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May 2010

Preemptive Self-Disclosure: Still Unpacking Privacy for a Networked World

I have long attributed the idea of preemptive self-disclosure - sharing information about oneself in order to forestall negative consequences from not sharing - to Paul Dourish, but over the years, I'd forgotten exactly why. A couple of recent articles I've read about disclosing what many might consider private information - coupled with the 19th and final post I recently wrote about my wife's anal cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery - prompted me to seek out the exact source of this attribution: a 2003 paper he co-authored with Leysia Palen on Unpacking "Privacy" for a Networked World. The term "preemptive self-disclosure" does not appear in their paper, which is just as relevant now as it was 7 years ago (if not moreso). However, I found the section that I believe prompted the term - which may well represent my own shorthand for repacking the concepts - and will include an excerpt after briefly reviewing the more recent promptings.

Yesterday, Jeff Jarvis announced the title of his next book, Public Parts , which will be about "the end of privacy and the benefits of publicness". Jeff has written publicly about his private parts - the challenges he has faced over the course of his battle with prostate cancer - and his decision to preemptively disclose his experiences has yielded many unanticipated benefits, for him and for his readers:

In Public Parts, I’ll argue, as I have here, that in our current privacy mania we are not talking enough about the value of publicness. If we default to private, we risk losing the value of the connections the internet brings: meeting people, collaborating with them, gathering the wisdom of our crowd, and holding the powerful to public account.

Toward the end of his short post, Jeff references an article written by his friend, Steven Johnson, In Praise of Oversharing, in which Steven writes of discovering his friend's cancer diagnosis a year ago via a Twitter status update ... and not finding that strange. He goes on to write of the "obsession" with privacy exhibited during the early days of the Internet, and how that now seems "quaint", although he also warns against claims that "the whole concept of privacy is teetering on the edge of obsolescence". Noting the erosion of Facebook's "fortress" of privacy into a "drive-through", he suggests that we are on the leading edge of the learning curve with respect to navigating "the valley of intimate strangers" that lies between privacy and celebrity (or, at least, publicity).

Writing of his friend's public disclosures about cancer, Steven notes:

Within days of his [Jeff Jarvis'] initial post, he had hundreds of comments on his blog, many of them simply wishing him well, but many offering specific advice from personal experience: what to expect in the immediate aftermath of the surgery, tips for dealing with the inconveniences of the recovery process. By taking this most intimate of experiences and making it radically public, Jarvis built an improvised support group around his blog: a space of solidarity, compassion, and shared expertise. ...

In the end, it wasn't just a conversation for Jarvis, it was a conversation for the thousands of other people who will come to those pages through Google. There is an intensity and honesty to these public disclosures that can be enormously helpful, next to the formal, anonymous advice of a hospital cancer site. ... You get a truer account of what it actually feels like to go through that terrible experience than any official page on the Mayo Clinic or WebMD sites could ever offer.

The primary motivation behind my own initial foray into preemptive disclosure of potentially private [health] matters - the first blog post I wrote about my wife's anal cancer 5 years ago - was to reduce the overhead of sharing information about our progress - and periodic setbacks - with friends and family, going public so as to minimize the number of redundant emails and phone calls. However, it also created an unanticipated broader support group - which I'm sure is at least an order of magnitude smaller than Jeff Jarvis' - through which we've received encouragement from not only family and friends, but also from intimate strangers. Another unanticipated effect is that by opening sharing our experience, we were able to provide support - or at least personal information about the experiences - to others ... potentially far beyond those who have directly acknowledged that indirect support via comments and email. And we continue to receive gifts in the form of expressions of appreciation for our willingness to go public with what is, for many, very private matters.

