Archive for the ‘mashups’ Category

Mashups in Miami Beach

December 2, 2008

I’m in Miami today finishing up my most recent set of business trips around the planet and catching my flight back to El Salvador.  I had the great fortune of spending last night and this morning with a business colleague who lives on the waterfront of the always interesting Miami Beach area.  Thanks Eric!

For me Miami is one of those grand cities of the world that exemplify uniqueness in that there is little connection to the country they are in as they are a truly unique set of cultures, architecture, experiences and people.  As with cities such as Istanbul, NYC, Paris I find that you need to forget what country they are in and rather enjoy and try to learn from them as a unique world in themselves.  As so we did just that as we walked around the South Beach area, enjoyed some local food, people watching, architecture and the pulse of life. 

In the process I ran into what struck me as an interesting example of how to combine customization with standardization.  In this case it came in the form of a Publix supermarket which is part of a chain of supermarkets, mostly food, that is very popular in the Southeastern USA.  As best as I can tell, Publix is popular with those who shop there because the reputation they have built up for consistent quality, large selection of mid to high end food items and the overall design and ambience of their stores.  What I’ve picked up on in my visits to several of these stores in the past few years and talking with friends and others who shop there is that they have built up a very loyal following of customers who love to shop there and seek out these stores wherever they are.  That’s the “standards” part of the equation, delivering on the expectation that you will have a consistently good experience in any one of their stores.  However this particular store is located in a very affluent and “stylish” residential marina area on the waterfront of Miami Beach and so there were significant concerns by those living in the neighborhood and those looking to move there, that this store would be very out of place architecturally and at odds with the feel of the neighborhood which is filed with condos, waterfront walkways, parks, etc. 

The solution that Keene Construction came up with was to take a very standard building and Publix layout store and wrap it in a very unique exterior that fit well into the neighborhood.  As you can perhaps make out in the photo above the exterior is very striking, based on a nautical theme with the suggestive shapes of boat hulls, sails and decks.  Yet when I passed through the exterior doors I walked into a very familiar and standard Publix supermarket.  When that’s what you are looking for I thought it was a great mashup of the best of both customization and standardization.  From the outside the store is a delightful part or the ambience of the area and both fits in and stands out at the same time adding value rather than subtracting.

It was also interesting to read some of the comments on this store on Yelp, the community review site, by those who shop at this store.  Interestingly some of the comments were from people living nearby and others were from those visiting the area from far and wide.

This is just the latest example of the growing importance of design I’ve run into and am learning from, on how to mix opposite ends of spectrums such as old/new, standard/custom, consistent/unique.  It has left asking my usual question of “What is this trying to teach me?” and so I’m pondering how we could abstract from the lessons here and apply this type of mashup to things beyond architecture, stores, etc.? How could we apply this to human interactions, to software development, to content development?

The goal as I see it is how we can use the concept of mashups to create solutions that are not a compromise trending towards mediocrity but rather the creation of unique combinations of the best aspects of otherwise opposing ends of these spectrums that are truly greater than the sum of their parts which trends towards the Snowflake Effect of getting it all “just right”. *

*  Just the right things, for just the right people, at just the right time, in just the right place, in just the right context, etc.

Exponential Change to the Same End

November 27, 2008

As I write, speak and think more about the Snowflake Effect and the use of mashups as an overarching conceptual model, the more I’m struck by how this is all a new acceleration along a very long standing continuum of human expression, communication, collaboration and learning.

What we now commonly refer to as mashups, which I’ll simply describe as taking small existing bits and pieces and putting them together to create a whole new whole, is a model we’ve been using for almost all time.  Consider for example how this can be a description of creating music, where everyone uses the same existing relatively small set of existing musical notes, chooses some number of these and assembles them in some new way to create a new song.  And how this could similarly describe the act of writing prose or poems by selecting words from a relatively small and finite set of words in the dictionary and assembling these to create new stories, poems and lyrics. 

It is worth noting that in all these cases the “magic”, the creativity, the brilliance is all in a combination of the selection of the pre-existing bits and pieces and the way in which these are assembled to create something new and different.  Maybe it is just me, but I find the simplicity of this to be profound and beautiful.  Best of all perhaps there is still no end in sigh as this model would appear to be  infinitely expandable, sustainable and scalable.

