We’re happy to share some great news: in the next few months we will be launching a Kickstarter campaign for Storium, the online storytelling game.
[Inception trailer sound!]
That’s right, we’ve decided to crowdfund the next phase of Storium’s development. Crowdfunding is a perfect fit for our project because it lets us directly validate player interest in Storium while keeping our team focused on building the things our users want.
Everybody’s a storyteller.
Telling stories is a fundamental part of the human experience, and yet for too many of us it’s not a part of our daily lives. That’s a shame because stories are powerful, thought-provoking, and — most importantly — a lot of fun!
The world needs more stories — your stories, from your imagination. That’s why we’ve created Storium, the online storytelling game. …
If you haven’t read the “7th Son” series of sci-fi thrillers, you really should. They’re about a government human cloning project gone disastrously awry. It’s an epic story chock-full of bizarre technologies, memorable characters, and endless plot twists. I adore these books and ever since I read the first installment I’ve been hoping to someday collaborate with their author, the most excellent J.C. Hutchins.
That day has finally come: today my startup Protagonist Labs announced that J.C. has joined us as an advisor.
In addition to being a skilled and wildly creative writer, J.C. is a respected practitioner in the emerging field of “transmedia”, a discipline that blends different media and narrative techniques to tell stories that involve the audience and span many platforms (including print, web, mobile, TV, film, and games).
When I met J.C. he was one of the very earliest people to grok the core ideas behind Protagonist Labs. His enthusiasm and support mean a lot to me and I’m really proud to call him both a friend and, now, a collaborator.
Today we announced that Will Hindmarch (@wordwill) is our first advisor for Protagonist Labs. I’m over the moon about this news. I mean, I know that’s not physically possible and how would I even breathe in outer space let alone get up there in the first place but shut up I’m excited here okay?
Will is a respected designer and writer who has worked across a wide variety of media. While best known for his game design work – where he has been involved in some of the most influential tabletop and video games out there – he is also a writer of great skill and a deep thinker about the creative process.
Getting to know Will and inducting him into our circle of trusted allies has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me so far in this new startup. He brings unique perspectives and experience to the table, is a generous collaborator, and is a person of great integrity. He also shares our sense of excitement about the opportunity we’re working on.
I’m really proud to know him, and to have him involved in our efforts!
Today I unveiled my new startup, Protagonist Labs. I’ll have some more thoughts to share on the subject soon, but until then I’ll just say that I’m incredibly excited for this new adventure!
Protagonist Labs is a new startup founded on the belief that we all have inherent creative potential that technology can help us unlock. We are building digital tools that use the power of play to break down creative walls.
Our co-founders are Stephen Hood (product) and Josh Whiting…
Because Google Maps (like other mapping services) utilizes imaging data from multiple sources gathered at different points in time, the same geographic spot can sometimes look very different as you move between zoom levels and views.
Weather and seasons can change unexpectedly. Cars can disappear without a trace. Things that were are suddenly no more. It is, quite simply, a time machine.
Recently I ran across an example of this effect that is particularly interesting, and bittersweet.
For many years Steve Jobs lived in an old Woodside mansion known as the Jackling House. Built 85 years ago in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, many considered it historic. And yet Steve purportedly hated it. He wanted to tear it down and replace it with a more modest, modern home. For years he battled preservationists, and then in February of this year he finally won the fight and demolished the house.
In searching Google Maps for the house’s location I discovered something unexpected: it’s still there. Kind of. See for yourself:
Location of the Jackling House, Woodside, CA on Google Maps
Here’s a screenshot of the map, since at some point soon the imagery will be updated:
There the house stands, dilapidated yet still proud. But turn off the 45° imagery mode, and the house is instantly replaced with an image of the current reality: a barren field.
Steve had the right to do what he did, and I’m sure he had his reasons. But I’m still saddened by the Jackling House’s destruction. It was, to my eye, unique and beautiful.
Now all we have of it is this digital afterlife, an echo of something great. Pondering the sad symbolism here is an exercise I leave to the reader.