Finally, returning to the CHI 2003 paper that I believe first gave rise to my awareness of preemptive self-disclosure, I want to include a relevant except - though I recommend the entire paper - from the section entitled "The Disclosure Boundary: Privacy and Publicity". It's worth noting that although the paper addresses and/or anticipates several of the themes raised this week by Steven Johnson, it was written in 2002, before the advent of boundary-challenging social networking services such as Foursquare, Twitter, Facebook and MySpace -  although I believe Friendster may have been on the scene by that point - and is based largely on a book by social psychologist Irwin Altman published in 1975. To me, it demonstrates how forward-thinking Altman, Palen and Dourish were [/are], how good science - like good art - is always ahead of its time, and how much unpacking remains to be done in the continuously evolving landscape of privacy and publicity in our increasingly networked world:

As Altman theorizes, privacy regulation in practice is not simply a matter of avoiding information disclosure. Participation in the social world also requires selective disclosure of personal information. Not only do we take pains to retain certain information as private, we also choose to explicitly disclose or publicize information about ourselves, our opinions and our activities, as means of declaring allegiance or even of differentiating ourselves from others (another kind of privacy regulation). Bumper stickers, designer clothing, and “letters to the editor” deliberately disclose information about who we are. We sit in sidewalk cafes to “see and be seen.” We seek to maintain not just a personal life, but also a public face. Managing privacy means paying attention to both of these desires.

Furthermore, maintaining a degree of privacy, or “closedness” [from Altman's 1975 book, The Environment and Social Behavior: Privacy, Personal Space, Territory and Crowding], will often require disclosure of personal information or whereabouts. The choice to walk down public streets rather than darkened back alleys is a means of protecting personal safety by living publicly, of finding safety in numbers. We all have thoughts or facts we would like to keep secret, but most of us also need to ensure that others know something about ourselves, for personal or professional reasons. For some, this management of personal and public realms is analogous to the job of a public relations agent who needs to make their client available and known in the world, while at the same time protecting them from the consequences of existing in this very public sphere. Celebrities operate in this space, but so do many lesser-known people: academics, for example, often feel compelled to maintain web pages, not only to advertise their expertise and experience, but also to keep requests for papers and other inquiries at bay. Therefore, one of the roles of disclosure can ironically be to limit, rather than increase, accessibility. Views of privacy that equate disclosure with accessibility fail to appreciate this necessary balance between privacy and publicity.

Stuff-Centered Sociality: Commerce, Conversations and Conservation at a Garage Sale

A box of unwanted stuffed animals Items on display at a garage sale provide myriad conversation contexts for buyers and sellers alike. Amy and I host or participate in a garage sale (or a tag sale as they're known back east) every few years, but it wasn't until this past weekend that I was struck by the way these events - and the stuff being bought and sold at them - offer rich opportunities for telling and hearing the stories of our lives.

Among the stories we heard from buyers who stopped by our garage sale were

  • a Russian woman who searches garage sales for winter coats she sends back to family and friends back home (she bought an old coat of Amy's)
  • a recently retired man who seeks out toys and games to entertain the children of his ungrateful children (i.e., his grandchildren) when they come visit
  • a nanny who visits garage sales with the children she watches in order to have some contact with adults (Amy gave the kids who accompanied her a few stuffed animals)
  • an Apache man who had made a pact with his now deceased mother not to attend her funeral so that her image - and spirit - would always be alive with her son (I'm not sure if he bought anything)

Evan_Hospital_Bear But the garage sale didn't just evoke stories from buyers, the sellers also had their stories to tell, e.g.,

  • a stuffed bear elicited a story about how it was given to our young son over 5 years ago by a paramedic during his ride in an ambulance (his parents had perceived the bear with significantly more sentimentality than he does at this point)
  • a lined flannel shirt I used to wear when we lived in colder climates evoked a few stories about how harsh those winters could be (and often were)
  • children's books prompted exchanges of stories by both sellers and buyers for whom the books had been meaningful in someone's childhood (the prospective buyers projecting an anticipated layer of meaning for their children)

And the stories were not only exchanged between buyers and sellers. I overheard several of the buyers - also known as neighbors - exchanging stories that were prompted by items on display among themselves, and as a multi-family garage sale, several of the sellers also shared stories about their own and each others' stuff: places we've lived, travels we've taken, hobbies we've engaged in ... and disengaged from.