As I’ve been writing and speaking about more and more, the true power of mashups will be realized as we come to understand it as an overarching conceptual model which can be applied to almost anything and not “just” a technology or data application. For example the mashup model can and is being applied to as diverse a set of areas as maps, software, manufactured goods, music, video, people and organizations. 

I’ll be posting and exploring more details on mashups and their role in enabling the Snowflake Effect in future postings here and on Off Course – On Target.  In the interim I’d encourage you to consider how our pursuit of this continuum of human expression is now accelerating with the transition from a text dominated age to an age of rich media that includes visualization, audio, graphics, simulations, models and video. 

To help stimulate some of your thinking and creative juices I can strongly recommend that you read some of Kevin Kelly’s recent perspectives on all this such as his Nov. 21st article in the New York Times “Becoming Screen Literate” and his summary thoughts in his “book in progress” site called The Technium on “Screen Fluency”.  Kevin continues to be an unending source of inspirational and thought provoking ideas and perspectives for me and I think you will find his writing to be VERY much worth your while.

Snowflakemobile! LEGO Block Cars?

November 18, 2008

I’ve been following the story behind a new car being developed by Tata Motors in India called the Nano.  It is one of those stories that you follow with equal parts fascination and fear, and it is very much worth following whatever your reaction.  The short story is that this car is being developed as an alternative to the use of small motorcycles and mopeds for transporting multiple people.  If you’ve traveled to many other countries as I’ve been fortunate enough to, you may have witnessed the same scene that inspired the Nano when you’ve seen three to six people, often a whole family, riding on a single moped as they dart and weave their way through traffic on their way to work, school and home. 

I’ll leave you to read more about the car and the story behind it as a quick search will turn up plenty.  The July 2008 Wired magazine has an article for example called “The $3000, 33-Hoprsepower, Snap-Together ride to the Future” that will provide you with a good overview and insight.  Basic specs for the four door version include:

  • about 10 feet long and 5 feet wide.
  • 623cc two-cylinder 33 HP rear engine
  • capable of 65 miles an hour
  • projected cost new, 120,000 rupees, including road tax and delivery in India, = ~ $2500-3000

As interesting and scary as the whole concept of providing four wheels for the masses of the world is, what has caught my attention of late is the focus on cost  and other reductions which they are taking to a whole new level.  For example they are looking into reducing shipping volume and costs by shipping the cars in a snap together kit form which would be assembled at the destination.  Right now this is very UNsnowflake like in that these cars are in many ways the epitome of mass production and sameness.  However as they develop this LEGO block approach to car manufacturing and start to design for snap together modularity, it is easy to imagine how quickly this would morph into a mashup model that would enable each person to quite literally design their own car, have it shipped to them and and assemble their own snowflakemobile.

Want to try your hand at designing your own Nano?  Head over to this “design your own Nano” site to get an idea how this might work when the choices were much more in number and detail so you could truly create your own Snowflakemobile!

Indi-Groups?

October 30, 2008

As per many of my previous comments here, articles on Off Course – On Target and many of my presentations, I see more and more examples of a meta trend where basic human functions are being transformed from distinctly separate roles into a mashup of combined roles.  I credit Alvin Toffler with spotting and naming one of the first of these when he coined the term Pro-sumer in his book The Third Wave to describe what he saw as a future society where rather than being either a producer or a consumer we would all take on both roles simultaneously.  Toffler wrote about this back in the 60’s and 70’s and I think we can now clearly see how prescient he was as we live in just such a society in many parts of the world today.

I’ve been speaking about these trends for many years and noting more and more examples of the same kind of integration and blending of fundamental human roles.  I’ll be addressing more of these in coming postings, podcasts and articles but for today I wanted to reference one that came up in my discussions with Kevin Kelly yesterday.  Kevin noted how this is a very new and special time when we simultaneously have dramatic increases in the power of individualization AND the power of the group.  If we were to use Toffler’s example of creating a new dual term word we could call this Indi-Groups. 