The first time I saw a computer — an Apple ][+ in my elementary school’s library.
The first time I made the turtle move in Logo.
The day the guidance counselor nervously asked my mother, “Do you know how many floppy disks your son has?”
The first time they kicked me out of the local library for cheering too loudly while playing Karateka on their Apple //e.
The excitement of the day we brought home my first computer, an Apple //c.
The time I cut the end off of a phone cable, stuffed the wires into the serial port, wrote a simple program to parrot-back canned dialog, and used the whole setup to trick a friend into thinking I was pulling a real-life “Wargames”.
The hours spent exploring local BBSs with my 1200 baud modem. The excitement of downloading illicit software, 140KB at a time.
The day my parents bought me an Apple IIGS for Christmas. (Later, my attempts to mask my disappointment at realizing they had neglected to also purchase an Apple 3.5” drive, thus relegating said computer to the role of a slightly-faster Apple //c.)
The many years of tinkering, exploration, and happiness that computer ultimately gave me.
On this sad day my spirits are somewhat lifted by the realization that I can trace much of my life’s trajectory back to these early experiences. I am the person I am today in no small part due to Steve’s work. And I am profoundly grateful.
Oh, and that first computer? I’ve still got it. I think that says it all.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go fire up Karateka.
Lawrence Coburn of The Next Web wrote yesterday about “The Unlit Social Graph”. It’s a well-framed article and worth a read. Coburn’s premise is that Facebook, despite its pervasiveness and dominance, does not represent the only type of social graph in our lives. There are many other networks out there but they currently lie dormant. Tremendous opportunity exists for startups that can “light up” these networks.
John Battelle adds:
Embedded in these statements is a fundamental truth: that not every social connection is equal. Certainly, very few of our social connections truly qualify as “friendship” — at least in the way we formerly used the term. And yet our recent habit has been to paint them all with the same broad stroke.
Relationships are shaped by the context in which they exist. Neighborhoods are a great example, wherein the context is a very special location — my home. While we have much to gain from being connected to our neighbors and our neighborhood, we don’t always want to be “friends” with our neighbors. That’s because we can’t easily escape these relationships once they have been created. As a result we now live in a time where most people don’t know their neighbors names. We are living together, yet alone. This is a problem that can’t be solved by a social graph of friends.
The good news is that both culture and industry are waking up to the differences between these social graphs and the opportunities they present. I believe that we are entering a new era that I (with tongue in cheek) call the “post-friend economy”.
Facebook isn’t going anywhere, of course. But in this world, Facebook’s social graph is one of many we interact with. Instead of seeing every relationship in the context of “friendship”, we use tools that more accurately reflect the diversity of relationships we maintain in the real world.
These tools work in a way that makes sense for the context. That means many different levels of personal identity, sharing, and conversation. It means networks created around places, affinity, and time. And perhaps most importantly, it means the ability to unplug and “erase” ourselves from these networks as our own context changes (e.g. when I move to a new neighborhood, when I tire of playing basketball, or when a concert is over).
At Blockboard we see ourselves as a post-friend application*, one that is focused on the problem of activating neighborhood networks. This is just one of the hundreds of latent graphs that will be activated over the next few years. Things are going to get interesting.
* Hmm, a “post-friend application” sounds like something a Terminator would install on their iPhone. Needs work.
I left Yahoo over two years ago, but prior to that I spent three years running product for Delicious. Since then I’ve remained a loyal user and supporter. To this day I keep in touch with former Delicious colleagues and consider many to be friends. And though I’ve felt that Delicious has been frustratingly slow to evolve in recent years, I’ve always wished the best for the product and the remaining team members.
original photo: afagen on Flickr All of this has made last week’s news especially saddening and painful. First the Delicious team was hit by layoffs. Then it emerged that Yahoo is either shutting down Delicious or trying to sell it. As I write this it is still not entirely clear what the real story is, but regardless Delicious is in peril.
