Category Archives: Ch 8 The Database Model

How 19th Century Sexual Transgressions Are Reflected in 21st Century Information Design

There is a story on the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education today about

Emily Dickinson MSS at Houghton Library: Wild Nights!—Wild Nights! Autograph manuscript, in fascicle 11, ca. 1861. MS Am 1118.3 (38b). Gift, Gilbert H. Montague, 1950.© President and Fellows of Harvard College.

the “acrimony” between Harvard and Amherst College which is disrupting efforts to create a comprehensive  open access on-line archive for the  manuscript papers of the reclusive poet Emily Dickinson.  For over a century, efforts to aggregate these papers have been stymied  by the fruits of a bitter rivalry between Susan Dickinson, the wife of Emily’s brother, Austin Dickinson, and Mabel Todd,  who was the first editor of the poems, and who had a long doubly adulterous love affair with Austin. Mabel’s stash of papers wound up at Amherst College while Susan’s heirs sent their holdings to Harvard, where it is considered the jewel in the crown of Harvard’s 19th century manuscript collection at Houghton Library. Now that Houghton is preparing to launch the  online archive and Amherst, which is listed as one among several collaborators, feels  slighted, accusing Harvard of appropriating their assets without sharing the design decisions or access to their own collection. What can we learn from this? Continue reading

Design Exercise: Visual Overviews

Using one of the sites below, or any site of your own choosing that offers visual access to  a complex information space, evaluate whether and how  it affords  Overview, Zoom, Filtering,  and Details on Demand (Ben Shneiderman’s design values).  Are  size, color, proximity, used semantically?  Does the user navigate up and down a hierarchy? across a network? Can the user rearrange the elements? Is there a choice of multiple granularities? What is an example of a specific task that the site supports particularly well or particularly badly?

Smartmoney Map of the Market

Gapminder World

external link:

Why I am considering returning my new Nook

It seems that understanding what a computer (Amazon’s strength)  may be more important than Barnes & Noble’s long experience with book-selling when it comes to creating satisfying searches on the encyclopedic digital resource of an online bookstore. This is a  followup to my  earlier post about ordering a Nook to replace my lost Kindle.

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Why I am ordering a Nook

I have long been a pretty happy customer of In fact I’ve often said that I could never have left the bookstores of Cambridge MA if it hadn’t been for the advent of Amazon.  I use their credit card, subscribe to their “prime” service, and I even allowing myself to get suckered into buying their ill-designed Fire tablet. Although I have many reservations about the limited functionality of eReaders,   I’ve taken my vanilla Kindle on every trip, and really enjoyed the instant gratification of having my literary and relaxation reading arrive instantly .(I stick to paper for scholarly works since the Kindle is still far too clumsy for taking notes.) But last month I lost my Kindle in the pocket of an airplane. and after a few weeks of using my iPad as a very poor substitute (too BRIGHT!) I have decided to order a new … NOOK.

Here’s why:

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Mapping the Beat

This semester I am teaching interactive narrative again and we spend a great deal of time thinking about dramatic beats.  

Our friends at the Stupid Fun Club have helped out by letting my students use StoryMaker the authoring system they developed for the crowd-sourced Current TV show, Bar Karma.This  screen shot shows how StoryMaker lets one or more authors make up alternate versions of the same beat and link them along alternate paths. Unfortunately for us, the system is meant to produce unisequential TV shows rather than multisequential interactive narratives, so we can’t build our stories in it. But it is still very useful because it imposes an organization of multiple parallel dramatic beats (the columns) capable of being linked by  multiple intersecting paths.

Amazon is now a … Library?

Amazon has just announced that it will lend electronic books to Kindle owners as well as sell them. This comes on the heels of their announcement of increased publishing deals with authors. So are they a bookstore, a publisher, or a library?  Continue reading