A few days ago I wrote about how the Snowflake Effect applies equally to both individuals and groups in the posting “Pluralization of Personalization” and yesterday Kevin went on to point out things like the need to distinguish between “the wisdom of the crowd and the stupidity of the mob”.  I pondered whether things like focus groups might now represent “the stupidity of the mob” or group think, which so typically end up concluding the opposite of what the larger group they are supposed to represent will actually prefer and choose (Erik has talked and blogged about this extensively in some of his previous postings)

To my perhaps biased perception these are all further examples of the growing influence and affect of the The Snowflake Effect and precisely why Erik and I are so passionately pursuing it.

How Far Can We Go?

October 28, 2008

Had a fantastic time with Kevin Kelly today here at the Learning 2008 event when I was privileged to be his “escort” and host.  Had a chance for some very stimulating discussion with him as well as the chance to listen to him on stage as well as in a one hour Q&A session afterwards.  In the next few days I’ll post a number of other topics and observations that emerged from these various discussions and interactions .

for now the one I’ll just post the short question he posed which was “How far can we go with linking and assembling small pieces together? “ and his own answer which was “We don’t know” 

This was in reference to the continuous ramp up of piecing small things together to make larger yet single functioning things and systems.  We had a great discussion on our mutual view of the power of mashups and the expansion of this term to be a much larger conceptual model.  Wikipedia was used as an example and covered in some depth as we also had the benefit of having Sue Gardner from Wikipedia with us.  However Kevin shares a fascination with mechanical things and tools and how these too have more and more examples of being mashups.  His point was that we continue to find that these can be larger and larger and more and more functional end results that come about largely on their own, quite unexpectedly and we really don’t know what the upper limit is to the pattern.  Kevin noted how this is very similar way that living organisms evolve to larger and larger more complex species.

My favorite comment though was his observation that we are witnessing more and more examples of things which are as he put it:

Impossible in theory and possible in practice.

Sure matches with my experience and our need to focus on increasing our awareness of the art of the possible.  Stay tuned, more to follow.

Personalized Learning: Snowstorm hits the UK

October 21, 2008

I’ve been working on an article on the Snowflake Effect and its affect on the future of mashups and learning for an upcoming edition of the Emerging Technologies for Learning published by BECTA in the UK.  I’ll post the link to the article when it is published next month (Nov. 2008) and in the interim I wanted to share some of the the examples from my reesearch and writing of the growing Snowflake Effect. 

Some of the more striking and valuable examples have been those of the application of The Snowflake Effect to learning, education and training (LET) in the UK.  If you have not already read these, I can recommend all of the following as worthwhile reading about why and how the UK Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has concluded that the future of their public education is personalised learning.

 

2020 Vision: Report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group

DfES report “Learning about personalisation: how can we put the learner at the heart of the education system?

DfES Report “The Shape of Things to Come: personalised learning through collaboration”

Is old the new new?

October 12, 2008

Given the growth and I believe permanence of mashups as a concept that can be applied to almost anything and everything, we are going to need to seriously rethink and redefine some long held fundamentals.  For me, a very informal and simplified description of the concept of mashups might be something along the lines of “the assembly of pre-existing bits and pieces to create a new single result”.  Therefore every mashup is completely new, it ia unique new entity, nothing exactly the same existed before and yet it is made entirely or almost entirely from pre-existing, aka old, stuff.  So is it new or is it old? 

Both would seem to be the best answer to me which doesn’t really help much other than to make my point that I think we need to seriously unleran and redefine some of our most commonly held and fundamental notions such as the meaning of things like:

  • New
  • Original
  • Plagiarism
  • ownership

For me this is a good thing as I think these changes would tend to put the emphasis on ideas, new ways of thinking of things, new perspectives and less on who gets the credit for “inventing” it or being first. 

It is truly innovative and creative to  create something new and unique from pre-existing stuff.  and I should note that by “stuff” I mean both tangible items such as words, mucisal notes, images, hardware, and so on as well as much less tangible items such as concepts and ideas or the formation of a new team of people with just the right combination of skills, knowledge, abilities, experiences, and attitudes.