Sunday, February 10, 2008

Response 1: Social Metaphors

Knowledge is Discussion (forums) is Community is Information is Knowledge

Beyond Being There stipulates that we need to focus on the needs behind our forms of communication over trying to recreate face to face communication: “it is not so much distance that will be abolished, but rather our current concept of being there.” The Archival, anonymous, and semi-synchronous benefits of a system like a forum or an electronic billboard do go beyond being there, but must be rooted in a common goal that either requires tools to manage it’s complexity, or tools to manage the distance between us. Rather than phrase the question in terms of “being there” or going beyond reality - I would sidestep the question and phrase the problem in terms of “tools that seamlessly integrate and enhance our current forms of communication”. The effort to create forums that united distributed and specialized communities, and push to create mobile devices that can exchange logistic information and integrate our digital a physical lives are focused on this type of cooperative relationship.

Forums like the New User Interface Group (NUI), a social network for the development of multi-touch tables that I am a part of, use the metaphor of the “forum” an architectural space of Gecko-Roman origin, as a means of information exchange and discussion. They rely heavily on the advantage of searchable archives and shared problem solve for the DIY communities of hackers around the world. I might lack social compatibility or even language compatibility with many of the people in the forum, but we share pictures and links as a way of enabling community research. The interesting metaphor that seems most present in the forum is a pseudonym, this acts in part to allow “newbies” to post entries in the forum without being shy, and administrators to appear informal - we are all in this together with a common goal and initiative. Not only a first name basis, but nicknames and syntax reflect the democratization of information that has become the tacit goal of many online groups - to provide a “bottom up” distribution of information that allows anyone to engage. This requires the initiative and vision of a few committed organizers and low level voluntary commitment of a larger community.

The forum approach is limiting in the sense that “topics” of conversation often start “threads” that are linear and users will complain that a topic has already been discussed. Issues are not relevant once they have been solved. Another difficulty is that the forums don’t provide a means for determining if an issue is solved, or summarizing the outcome of the discussion. People have to dig through the entire archive of correspondence of all the members to understand context - even when a search engine brings up results of a particular thread the things that come up don’t necessarily correspond with the heading of the first post. Similar dynamics occur in a classroom when one or two people initiate the topic of conversation and don’t allow for a lot of deviation from the threads.


Icons as Visual Metaphors: a database of iconic images?

The concept of vision as “the primary medium of thought” - and that without the nervous systems activity the mind does not function well, is reinforced by the efforts we have to present information in a visually dense but informative manner - using less symbolic constructs than text. This led me in a new direction of thought regarding visual representation:

Has anyone ever created a visual database of icons in vector or scalable format? A collection of cultural images that by popular vote that are simple line drawings in and shape forms immediately recognizable as our modern system of hieroglyphics?

I'm looking for images with a uniform look and feel that could be substituted for words when people speak. What if I translated your words into images realtime? Would that process make you think of the content of your words in different terms? If such a database existed and could be accessed like a wiki - wikicon would be the title of the project.

If an icon is an essential visual metaphor - the treatment of images would rely primarily on peoples semantic and historical notion of concepts: see Building a Visual Database for Example-based Graphics Generation (

If shapes are concepts that icons are refined from a collective consciousness (gestalt approach) . I want to utilize an icon browser in some way that harnesses the intelligence of our perceptive minds... we hardly ever see out of context - p44 (Visual Information) - so why not transform or interpret the context realtime?

What underlying metaphors would such a system reveal about the manner in which we speak and our visual representations of those concepts? If concepts are structured in metaphorical terms, ie Love is Acceptance or Love is a Journey - It would be interesting if someone typed Love and saw images of those Metaphorical associations: IE: A hug or a person traveling down a long road come up when someone types love. Surprising and thought provoking results? We sometimes understand concepts in new ways through images - in a more cohesive way than we do when replacing them with more words.


Drew H said...

Hey Seth - was just reading through assignments this week because I might be covering for Judith in class tomorrow in case her flight gets delayed.

A few references for you re: your thinking in the second half of the post.

You might find this company's "product" interesting - it's a graphical language for sending messages. I'm not sure what the point is - maybe mobile deployment? It's pretty interesting to see how they represent different ideas, particularly the abstract ones relating to time and conditionals. Their challenge is definitely one of legibility - can those symbols work without the translation directly beneath them? The challenge with their vocabulary seems mostly to be figuring out when they mean the object versus the concept, eg the egg icon as "new" and elephant as "big". I guess you're supposed to figure those are low probability things to talk about, and so they should be read as the adjective forms? I also like that their "movie" icon has people kissing on it, so an invitation to meet for the movies could easily be seen as trying to get someone to make out with you.

Also, this attempt to create little picture icons using OpenType ligatures made me smile with its tricksy-ness.

There's also this list of AIGA approved "official symbols" for airport style things.

Seth Hunter said...

Yannick sent me these links: