youth have to take.
  4. Google Open Sources Their Book Scanner — hardware designs for their clever system for high-throughput non-destructive book-scanning. (via Hackaday)

May 05 2011

Softly buzzing phones could yield better augmented reality

Current augmented reality technology primarily relies on the cameras in smartphones to connect users to surrounding environments. But is this interaction actually disconnecting users from reality rather than plugging them in? In a recent interview, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley said the camera sometimes gets in the way.

The screen shouldn't be between you and me, or me and the place. If the phone buzzes and I look at it silently and know what's going on, I think that's the experience Foursquare is going after. It's less to do with the screens in front of people's faces ...

Crowley said a more subtle interaction could actually result in a deeper connection to the surrounding environment without interfering with what's happening in real life.

Augmented reality, like holding up your phone and looking around? I'm not very bullish on that. But, you basically get the same results if you put the phone in your pocket, and it buzzes when you're near things — that's like a poor man's augmented reality, which I'm very bullish on.

For more of Crowley's thoughts on mobile and location, check out the full interview in the following video:

Disclosure: O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures is a Foursquare investor.



Related:


October 26 2010

Four short links: 26 October 2010

  1. 12 Months with MongoDB (Worknik) -- every type of retrieval got faster than their old MySQL store, and there are some other benefits too. They note that the admin tools aren't really there for MongoDB, so "there is a blurry hand-off between IT Ops and Engineering." (via Hacker News)
  2. Dawn of a New Day -- Ray Ozzie's farewell note to Microsoft. Clear definition of the challenges to come: At first blush, this world of continuous services and connected devices doesn’t seem very different than today. But those who build, deploy and manage today’s websites understand viscerally that fielding a truly continuous service is incredibly difficult and is only achieved by the most sophisticated high-scale consumer websites. And those who build and deploy application fabrics targeting connected devices understand how challenging it can be to simply & reliably just ‘sync’ or ‘stream’. To achieve these seemingly simple objectives will require dramatic innovation in human interface, hardware, software and services. (via Tim O'Reilly on Twitter)
  3. A Civic Hacktivism Abecedary -- good ideas matched with exquisite quotes and language. My favourite: Kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight. (via Francis Irving on Twitter)
  4. UI Guidelines for Mobile and Web Programming -- collection of pointers to official UI guidelines from Nokia, Apple, Microsoft, MeeGo, and more.

September 23 2010

Reality has a gaming layer

Kevin Slavin has been thinking about the intersection of games and daily life for nearly a decade. As the managing director of Area/Code, he's worked with Frank Lantz to integrate gameplay into the fabric of reality using a technique they call "big games." In the following interview, Slavin discusses the thinning boundary between the game world and the real world.

What are "big games"?

Kevin SlavinKevin Slavin: They're games that take place using some elements from the game system and some elements of the real world. Something Frank Lantz had worked on with Katie Salen and Nick Fortugno was called the Big Urban Game. It involved transforming the city of Minneapolis into a game board. They did that by using huge inflatable game pieces, about 25-feet high. The players, among other things, were moving these huge pieces around the city.

At Area/Code we built another big game in 2004 called ConQwest. It used huge inflatable totem animals that would take over the city. I think it was also the first use of optic code with phone cams in the United States. Players used Qwest phones that were programmed to recognize codes embedded throughout the city. Some codes were on huge billboards. Some were on the sides of coffee cups. Some were on napkins. The codes had infiltrated the city and players could unlock treasure with the magic technology of these phones.

That was a very exciting thing to play around with. It you chose to participate, you were experiencing the same physical space as always, but it involved totally different criteria and totally different objectives.

Using an urban landscape as a game board sounds a lot like Foursquare.

KS: It's not a total coincidence. Dennis Crowley was the third partner at Area/Code for a little while, in between being at Google and starting Foursquare. Part of the underlying ethos of Foursquare is also what is underneath Area/Code. There's a few of us who have been thinking about how "play" and the "city" were going to combine. We've been drinking the same Kool-Aid from the same cooler for quite a while.

How do virtual games like Second Life compare to the games you develop?

Kevin Slavin: We always thought we would use Second Life as the enemy, that it was the exact opposite of what we were trying to do. If Second Life was about trying to simulate reality optically, what we were interested in was running light interference with the real world to make it more interesting.

One thing that Second Life and the movement toward augmented reality have in common is that they both believe the pleasure of a game and the meaning of a game and the experience of a game rest primarily in the optics. The closer we can get to making something look like it's really there, the more excited we'll be about using it.

But I think that there's a fundamental misunderstanding about what makes games fun. Chess wouldn't be more fun if you had perfectly rendered kings and actual castles. Monopoly wouldn't be better if it was true to the actual layout of Atlantic City. What makes games great are the systems with which you're engaging. When you play a game, you're not so much looking at something; you're doing something.

