Feedback and testing

I wrote about Thorsten’s Physic or Surgery beta a while back, not least because I was struck with the guts of putting a work in progress like that out. The ‘ashcan’ edition of his comic was a neat way of establishing a world, and he appeared to filter feedback into his first issue proper incredibly quickly.

Well the second part of his story is up now, and I’m no less impressed. I think it moves beautifully – essential when his characters flit about the city in the way they do – and his willingness to learn in public is an excellent reflection of that motion. It upsets my notions of fully-forming things before taking them public wonderfully.

It’s the productive counterpart to the emotional confessions in the backmatter (think DVD extras) that accompanied Matt Fraction’s Casanova comic when it was released as a single issues. Fraction (and a bunch of others) also linked to Dan Harmon’s similarly gut-wrenching episode-by-episode walkthrough of the second series of TV show Community over at The A.V. Club last week which does a similar job of airing something more than just dirty laundry.

Fraction and Harmon’s public retrospection becomes a promise – a contract – that they’ll be better. That they won’t just improve, they will demand you set benchmarks for their improvement. I really admire that, and I certainly threaten to exhibit that tendency from time to time, but I much prefer Thorsten’s take on it. Iterations; direction; guidance; a promise that he’ll listen to what you have to say without giving you the right to demand anything of him or his work.

That’s not something I think I can apply to, say, Paper Science, and it’s not something I’m natural at initiating. But I’d like to. I can think of at least one narrative-driven project I want to start later this summer that would benefit from that kind of process.

On a sidenote, Physic or Surgery also hammers home some of the restricted sensations that life in connected cities is starting to generate.

In light of Tom Armitage’s recent troubles with @TowerBridge, and Warren Ellis note of caution in his Cognitive Cities talk earlier this year (“Cognitive cities require the approval and collaboration of city authorities. The same people who make flyposting illegal.”), it’s something I’m thinking about a bit.

Again I’m not sure this is directly applicable to much of my current work, but as I start thinking about hacks and hackability of products, services and experiences it’s worth bearing in mind that ownership of what you’re grafting on is challenged in new and exciting ways every week. I don’t think learning in public hurts that in the ways we used to think it did.

Notes from Cognitive Cities

Cognitive Cities in Berlin was a lot of fun. My visit was fleeting, and I didn’t get to enjoy the second day of demonstrations and workshops, but the talks on Saturday were great. A few notes bubble up among the bunch;

* Adam Greenfield made me think for the first time in a while about the inherent politics of objects, something we need to pay “exquisite attention to” as networked cities ramp up in gear.

* BASAAP and related themes about interaction and integration cropped up a few times, with the core theme being “do exactly enough”; Don’t be too smart, don’t over-explain, don’t overcompensate for edge cases, and beware the feedback loop of the uncanny valley; puppy-smart is enough, human-smart can be scary.

* “Futurism and forecast fail due to the incompleteness of our knowledge.” – Dannie Jost

* Cities are a serendipity hub. As much as I might find something romantic about running off to Eigg, the chances of doing that and still enjoying the kind of chance encounters I have in London are slim.

* Berlin is nice.

* I should probably read Invisible Cities.

* Lots of us are chasing ghosts. I’ll come back to this one. A world of “inaudible machine chatter” is blooming, and we are trying to find ways of tracing those conversations. Are there more important things we could be doing?

Before Warren Ellis‘ keynote I was explaining to him my frustration that a narrative didn’t seem to be emerging among the talks that framed the larger debate. Warren’s talk brought that in spades, a thump of story that actually managed to be shocking; he stopped just short of asking ‘What are you lot playing at?’

I needed that.

Anyway, huge thanks to Jens for putting me up. Definitely hoping to go back to Berlin this year; I’ll find an excuse somehow.