May 27th, 2004
Consider this intriguing article about addictive weblogging behavior in today’s New York Times: For Some, the Blogging Never Stops. (I’ve pasted the article’s text below my commentary, for future reference.)
I do sense an addictive quality to the act of weblogging. I’ve felt it strongly; there have been several occasions when I compulsively keyed in a cheesebikini entry and then deleted it, realizing that it’s not of much value to anyone but me. So why did I write such things in the first place? I think it’s important to be conscious of the tendency to weblog for weblogging’s sake. Now I look over everything I write and before selecting “publish” I try to make sure that the entry offers something useful, interesting and entertaining. My most important criterion is that each entry should offer something new: something that hasn’t been said on other sites in other words.
Weblogging has some negative qualities and it may have addictive qualities, and some percentage of webloggers get carried away. But we’re missing a bit of context here.
It’s important to consider what all that weblogging time replaces. For instance: what if, for most webloggers, weblogging time replaces hours that they used to spend watching television? If so, is this really a negative thing? I’m disturbed by the Times’ photo of a guy ignoring his wife and typing on a laptop during their anniversary vacation, while others around him chat and read books in the sun. But this troubling image is counterbalanced by the thought of people engaging in new forms of interaction and creativity while their peers passively absorb endless vapid megacorporate marketing messages at the local malls and megaplexes.
I’d love to learn more about how weblogging affects people’s offline lives, and where online and offline interactions can intersect. In addressing such issues, can we design for more socially valuable and healthy online and offline activity? I’ll explore these issues this summer at Intel Research Seattle. I’ll work with Joseph McCarthy there beginning next Tuesday, on the Blogger Bridges project.
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May 16th, 2004
Road Sage, a project at Berkeley for which I led the user interface and interaction design, won second place among 18 contenders in my department’s final project competition. (Second-year students in my program must build and present a substantial final project before they graduate. At the end of each year two panels of outside judges select the best projects.)
Essentially, Road Sage is Mapquest on steroids: it takes live and historical traffic data into account in choosing and presenting routes, and in estimating travel times. It uses data logged from highway sensors operated by California’s Department of Transportation to forecast traffic between any given starting and ending points, and to suggest the best route at a given time in the future. It also shows live traffic along a given route, among other things.
Mikhail Avrekh, John Han and Lauren Wilkinson (all now graduated) came up with the idea and worked hard for much of the past year to build it out. Bravo team! (Sorry Bay Area drivers, but don’t get too excited. We don’t have a robust multi-user version of Road Sage so it’s not ready for public use. But if Mikhail and friends can track down funding, who knows.)
Imagine weighting the historic traffic data with historic weather records and with the latest weather forecasts — in this way we could more accurately predict future traffic and provide more accurate route suggestions. For regions that include sports stadiums, imagine weighting the traffic data on game days based on past traffic changes that occured on previous game days. Plenty more can be done here to provide ever-more-accurate traffic forecasts and route recommendations, all of which can be built on top of the Road Sage foundation.
May 5th, 2004
It’s intimidating to take an information visualization class with a fellow student who’s one of the most talented and creative infoviz wizards on the planet. But it’s a great way to see sneak previews of his work.
Jeff Heer is the whiz, and Vizster is his class project. It’s the best social network visualization tool yet, by far. I’ve always wondered what Six Apart and Friendster and the rest were thinking in limiting themselves to flat textual Web pages, because it makes so much more sense to illustrate social networks as images with nodes (circles or squares) for each person linked via connectors (lines) showing relationships. Here and there a few people (academics and hackers yet not the social networking services themselves) have pieced together such creations. Friendster even put a small mockup of such a visualization on their front page, but they never implemented the real thing. Now Heer put all of this together in a tool that effectively and stylishly implements what we were imagining, plus much more.
Unfortunately you can’t yet download this awesome Vizster tool or see an animation demoing it, and you lose a lot when you lose the live interaction, so I hope Jeff will put Vizster up for download soon. But on the Vizster site you can explore a collection of screen shots and a written explanation of the project.
For more Heer wizardry, check out his prefuse toolkit, which enables programmers to quickly build visualizations.