Tinkerer's High Noon

Oh please, there's never been a better time for tinkerers than NOW.

Today, every tinkerer can, for free:
  • Write applications that reach billions of people and thereby change society.
  • Develop applications that run on myriads of different devices, from watches to wall-sized screens.
  • Access, learn, and change the source code of real operating systems and applications that run on everything from smartphones to supercomputers.
  • Use an array of thousands of different programming languages, frameworks, APIs, and databases.
  • Access the knowledge of and get to know, personally, millions of experts in every area imaginable.
So just take the iPad for what it is, one more platform among dozens of interesting ones, and stop whining. And start tinkering.


Filling the Apple Vacuum

I think now would be a great time for a smart & nimble company to brand Apple as the computer for dummies, and produce some outstanding hardware/software combination that's targeted squarely at the digerati elite.

Unforch, the other players are even less Alan-Kay-style innovative than Apple.

The mind boggles.

(Update: Earl has a similar perspective.)



I, for one, welcome our new couch computing overlords.


Looking for the Super-Structure of Information Organization

An incomplete investigation into the be-all/end-all of information organization structures.

Successful Information Organization Structures

File Systems

Classical file systems have directories and files arranged in a tree.

Directories have dual roles: they contain files, and they provide a namespace for files.

File systems are frequently criticized, but containment and namespacing are critical features, so I don't believe they will ever go away.


The most prominent feature of wikis is the emphasis on naming and ergonomic linking, that is, links between pages can be created easily.

Some wikis provide backlinks, but for some reason these are usually not featured prominently.


Blogs put (reverse) chronology center stage, and have been hugely successful with that simple device.


Outlines, like directories, provide containment, but unlike directories, no namespacing.

Outlines are most useful for their graphical properties: collapsing stuff you don't want to see, and expanding stuff you want to see.


Databases' main features from an organizational perspective are that they usually store complex objects (tuples, documents, ...) and provide sorting by attribute and sometimes more complex queries.

Unlike the other systems, databases are usually of no use for ad-hoc work, and instead require programmers to create a user interface for the stored information.

Tagging Systems

Tagging systems associate keywords with items, and can return all items with one or more keywords.

Tagging systems can be viewed as a special case of search engines that only index terms the user has chosen for indexing, which leads to interesting social effects and good results in many cases (cf. Delicious).

Search Engines

Search engines take in a corpus of unstructured documents, and answer similarly unstructured queries, and usually employ ranking, such as PageRank.

Search engines are different from all the other systems, in that they don't require the user to organize information herself, but rather impose some organization of their own.

Typed Links

Systems that support typed links allow items to be connected arbitrarily with edges, and to follow incoming and outgoing edges from an item.

Spreadsheets (I can't believe I forgot those in the first version!)

Spreadsheets let you put data into a two-dimensional row/column form, and then filter, sort, and otherwise manipulate the data. Spreadsheets also come with formula libraries for doing a lot of different stuff.

Spreadsheets are often abused, but still a major workhorse of information organization.

Common Hybrids

Many attempts have been made to combine one or more of the above structures:

Outline + Database

Many advanced outliners let users add attributes to items, which are displayed in columns.

Wiki + Blog

"Bliki" systems are wikis that usually display a blog on their front page.

File System + Database

An example would be BeFS which indexes user-defined attributes on files.

Search Engine + Database

The goal here is to extend a search engine so that it can also answer queries for attributes of items, and interpret e.g. numeric attributes.

Wiki + Database

Wikis with database functions allow users to add attributes to pages, upon which one then can sort and filter pages.

Anything + Tagging System
Anything + Search Engine

Tagging systems and search engines can easily be added to any other structure.

Can we combine them all?

File System + Wiki + Blog + Outlines + Tags
+ Typed Links + Spreadsheet + Database + Search Engine

Let's get rid of wikis and blogs:

Wiki = File system with only one directory + Simple Linking

Blog = Database query for items, sorted by time

So, if we provide simple linking in the user interface, and keep file system and database functionality, we can drop wikis and blogs from the list.

File System + Outlines + Tags + Typed Links + Database + Spreadsheet + Search Engine

Let's get rid of outlines and tags, shall we?

Outline = Items have typed links to child items

Tagging = Items have typed links to tag items

This means, if we keep typed links, we can drop outlines and tags from the list:

While we're at it, we can also drop spreadsheets from the list, as

Spreadsheet = 2D view of items with attributes

Note that this doesn't cover every (ab)use of spreadsheets, but should do for now.

Super-Structure = File System + Typed Links + Database + Search Engine ???

To be continued...

(Yeah, I know, this isn't super-convincing just yet.)