I've been reading, thinking and writing about various manifestations of object-centered sociality for several years now. In a recent post on a thematic variation I call place-centered sociality, I highlighted a distinction between two dimensions of the idea of object-centered sociality: socializing about objects - e.g., talking about places and things through which we share some kind of connection - and socializing with objects - e.g., having a deep relationship with the place or thing itself. In the context of the garage sale, I heard stories representing both forms of object-centered sociality: stories in which the object for sale provided a pretext for a story in which the object was somewhat peripheral, and others in which the object was the centerpiece of the story. A garage sale also reflects the wisdom expressed in The Cluetrain Manifesto: markets are conversations:

For thousands of years, we knew exactly what markets were: conversations between people who sought out others who shared the same interests. Buyers had as much to say as sellers. They spoke directly to each other without the filter of media, the artifice of positioning statements, the arrogance of advertising, or the shading of public relations.

These were the kinds of conversations people have been having since they started to talk. Social. Based on intersecting interests. Open to many resolutions. Essentially unpredictable. Spoken from the center of the self. "Markets were conversations" doesn’t mean "markets were noisy." It means markets were places where people met to see and talk about each other’s work.

The Cluetrain authors focus more on marketing - and its transformation via the empowerment of previously passive recipients of broadcast messages - than markets, per se, although they do talk about as an example of a "virtual flea market". I've had very limited experience with eBay, but my impression is that most socializing there is more about the transactions rather than the stories surrounding the objects being bought and sold.

TheStoriesWeLiveBy At several points throughout the two days, I was reminded of Dan McAdams' insightful book, The Stories We Live By, and his thesis that it is the stories we make up about ourselves that gives our lives meaning, unity and purpose. We start composing these stories in late adolescence - certainly by the time we are signing each others' high school senior yearbooks - and continue adding to and/or revising the narrative throughout much of our lives. Different life stages tend to provoke different editorial strategies, and the various characters we include in the unfolding story personify our basic human needs for power and love, and the things we buy and sell constitute props in the story. McAdams notes that "the good life story is one of the most important gifts we can ever offer each other" ... and these gifts were being exchanged freely by all parties throughout the garage sale. I was tempted to title this post "The Stories We Sell By" or "Sales-Centered Sociality" ... but focusing on stuff seemed more appropriate.

I imagine that this partly due to a priming effect: I recently listened to a KUOW Speakers Forum presentation by Annie Leonard, author of The Story of Stuff - a critique of our materials economy - and I think she would approve of garage sales ... aside from the fact that garages house cars which promote driving which contributes to suburban sprawl and other modern practices that degrade the natural environment. On the plus side, garage sales reduce the extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal inherent in our acquisition of new stuff by enabling new people to reuse old stuff, overcoming perceived obsolescence by transferring old stuff to new people at a different stage of life for whom the stuff will be perceived as fresh and useful. But I think the main contribution is that the stories and conversations that arise around the the reselling of old stuff are much more likely to contribute to our happiness than the kinds of social benefits that typically surround transactions involving new stuff.


[In checking the The Story of Stuff blog just now, I see that Saturday, May 15, was Give Your Stuff Away Day. As I alluded to above, Amy ended up giving several items away during the two-day sale, and we will be giving the rest of the stuff away.]

Certified Cancer-free: Celebrating Amy's 5th Anniversary

Amy Amy had her final post-treatment check-up at Cascade Cancer Center yesterday, and I am happy to report that she has been discharged as a patient there, 5 days shy of 5 years since she was initially diagnosed with cancer. Although she continues to experience some side effects from the treatment, according to her doctors, Dr. Matthew Lonergan (at Cascade) and Dr. Michael Hunter (Evergreen Radiology Oncology), she is now officially cancer-free.

We feel very fortunate to have been in the excellent care of Dr. Lonergan and Dr. Hunter and the staffs at the Cascade Cancer Center and the Evergreen Radiation Oncology group, who have provided exemplary personal and professional service throughout this period. We highly recommend them as treatment providers, and I hope they won't take this personally, but I hope that we never see them again for any professional reasons.

This is the 19th - and, I hope, final - post I've written about her / our experience with the anal cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery. I've been surprised at how much attention these posts, as well as my posts on my own experience with platelet rich plasma (PRP) elbow treatment, have received. In addition to the relatively high volume of blog comments and page views these posts receive (compared with other posts), I would estimate 90% of blog-related email I receive is based on these two categories. It sometimes seems that the more open, vulnerable and personal I am in my posts - about my experience, or in the case of Amy's cancer, the experience of a loved one - the deeper they resonate with others. However, I suspect a more significant factor is the large proportion of Internet users - 80% of online American adults (in 2006) - who search for health information online.

