Yesterday afternoon, Engadget published a (false) rumor that Apple was going to significantly delay the release of iPhone and Leopard. Apple’s market cap fell by $4 billion within 6 minutes.

The questions never stop. We began by identifying areas of interest, then created research groups, tried to come up with a research question, and are now trying to design a research method.

Today’s post brings about three questions:

  • What is our study group?
    In order to make the most of our month in Amsterdam, we will need to find a convenient group that is easily accessible, and large enough to draw reasonable conclusions from.

  • What questions can we ask of that study group?
    If each researcher has a slightly different research question, how can we develop a cohesive research method that answers all of those questions without being a significant stress on the study group?

  • How do we deal with differing levels of technological savvy?
    Granted that this is a research question within itself, a “digital native” will be more comfortable answering our questions than a non-native. Can or should we somehow make the transition easier for people uncomfortable with new technologies?

research, _n._1

1. The act of searching (closely or carefully) for or after a specified thing or person. [oed]

If E-Research is simply the use of the Internet in research methods, it could be any of the following:

  • using an online card catalog to find relevant books
  • using Google to find relevant web content
  • using any number of other webapps for experiment execution or analysis

Unless the object of study is actually the Internet, or some phenomena occurring on it, it doesn’t seem like these tools actually change research methods more than they aid them, by providing unparalleled access to information and analysis of just about anything, whether it be the last hour’s news or an eighteenth-century scientific survey.

On the other hand, E-Research could involve the study of online representations of any subject, through methods such as link analysis and usage studies. This latter definition seems to be what the VKS is focused on.

A study of wayfinding practices like the one we are planning can easily incorporate all of the above. In the first context, online research tools can be used to find previously published information in helping to design and substantiate a research plan. That plan can in turn incorporate an online component, such as a study of how people use some technology to aid their wayfinding behavior.

As has been made evident by numerous incidents in our world’s history, it can be difficult for members of society to peacefully tolerate viewpoints that are extremely different or at odds with their own, regardless of the provisions that society has made for free speech and thought.

In Murder in Amsterdam, Ian Buruma suggests that second generation immigrants become isolated and thus make extreme alliances because of an alienation from both Dutch culture and that of their parents. I have trouble accepting this line of thought. Conflicting cultures won’t necessarily result in a resort to extremism, though that is a definite possibility in the case of deliberate rejection by one’s peers. Beyond simply promoting assimilation, I think this issue is more a question of how we tolerate and respond to other cultures.

The question of how we should tolerate, like most interesting questions, brings up many more:

  • Should we be tolerant of concepts we know are incorrect? There is significant evidence backing the existence of global warming and evolution, yet our society continues to cultivate the unscientific opposing viewpoints. Maintaining this marketplace of ideas is critical in supporting free speech and general progress.
  • How do we compromise between the need to promote plurality of ideas versus the need to protect potentially dangerous information? The rapid production of knowledge and the Internet’s infinite capacity for storing it allows easy access of practically any idea to anyone (unless they’re in certain countries). If that information happens to be sensitive, offensive, or dangerous, what do we do?
  • Can we be tolerant of intolerant opinions? When extremists promote ideas of prejudice and or violence towards others, how should government arbitrate?
  • If the stakes change, can (and should) we violate our ideals of freedom in exchange for other protections? The USA PATRIOT Act comes to mind.

Thoughts? Answers?

A Self Portrait

Perhaps this is a new blog meme.

How someone might see me:

Subject: Student Sex: Male Age: 18-20, partially based on the expected age of an undergraduate student. Race: Indian Religion: Not apparent, though a string around the right wrist might suggest something.

Clothes: Subject wore pants, shirt, and a jacket. The clothes fit fairly well. The pants were a pair of blue denim jeans, fairly standard for an American college student his age; they were not torn or distressed. The shirt was long-sleeve black t-shirt, with Google’s logo written across the chest in full color, covered in part by a somewhat worn Columbia Sportswear fleece jacket. The jacket was unzipped, indicating that the subject did not find it chilly, but not warm enough to go without the jacket – on the other hand, it could indicate a compromise for personal comfort in exchange for a public display of the bright logo.

Hair was cut short and combed forward, without any visible signs of styling gel or other artificial products. No hair accessories present.

The only bodily accessory visible was the previously mentioned string around the subject’s wrist. No jewelry or piercings visible. Shoes were laced and tied brown suede sneakers, with the Reebok logo visible.

Given the numerous visible logos and fairly stereotypical clothing for an American male college student, the subject was apparently participating in the current fashion standards for his gender and age.