Functional Reactive Feeds

I believe that this is how plugins on the web will work:
  1. Say you want to spell check a feed of entries.
  2. You add the spell checker service as a subscriber to your source feed.
  3. The spell checker publishes a results feed with one result entry for each source entry, correlated via the source entries' IDs.
  4. Your authoring tool subscribes to the results feed and displays the matching result entry directly below each source entry.
The display options are of course highly app-specific, and we'll want those feeds to be realtime enabled.


Google's Approach to Social for 2010:
a family of Google-supported technical standards that “are just about done”: OpenID, OAuth, OAuth WRAP, PoCo (portable contacts), Activity Streams, OpenSocial for Gadgets, OpenSocial wire protocols, PubSubHubBub, Salmon (to “let comments swim upstream”), WebFinger (see a person’s public feed of information) and the Social Graph API.
The Salmon project looks interesting, follow John Panzer's blog for updates.


Our Conceptual Dark Age of Man-Machine Interaction

Attention conservation notice: bitter rant about the sorry state of computing.
In this wonderful interview, physicist Carver Mead blasts the Copenhagen clan for their approach to quantum physics.
It's conceptual nonsense. You can calculate stuff with the theory, but the words people put around it don't make any sense. ... Once we lose the conceptual foundations, the whole thing becomes a shell game. There are very few conceptual workers left in the field.
Apple's original masterpiece, the 1984 Macintosh was a highly conceptual work.

It turned computers from beeping boxes with green-on-black screens to instruments the rest of us could use, to create art, music, graphics, etc. A complete sea change.

The classic Mac introduced a whole system of concepts in an intuitive retroactively obvious way:
  • desktop
  • pointer
  • windows
  • icons
  • containment
  • applications
  • documents
  • trash
  • ...
Unfortunately, Mac OS stopped innovating right there in 1984. (Mac OS X basically put new lipstick on an old pig.)

So, the Apple is rotten, and until they once again commit to conceptual development, this dirty old logo will hang upside down here.

(I won't even comment on the iPhone, which would be silly, except to weep a single bitter, loving tear for the Newton OS, the only significant conceptual work since 1984.)

That brings us to... Wave

The Initech references in Wave's documentation need to be taken seriously.

I have a history of criticizing Wave, but only because it is the most blatant example of conceptual nonsense to come out of the windy streets of Silicon Valley in a long time, and that's saying something.

Wave's conceptual contribution is zero. The only thing distinguishing Wave from previous systems is that you can see characters as they are typed. Yeah baby!

To end this rant on a more positive note, here are some concepts and systems that I'd like to see evolved and taken further:
  • hyperlinks and making them more accessible (e.g. hashtags)
  • wiki namespaces (the real innovation behind wikis)
  • extensible key-value metadata on everything (SuperTweets)
  • outliners
  • object-oriented drawings, like Newton did
  • web pipes
  • 2D barcodes
  • content-centric networking
  • a kind of 9P for the web
  • ... your concepts here
As Carver Mead says, Listen to the Technology.
I'm pinning my hopes on the Chinese to deliver us from Apple's 1960's design and Neolithic finger painting gridlock.

it's SMS that's the reason everything sucks on Twitter
Dave Winer
Chris Dixon: What's strategic for Google?
Here is my rough breakdown of the “layers in the stack” between humans and the money:

Human - device – OS – browser – bandwidth – websites - ads – ad tech – relationship to advertiser – $$$

At each layer, Google either wants to dominate it or commoditize it.


A quick rant on the stupid iPhone bubble

The iPhone may well be a nice computer. But that doesn't mean that every other phone is trying to be an iPhone-killer. That's just so dumb. Stop it! Already!

A quick rant on the stupid Facebook bubble

Facebook may well have 350 megausers. That doesn't mean that Facebook somehow owns the web, or even just identity on the web. Don't you get it, stupid other blogger? I'll laugh at your stupid posts, when Facebook is gone and forgotten.

‟Wolff Olins may be the punchline for many designers but, even if you don’t know it or care to admit it, they are having the last laugh.”
A designer for whom Wolff Olins is a punchline is one big oaf who's faker than plastic, a dictionary definition of the word spastic.
Thomas Lord again educates the young-uns:
The GNU vs. Sun "Tcl Wars" were almost a kind of epiphenomenon on the wider-spread, grass-roots rejection of Tcl as a language with a bright future. ...

First sign of how crazy things were, though: Were it not for that pushback, given that Sun and Netscape were negotiating to get Java in the client, we might all be using Tcl instead of Javascript in the browser! ...

"AI Winter" was thawing, but there was a lot of sloppy slush on the ground, conditions were icy, and a bitter, mindless wind still tore through the Valley.

Fortunately, that mindless wind is no longer tearing through the Valley!
a better system will come along in which demand drives supply at least as well as supply drives demand. In other words, when the “intention economy” outperforms the attention economy. Doc Searls


That which was product will become a service. That which was a service will accelerate at warp speed toward de-monetisation on the Path-to-Free. Bruce Sterling