Category Archives: Ch 1 Design in an Evolving Medium

Corresponds to Chapter 1 ITM

Should designers support or subvert users’ culture?

In the first wave of digital invention it was a rallying cry to proclaim that “information wants to be free.”  Of course what this really meant was that a certain subculture of educated people, mostly in universities, wanted  to access and share information without having to pay for it. This cultural attitude has produced useful online resources like Wikipedia and it has also produced high visibility arrests for media piracy and endless litigation against the Google Book Project.  We now know whatever “information” may want, rights holders often want to be paid.

Princeton researcher Janet Vertesi studies the cultural context of scientific investigation at NASA.

I was reminded of this change in perspective recently by Janet Vertesi, who was at Georgia Tech speaking about her illuminating research on knowledge cultures at NASA. Vertesi studied two projects which collected very different configurations of knowledge, mirroring the very different social organization of the investigating teams. One team which divided up the ownership of individual instruments and had a highly politicized decision making process collected data with great breadth but little coherence; a second team that shared a common instrument set and made decisions by consensus collected data that was highly integrated and detailed but narrow in scope. Vertesi’s presentation made it clear that there was no such thing as objective data, and that knowledge reflected cultural organization.  It was Vertesi’s very sensible position that designers must heed such differences in  cultural configuration or risk creating tools that do not fit the user group. Continue reading

The Future of the Book is Too Narrow a Question

I am often asked to comment on the Future of the Book. As someone who has just written a very large book that took a great deal of time to write and that I hope will be useful to many people, I sympathize with the impulse to equate knowledge-transmission-by-print-on-paper with KNOWLEDGE itself. But this is a mistake. Continue reading

Disruptions of Transmission: Academic Publishing


Blog of Cambridge University mathematician Timothy Gowers who asks, "Why can't we just tell Elsevier that we no longer wish to publish with them?"

Academic life is characterized by the need to “publish or perish,” but some academics are calling for a boycott of a very prestigious publisher — another example of the disruptions caused by the switch from legacy to digital forms of information transmission.

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Disruptions of Transmission: the Piracy Problem

In Chapter 1 of Inventing the Medium  I describe the 3 layers that make up any medium of communication: inscription, transmission, and representation
(see Glossary for definitions), and I noted that the new digital medium has introduced disruption at all three levels. Last week’s showdown over SOPA and PIPA, the proposed legislation that would have eliminated piracy by punishing any site that linked to illegal content, is a good example of problem in the transmission layer — and it offers us the opportunity to ask how a more mature medium would handle the situation. Continue reading

Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice

A popular and very useful textbook in Interaction Design defines the field with this diagram: 

As I explain in the Introduction and especially in Chapter 2, Inventing the Medium is not meant to substitute for the body of knowledge mapped above but to complement and recontextualize it, by drawing on disciplinary methods and craft practices that are absent  from the HCI/Interaction Design map of the design process.
Here is how I would express it, using the same diagram: Continue reading

Transcending Transmedia Part 2

In a  previous post I described “transmedia storytelling” as an interim term for an additive strategy  of  creating a consistent fictional world across multiple legacy media platforms, like TV and videogames.  I expressed an expectation that we will see a unified new genre of storytelling native to the new digital medium, as I described in a previous book.

The SyFy TV show Defiance will have an associated MMO set in a different city within the same storyworld.

What would this new participatory story genre look like? Some of its conventions are clear, based on the way people have wanted to connect with existing story worlds and multiplayer games: It will involve an internally consistent but puzzling fictional world, an authored but participatory plot, and an encyclopedically large cast built around a small number of iconic figures. Continue reading

Transcending Transmedia Part 1

Every week there is a new announcement of “How transmedia storytelling is changing TV” . This week it is parallel TV and web contests on Bravo’s Top Chef.

Entertainment is a risky business, so anything that makes money or attracts attention becomes the basis of the next pitch and the next big investment. After the success of Lost in spreading fan involvement from the TV screen to the web in the form of intense plot speculation, map-making, webisodes, and games, “transmedia storytelling” — whose properties have been brilliantly observed by my old friend and colleague Henry Jenkins of USC — became the goal of many producers. I agree with Henry that the creation of a consistent story world with participatory elements that takes viewers deeper into the fictional universe is a phenomenon that is very much worth taking note of.  But I am also impatient with the concept, because I don’t expect “transmedia” anything to be around very long.

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