On a more vulnerable note, I'm chagrined to read my last post in this thread, on the 3-year anniversary, where I acknowledged my awareness and appreciation deficit with respect to her health ... a deficit that has not improved much in the past two years. I also expressed an "intention to celebrate milestones to greater effect (and affect[ion])" ... and yet when she came home last night, we had to turn our attention to preparing for a garage sale we're having today and tomorrow, getting our son to a lacrosse game and other activities of daily living. We will do something special to celebrate this milestone soon ... beyond my writing this short blog post ... which I suppose, for now, represents yet another instance of preaching what I want to practice.

I do want to end on a high note, though, as Amy's cancer was in many ways the most significant challenge we have faced together. We certainly have some challenges now, and I'm sure we'll encounter many more further down the road, but for this moment, I want to simply celebrate her success in rising to meet - and overcome - this challenge.

Platforms for Knowledge Re-Presentation: SlideShare and Scribd

webexsf2010 As a remote "participant" at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco this week, I was eager to utilize various online channels for enriching my experience of the knowledge, observations and insights shared by the presenters at the event. During the conference, I watched some of the keynotes on the web20tv LiveStream; now that the conference is over, there is a page with videos and/or slides from many of the talks. Two of the keynotes were by co-founders of web services designed as platforms to share slides and other re-presentations of knowledge - SlideShare and Scribd - and I thought I would re-present some of that knowledge here.

Slideshare_550x150 On Wednesday, Rashmi Sinha, Co-founder and CEO of SlideShare, presented Work Wants to be Social: 5 Things we have Learnt from SlideShare, in which she described SlideShare as a massively multiplayer game, emphasized the importance of the visual dimension of the social web, and echoed the "pivot" theme articulated by Eric Ries during the first day of Web 2.0 Expo keynotes in her exhortation to recognize when it's time to change and be willing to evolve. She then modeled this entrepreneurial adaptability by announcing that SlideShare now allows direct video uploads, adding audio ("slidecasts" - though this may be old news), embedding of presentations and videos on LinkedIn, and has broadened its aim to become "The World's Largest Professional Sharing Community".

Work wants to be social
View more presentations from Rashmi Sinha.

I understand Rashmi's motivation (growth and evolution), and believe that this represents a a strategically important step toward potential exit strategies (e.g., being acquired by LinkedIn). However, I still find the earlier, more focused, mantra of SlideShare - "YouTube for Powerpoint" - more compelling. I have not made many professionally-oriented (or professionally-made) videos, but I would still prefer to upload them to YouTube, as it is a considerably more popular platform, and embed or link to them from SlideShare, to get the best of both worlds. She noted that Eric Ries has posted a few videos to his Startup Lessons Learned SlideShare channel, and it will be interesting to see whether this is a feature that will be widely used by others.

Scribd-logo On Thursday, Jared Friedman, Co-founder and CTO of Scribd, presented HTML5 and the Future of Publishing, in which he described the rationale for the strategic decision made by Scribd to rebuild what he described as the largest document sharing service (10 million documents) to shift from Flash to HTML5. Noting that Flash on the web represents, in effect, a browser within a browser, the Scribd team returned to first principles, asking why do we need a document reader within a browser, and why aren't documents web pages? Give the challenges of rich formatting (positioning, orientation, fonts), they considered converting documents to images, but realized that this would create other problems, e.g., effectively hiding documents by substituting images for text that search engines might index. Offering an alternative - or perhaps orthogonal - perspective to Rashmi Sinha's observation the social web is visual, Jared noted that text is the glue that holds the web together.

Oddly, I could not find the slides Jared used in his presentation - even though there are many other presentations in the web2expo Scribd channel - but I'll embed what appears to be a related slide presentation from Scribd below, to provide context for both the content of his talk and the platform he was talking about.