I think one of the best examples of this is Tamagotchi, the plastic keychain that had a digital creature on it. You actually felt an obligation to this little creature. The creature itself was maybe eight pixels by eight pixels and black and white. What made it feel real wasn't that it looked real; it was that it acted real. It could articulate demands upon you that your eye itself couldn't do. In Tamagotchi versus Second Life, I'll go with Tamagotchi.

Aren't things like Tamagotchi the precursor to the repetitive games we see today, like FarmVille?

KS: That's a big question, and there's a lot of ways to answer it. I think as every form of culture has become ascendant, the idea emerges that we were once tidy and productive citizens who have suddenly shifted into a different mode of behavior and no longer value our time. Right now, social games are in focus. There's a lot of things to look at here that are very important and interesting.

For example, years ago we made a Facebook game called Parking Wars. It had incredible numbers, like a billion pages a year. The game was successful in part because it was so simple to engage with. Basically, you're trying to park illegally on somebody else's street and you're also trying to catch people who are parked illegally on your street.

Parking Wars had a bunch of side effects that were fascinating to watch. It became a kind of conversation that people were having with each other. There would be vendettas where people would check every five minutes to see if somebody in particular had parked on their street.

But I think what these games do is best characterized in a story that's ultimately very sad. At one point we added an ice cream truck into the Parking Wars mix. If it was parked on a street, it amplified the value of all of the other cars. There was an alpha player, a woman named Ellie, who would park the ice cream truck on a street and then let everybody know so they could come get double points.

It turned out that Ellie was very sick and ultimately, she passed away. What was so powerful was to see how everybody responded to her passion. What they wrote to her post-mortem were these really beautiful notes that talked about her generosity and her humility. The thing that's really interesting is how much of her personality she was able to express through 47 pixels of an ice cream truck.

That speaks to what games are really doing, which is allowing people to express themselves in a living system with other people who are doing the same. You're actually making decisions that are going to move one way or the other and that will have effects concretely on other people. I think that for many people, sometimes including me, real life doesn't always feel like something that you can have concrete effects on in a systemic way. It's not always easy to figure out how to be generous in a way that can touch a lot of strangers. Games allow us to do these kinds of things. It's true that what's happening in them is fictional and useless, but it's as fictional and useless as literature or cinema. Games allow us to see each other, for a moment, in a way that living in a city prevents.

If we make the real world part of a fictional world, will we ignore the real world that isn't part of that fictional world?

KS: When we were thinking about ConQwest -- the game with the optic codes -- the specific inspiration for that piece of it was the old James Carpenter film, "They Live." The conceit of that film is that if you have these glasses on, you can see the real world. This is a common trope in science fiction, but the idea that the glasses allowed our hero to see things differently and thus act on that shift in vision made us think: "God, what power that is. How beautiful that would feel."

I'd argue that we're already living in deeply fractured realities. I'm sitting in an office with a high-end laptop, and there are no fewer than three homeless people that I can see from my window. We are fractured, and this is particularly true in cities.

To turn it around a little bit, the thing that's powerful about these new forms of play is not so much that they fracture us into our individual realities, but that they're connect us to common ones. Something like Foursquare doesn't fracture the world. It pulls people together. Ultimately, if we can understand these game layers as a place where we're convening rather than the place where we're all departing from, I think there's a lot of beautiful things still left to do.


Kevin Slavin will discuss the influence of invisible systems at Web 2.0 Expo New York.




Related:

January 18 2010

Four short links: 18 January 2010

  1. On How Google Wave Surprisingly Changed My Life -- mandated in his small company that non-critical emails be turned into waves instead. Saw: more resolutions to arguments, less rehash of old territory, conversation gained structure and could be referred to afterwards, remote employees able to participate even when timezones prevented real-time. I've been looking for the use case that says "this is what Google Wave is really good for", and this is a great start. Note: small # of people, and in a company, so critical mass issue easily overcome.
  2. Open Data and APIs on Reddit -- a new subreddit created just for Open Data and APIs.
  3. Smart Meter Crypto Flaw Worse Than Thought -- poor seeding of the pseudorandom number generator in various chipsets, including those heavily used in embedded networked applications such as smart meters, means those devices are trivially insecure. (via Hacker News)
  4. Foursquare is Changing Our World (Mashable) -- Foursquare was perhaps the first to change our day and night life experiences into a social competition to essentially answer the question, "who has the most interesting life?" In fact, one key side effect of playing the game is that it inspires users to lead more active and interesting social lives. While this may all sound superficial and silly, the implications of social location gaming are quite significant. One of the many reasons that O'Reilly invested in Foursquare--glad to see someone noticing. (via timo on Delicious)

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