An online debate has already begun about various ways that Delicious might be “saved”. As someone who was on the inside for a while and who wants very much to see Delicious live on, I thought I’d chime in. For the record, what follows are opinions based on my own experiences. I have not spoken to anyone inside Yahoo about this and I do not have any special knowledge about the current situation.
Convincing Yahoo to keep investing in Delicious
This is unfortunately a non-starter. Last week much of the team was laid off and my guess is that the product is now at best staffed for “maintenance mode”. This sends a fairly clear message and it’s not something Yahoo can easily reverse because they have lost already-scarce expertise in both the product and the complicated technology stack that underpins it.
Selling Delicious to a third-party
This certainly seems like the best option for Delicious and its users, and I hope that Yahoo is able to pull it off. But it’s not a straightforward proposition. As mentioned above, most of the team is now gone. Last week’s leak (and the subsequent fallout) also did unfortunate damage to the Delicious brand, sending panicked users to competing products.
But ultimately the real challenge here will be the technology. During my time at Delicious we rebuilt the entire infrastructure to deeply leverage a number of internal Yahoo technologies. It’s all great stuff but not exactly easy to remove or replace. Yahoo may have to license some of this technology to the buyer. I’m not sure they’ve done that before.
Open sourcing Delicious
This is a seductive concept but doesn’t make much sense. As in the case of a sale, they would need to unwind a bunch of proprietary technologies before this could happen. And open sourcing a complex product isn’t as simple as switching your GitHub repository from private to public. It involves a lot of work to clean up and document the source. For Delicious this would add up to a huge effort that would be hard to justify purely on a financial basis. Even then, it’s not clear how an open source social bookmarking system would work, given that much of its value comes from being centralized.
Donating Delicious to the Library of Congress or the Smithsonian
Now we’re getting closer. While it is folly to assume either of these institutions could take over Delicious and keep it running as a viable service, it does seem like they would be interested in preserving the Delicious corpus and making it available for research.
I love Delicious for many reasons, but chief among them is that it is the Internet’s memory storage device. In the 7+ years of its existence it has recorded the collective online journeys of millions of users during a time when the Web was evolving dramatically. Those memories are irreplaceable and have enormous value both to their owners (the users) and to society.
And so this is where we end up: Delicious may or may not have a future as a service, but regardless we can still “save it” by extracting and preserving its collective memories. There are two ways to do this:
- Yahoo could proactively release the corpus of publicly-shared bookmarks and tags. This could take the form of a mass data dump into the public domain, or it could be via an agreement with an institutional partner (much like Twitter did earlier this year).
- The Delicious user community could organize to save the data themselves via a coordinated harvesting project.
The second approach could produce valuable results but would require no shortage of cleverness in order to avoid triggering rate limiters and other abuse mitigation mechanisms. Even then it’s not clear that the entire corpus is currently accessible in this manner. The first approach would be much more direct and complete, and would likely earn back for Yahoo some of the goodwill it has recently lost.
Separately from the public data, there is the issue of personal user data. While Delicious has long had a bookmark export tool, other pieces of personal or private data are not easily exportable, notably the user’s Inbox (links shared with them by other users) and their Network (links saved by users they follow, as well as the list of those contacts — it’s basically Twitter for bookmarks). The user community has already started working on this problem: former Delicious engineering lead Josh Whiting has written a Ruby script that exports your Inbox. Ideally Yahoo should provide official tools for exporting this data.
In conclusion, releasing the public corpus is the right thing to do for Delicious, for Yahoo, and for the Internet. If a sale proves difficult — or even if it succeeds — I hope Yahoo will take this path and I would strongly encourage them to do so.
Everyone seems to agree that the new MacBook Air represents a significant step forward in laptop design and execution, with the 13” model earning nearly universal acclaim.
But the 11” model is a strange beast. Is it an under-powered, over-priced netbook? Or is it a viable primary computing device with a tiny footprint? Answering these questions requires more than benchmarks. It means giving it an extended audition in the real world, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. One month ago I purchased an 11” Air and I’ve been using it every day since then.
