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Brainfood

I’ve been to a couple of conferences in the last couple of weeks which offered up delicious morsels of mind candy to get the brain juices going – the below is as much of a personal record for myself, but hopefully some of the below nuggets might give you some food for thought as well, and some interesting bits and pieces to find out more about.

[ photo courtesy - more incredible dConstruct 2010 sketchnotes here ]

 

Last Friday saw a trip down to Brighton for dConstruct 2010, which rocked. It was the perfect combination of thoughtful and inspirational talks and the chance to catch up with lots of friends, including Coates over from SF & Biddulph from Berlin. Yay.

Particular highlights included:

The Iraq War: Wikipedia Historiography

[ photo courtesy of James ]

James Bridle’s incredible talk on Wikipedia, Cultural Patrimony and Historiography. He talked about the stories behind our digital information, the history and the historiography – the stories behind the edits and changes made along the way:

I talked about Wikipedia because for me, Wikipedia is a useful subset of the entire internet, and as such a subset of all human culture. It’s not only a resource for collating all human knowledge, but a framework for understanding how that knowledge came to be and to be understood; what was allowed to stand and what was not; what we agree on, and what we cannot.

To illustrate his point, James took the Wikipedia entry on the Iraq War, and made a series of physical books to demonstrate the historiography of this particular piece of digital information – the incredible discussion taking place in the background:

This particular book — or rather, set of books — is every edit made to a single Wikipedia article, The Iraq War, during the five years between the article’s inception in December 2004 and November 2009, a total of 12,000 changes and almost 7,000 pages.

It’s pretty breathtaking. Such a stunning way of demonstrating the stories that lay behind the metadata of our digital information. The New York Times thought it was awesome too.

You can find more info about the talk on James’ blog, and listen to the talk on Huffduffer or view the slides on Slideshare.

 

Title slide: Everything the Network Touches

[ image courtesy Tom ]

My lovely and fantastically talented old pal Tom Coates wowed the audience with an utterly enthralling talk about the web of data (geeky confession, Tom and I met on t’internet even before we started blogging back in 2000 – we met on Usenet, way back in 1997/8, which is mindboggling as I can’t believe how the time’s flown by!) I can’t do it justice here, as Tom’s a masterful storyteller, and the journey he took us on was enlightening and wondrous. His slides were also the most beautiful I’ve ever seen (and I know how much he slaved over them!) – as such the deck’s a monstrous 1Gb+, and so too big to put up with all the beautiful videos and builds, but you can listen to the talk on Huffduffer and view the slides for yourself (warning – compressed PDF, but still 50Mb.)

 

[ play with the visuals here ]

Others found rather more creative ways to show their highlights of the day – the super-smart fellas at Rattle produced an awesome way to visualise their highs and lows of the day, a graph which updates in real time from their Twitter updates – and they’ve made the code freely available so you can tinker around with it yourself.

 

This weekend saw another conference, this time OpenTech 2010, which was a cracking day with lots of really thought provoking sessions, exploring the intersection between technology, politics, social change and justice.

[ photo courtesy Alice ]

Too much to detail here, but the day ranged from from a talk about the crowd-funded documentary Just Do It (about ‘getting off your arse and changing the world), to Open Data in clinical trials from everyone’s favourite Bad Scientist Dr Ben Goldacre, the awesomeness that happens when geeks meet government at Rewired State from the incredible Emma Mulqueeny (and her scarily talented Young Rewired state developers), jawdropping carbon usage visualisations from Gavin Starks from AMEE, the importance of preservation from Bill Thompson (lots of common ground with James Bridle’s aforementioned dConstruct talk), fantastic and inspiring stuff from the data.gov.uk team (including the always-impressive Chris Thorpe), and a wonderful panel on using the game-space for public engagement and social good from Alice Taylor, Tom Chatfield & surprise panellist Cory Doctorow (although sadly scheduled against Phil Gyford’s session on his terrific Today’s Guardian, which I was gutted to have missed).

 

I sadly had to duck out of the last session, but left feeling thoroughly stimulated, engaged & fired up. One of my personal highlights was the time spent chatting with the brilliant Dan Lockton, a designer who’s exploring how design can be used to influence behaviour – how people use products, systems and environments; how designers can influence interaction, and how we can design for sustainable behaviour.

[ image courtesy Dan ]

I’ve been a keen follower of his work for some time, and had eagerly downloaded his Design with Intent toolkit when it was first made available – and I’d urge you to check it out:

It’s in the form of 101 simple cards, each illustrating a particular ‘gambit‘ for influencing people’s interactions with products, services, environments, and each other, via the design of systems. They’re loosely grouped according to eight ‘lenses‘ bringing different disciplinary perspectives on behaviour change.

The intention is that the cards are useful at the idea generation stage of the design process, helping designers, clients and – perhaps most importantly – potential users themselves explore behaviour change concepts from a number of disciplines, and think about how they might relate to the problem at hand.

Dan was kind enough to give me a lovely physical deck of his cards, which was absolutely awesome as they are truly going to be an indispensable part of my planning arsenal. You can download the cards for free, and Dan’s hoping to be able to sell sets of physical cards (at cost) soon, which I urge you to do as they’re absolutely delightful, and a cracking aide to thinking about things differently.

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