Scribd in HTML5

I just uploaded my first Powerpoint presentation to the Gumption Scribd channel, a presentation on RFID I gave four years ago (which, given a recent Mashable article on Near Field Communication: 6 Ways It Could Change Our Daily Lives, reminds me that the future is still unevenly distributed). It seems to have many of the same features I enjoy in SlideShare: embeddability, downloadability, easy sharing on many social networking services and statistics about views (or "reads"). Scribd supports a variety of document types beyond presentations, but does not appear to support videos. Like SlideShare, it offers pre-defined categories, but it does not appear to support tags (which I personally find more useful). And, of course, Scribd's migration to HTML5 - the main focus of Jared's talk - could be an increasingly significant differentiator between the two services.

As a disclaimer, I should note that I've been a TiVo-like fanatic about SlideShare since discovering the service over three years ago, and have shared 27 presentations in my Gumption SlideShare channel. The tipping point for me came early on, when a presentation I gave at a PopTech 2007 session on The Future of Mobility - Empowering People through Mobile Technologies in Developing Regions - made it to the SlideShare leaderboard of most popular presentations for a few days shortly thereafter. I have since promoted SlideShare at every conference I've attended - physically or virtually - and recently helped a friend discover the thrill of having a presentation reach #1 on SlideShare.

I have been especially evangelistic at my "home" conferences, UbiComp and CSCW, but have been only modestly successful: the number of presentations posted has increased at UbiComp - UbiComp 2007 (7), UbiComp 2008 (10) and UbiComp 2009 (12) - but decreased at CSCW (which, ironically, is trying to attract more research and researchers in social media) - CSCW 2008 (8) and CSCW 2010 (4). Perhaps this limited success is related to many academics' natural disinclination for shameless self-promotion. I'm glad to see so many presentations from Web 2.0 Expo on SlideShare - and Scribd - and suspect this is partly due to the relatively low proportion of academics who gave talks at the conference: businessfolk are not ashamed of self-promotion.

I believe that knowledge is power, and so am excited about platforms for spreading knowledge like SlideShare and Scribd as empowering technologies ... and will continue to evangelize their use, despite the varying degrees of success I have experienced thus far.

Serendipity Platforms, Unintended Consequences and Explosive Positivity at Web 2.0 Expo

webexsf2010 The keynotes on Day 1 of the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco exposed a number of common threads, perhaps best summarized by a quote attributed to Tim O'Reilly by conference co-chair Sarah Milstein:

We're trying to maximize the surface area of serendipity.

The official theme of the event is "Platforms for Growth", and all of the keynotes so far have included observations and insights into the kind of platform thinking and its often unintended - and primarily positive - consequences that Tim and various friends of O'Reilly have been espousing and practicing for some time now.

I'm not actually at the conference but have been following it remotely through the web20tv LiveStream. However, I've been taking lots of notes, and will condense them into a coherent collection below, augmented by links and other embeddable goodies when I can find them. I'll link each of the speaker's names to their profile on the Web 2.0 Expo site, which has - or will have - slides and videos of their talks.

image from Ben Huh, CEO of the Cheezburger Network, spoke about how providing platforms for people to promulgate humor - such as LOLcats, FAIL blog and There, I Fixed It - has resulted in 19,000 submissions per day, 15 million views per month and an immeasurable impact on mutual inspiration and the wealth of networks. He contrasted the construction of Internet culture - a bottom-up process involving hackers, software, subversiveness and co-created and occasionally co-opted meaning - with popular culture - a top-down process that has brought us sitcoms, evening news and Geraldo Rivera. Perhaps due to the humorous nature of the content shared on Ben's platforms, or the occasional dropouts in the live webcast, at one point I wasn't quite sure if he was extolling the virtues of cloud computing or clown computing ... and this prompted additional musing during his talk about other approximate anagrammatical homophones such as subversiveness vs. subservience, and conservative vs. conversative, as well as Victor Borge's quote "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people."