My 11” Air is the maxed-out model, with a 1.6 GHz CPU, 4 GB of RAM, and 128GB of SSD storage. It replaces my previous daily use machine, a first-generation 13” Air (1.6 GHz, 2GB RAM, and 80GB magnetic hard drive).
Despite my use of decidedly non “power user” gear, I’m what could reasonably be described as a power user. I run a number of applications (10+) at all times, including at least one browser with a large number of open tabs. I do development work using an IDE and test my code within a Linux virtual machine that mirrors the BlockChalk production environment.
When I’m at home or at work, my laptop is usually connected to an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse. But I also commute by train every day for a total of roughly two hours, during which time I operate within a rather space-constrained environment (i.e. elbow-to-elbow). This daily commute is the primary reason why I decided to give the 11” model a try instead of the new 13”.
For the past 30 days I’ve been using the 11” Air as my primary computing device at home, at work, and on the train. Instead of collecting benchmarks and other quantitative metrics, I’ve instead focused on testing the ins and outs of everyday usage, looking for those instances where the device shines, those where it frustrates me, and all the moments in-between where it simply gets the job done.
Where it shines
Size and weight: The 11” Air is impossibly small and light, yet still feels solid and substantial when held and operated. In my bag it essentially disappears; I occasionally have to double-check that it’s still there. After using the 11” Air, the 13” Air feels like a behemoth.
Of particular note is that the shorter screen height (compared to 13” laptops) makes a huge difference on the train: the top of my screen no longer hits the back of the next seat as the train bounces around. This is an under-appreciated advantage, and for air travelers in particular it may be the killer feature.
Ergonomics: If this thing is a “netbook” then it is the first one I’ve ever used that isn’t an ergonomically crippled mess. The keyboard is full-size, the trackpad is big enough, the wrist rest space is sufficient, and the screen resolution is actually pretty good. And you get all of this in an impossibly small package. It’s quite an achievement.
Battery life: I’m consistently getting over 5 hours of life with sustained usage. While this is less than what is possible with the 13” Air, it certainly doesn’t seem like a reason to pick the larger laptop over its smaller sibling.
Where it gets the job done
The 11” Air is by no means a speed demon, but the maxed-out model feels a lot faster than you would probably expect. After four weeks I have yet to encounter a situation where the machine has felt underpowered.
Where it frustrates
The main issue with the 11” Air is screen size. While the resolution of the screen is surprisingly high and quite sufficient for most uses, the screen’s actual physical size is small. If you’re at all like me, you may experience eye strain particularly when using the Air on your lap. Under those conditions, the screen is just small enough and just distant enough from one’s eyes to be a bit uncomfortable.
On the positive side I seem to have adjusted to this issue over the past few weeks and now feel considerably less discomfort. But I also have 20/20 vision, so YMMV. Regardless, for me this compromise has proven acceptable. The portability benefits of the smaller screen are worth it, and using an external monitor at home and at work minimizes my exposure.
I’ve also run into a few random minor issues:
Half-height function keys: While the keyboard is full-size, the top row of keys are half has high as the rest. Like me, your response might be, “who cares, I never use those keys.” Turns out we do, particularly the Escape and tilde keys. The reduced height of these keys makes misfires common, but it’s something I’ve gotten used to.
Weird UI lag: At home, I use Synergy to share a single keyboard and mouse across multiple monitors and computers. With the 11” Air running as a Synergy client, I’ve noticed intermittent UI lag that I’ve never seen with other client computers (like my previous Air). Stranger still, this lag sometimes persists after disconnecting from Synergy and can only be resolved with a reboot. I’m a long way from saying this reflects an issue with the Air, but I mention it for completeness and on the off-chance that someone else out there has seen this.
The 11” Air strikes a near-perfect balance between the compromises required of such a small portable computer. It meets the bar for performance and surpasses it in ergonomics and portability.
The one downside of the 11” Air is also one of its greatest features: the small screen. Whether you find it a benefit or a hinderance will likely determine if the 11” Air is right for you. For me, it most definitely is!