The Backstory:

This outfit was not intricately planned, as I was in a hurry that morning, but what I wear is generally chosen by the events I expect to encounter on that day. This specific day was to be occupied with a few classes on campus, hence the casual clothing and comfortable shoes. It was cloudy when I looked outside in the morning, so I chose to wear a jacket and long-sleeve shirt. As one could expect, the combination of Pacific Northwest weather and school has resulted in a fairly consistent uniform of a t-shirt, fleece jacket, and jeans.

If I wanted to taken more seriously, say, for an interview, I might have worn a button-down shirt, khakis, and some nice shoes, but that’s not what I set out to do in the morning.

The shirt happened to be a freebie American Apparel t-shirt from Google’s on-campus tech talk during fall quarter, while the jeans were a pair I bought from Aeropostale last summer.

In Understanding Amsterdam, Manuel Castells discusses the change of urban structure in response to the advancement information technology, claiming that “the coming of a technological revolution centered on information technologies, the formation of a global economy, the transition to a new society, that […] replaces the industrial society as the framework of social institutions.”

Seattle is probably a good example of a city currently undergoing that shift. As a city that began with the goal of becoming a great trading port, and rose to that status through an economy focused on lumber and shipbuilding, it has become a place where people “come for the jobs at cutting-edge companies such as Microsoft and Amgen” and thus the best-educated city in the United States.

As Castells outlines, this change has significant consequences on the urban structure of a city. Corporations such as Microsoft are well suited creating their own world in the suburbs, given that they need relatively little face-to-face business interaction with entities in Seattle. At the same time, many of the well-paid employees at these companies are moving downtown, leading to the rapid development of condos, coffeeshops, and restaurants.

If this shift to an “informational city” is in fact reshaping the urban and suburban areas of our cities to serve the wants and needs of the upper middle class, our society needs to answer the question of how it will serve those who aren’t educated and/or rich.

Get out now. Not just outside, but beyond the rap of the programmed electronic age so gently closing around so many people at the end of our century. Go outside, move deliberately, then relax, slow down, and look around. Do not jog. Do not run…Walk. Stroll. Saunter…Explore.

Heeding the words of John Stilgoe in Outside Lies Magic, a few of us went to the Seattle Art Museum’s relatively new Olympic Sculpture Park yesterday morning to make observations regarding wayfinding in urban spaces, in order to help us develop a question for research in Amsterdam.

I found the park to be an incredible use of what was just recently an industrial wasteland. The layout of the park gently guides one along a Z-shaped walkway, providing many opportunities for one to saunter off into auxiliary paths and alcoves without letting visitors forget that they are in a museum. Impressively, the park integrates itself into its surroundings, crossing over Elliot Avenue and the BNSF railway, and landing at the shoreline of Elliot Bay.

The morning’s slow pace allowed us to “read the city” and make many observations, especially about the rapid proliferation of condo buildings throughout downtown Seattle, and the effects that such construction has upon the city’s storied history, both physically and socially.

On a somewhat unrelated note, at some point in this discussion, the topic came up that cellphone conversations almost always begin with the caller stating their current location. If you think about it, it’s true – the context of a phone call generally holds a good deal of importance, regardless of the call’s purpose, and a mobile phone does not (visibly) transmit the implicit location information carried by landlines. How long will it take before caller ID includes that contextual information, such as location and maybe even a Twitter status?

CNN reports that most public college campuses have signed deals with lenders to gain a portion of the revenue from credit cards offered on campus. (via Consumerist)

Richard Clayton from the University of Cambridge suggests that there are only a few large gangs responsible for most of the spam on the Internet. Tracking them down could be a much easier task than finding the supposed thousands of small spammers. (via Schneier)

Wayfinding Online

In looking at how people interact and “move” in the online world, there are infinitely many places to look for examples to evaluate.

First off, a user’s browsing patterns are clearly and intimately visible on the page of any active account. Not only is a viewer given a clear idea of the user’s personal interests, one can infer how a user moves between noteworthy sites through both time and cyberspace.

Taking a more social look at online browsing patterns beyond bookmarking, we can note the shift from a static web to what is now known as Web 2.0, where users become active participants at almost every website. This has possibly brought the shift from us following links in static web pages while keeping a definite goal in mind (just as we follow “see also” citations in encyclopedias), to an extremely transient movement pattern by way of links in blog posts, blogrolls, and randomized searches. Furthermore, sites like Digg and Technorati make evident the temporal popularity of ideas, as people discover, visit, and discuss interesting news and websites in a simultaneous and collective fashion.

This brings about yet another question: how has the dramatic shift from static to dynamic online content affected wayfinding patterns on the Internet?