FuseLabs-logo Lili Cheng, General Manager of Microsoft's Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Labs, demonstrated three new web applications created by her team as they confront the challenges of timeliness, unpredictable growth, experimental systems and quality data. Bing Twitter, announced at the Web 2.0 Summit in October, allows users to track trending topics and search for status updates on Twitter., announced at the f8 Facebook Developers Conference two weeks ago, allows Facebook users to share Microsoft Office documents on the web. The newest and most interesting app is Spindex, which Lili acknowledged was a "nerd name" for social personal index, and allows tracking of trending and subtrending topics that are popular among one's friends (her demo tracked trends of a mutual friend, Marc Smith, but I couldn't make out the actual content). Spindex and Docs are both in early beta / invitation-only mode, and Spindex currently requires a Windows Live ID for authentication (Docs requires Facebook authentication). I had previewed her Web 2.0 Expo Powerpoint slides earlier in the day, as they had shown up in her Facebook news feed, and I thought I'd beat the rush by submitting a request for an invitation. Unfortunately, I haven't received an invite code for Spindex or (for which I requested an invite the day two weeks ago), but I'm hoping to try them out soon.

Paul Buccheit, founder of FriendFeed, which was acquired by Facebook, was interviewed by Sarah Milstein, during which he described the recently announced Open Graph protocol as an attempt to simplify the development and use of Facebook applications. Paul championed the widespread provision of lightweight, spontaneous interaction gestures such as liking and quick and easy comments as a way to promote conversations and connections across the web. When asked by Sarah about whether the proliferation of such mechanisms would promote a larger number of ultimately shallower connections, Paul responded that they provide more context for future, deeper conversations to unfold. When asked who he admires, Paul responded that he just follows random links, noting he had just enjoyed reading a blog post by an author he hadn't heard of in a browser tab that he'd opened two weeks ago (reflecting one of my common practices).

Ted-logo June Cohen, Executive Producer of TED, shared the philosophy and practices of radical openness adopted by the organizers of the TED conference series. Despite their concerns about their conscious evolution from conference to media company to platform, their steadfast commitment to their core mission - "ideas worth spreading" - enabled them to progressively provide a model "platform for growth", and she said that all of the unintended consequences have been explosively positive. Noting that taped lectures are not an obvious source of viral content, and providing content for free is not an obvious business model, she reported that the first year they provided their TED talks online (2007?), they increased the ticket prices by 50% (to $6,000), and they still sold out within a week. Although production of high quality videos (and conferences) is expensive, they have found that whenever you have people who are passionate about what they are doing, you can find a sponsor who wants to reach that audience.

A year ago, TED launched the TED Open Translation Project, in which 4,000 volunteers have translated 9,000 videos into 77 languages, and the translated text words / symbols are linked to the segments in the video in which they were originally spoken. More recently, they have licensed the TED brand free of charge to organizers of independent TED conferences; the TEDx series has included 1000 events in 70 countries and 35 languages attended by 50,000 people ... and the original TED organizers are learning from the experimentation carried out by the independent organizers ... demonstrating that a global platform creates a global team. And just today, they announced the TED Open TV Project, with 20 global partners who have agreed to show TED talks without interruptions or commercials. The TED strategic plan: listen - and respond - to what people want.

Buildmeasurelearn Eric Ries, Venture Advisor and evangelist of the Lean Startup, said that we need to stop wasting people's time building products that no one wants and learn how to pivot: building, measuring and learning, being willing to change directions as we learn from customers, and iterating through these three stages as quickly as we can. Arguing that if we really believe the world needs to change in a fundamental way - and many entrepreneurs are driven by some variant of this motivation - we can't afford to rely on faith-based initiatives, i.e., we cannot rely solely on our own intuitions, but rather rigorously validate our "solutions" with real customers as early - and often - as possible. Warning against achieving failure - successfully executing a plan that leads you over a cliff - he emphasized the importance of articulating a compelling vision and building a sustainable organization to support the new product or service in the face of extreme uncertainty, the "soil in which all entrepreneurs live".

I found much of Eric's talk compelling, and yet I also found much of Don Norman's recent arguments about Technology First, Needs Last: The Research-Product Gulf to be even more compelling:

Design research is great when it comes to improving existing product categories, but essentially useless when it comes to breakthroughs [e.g., flush toilets, indoor plumbing, electric lighting, automobiles, airplanes, or modern telecommunication]. ... New conceptual breakthroughs are invariably driven by the development of new technologies. The new technologies, in turn, inspire technologists to invent things. Not sometimes because they themselves dream of having their capabilities, but many times simply because they can build them. In other words, grand conceptual inventions happen because technology has finally made them possible. Do people need them? That question is answered over the next several decades as the technology moves from technical demonstration, to product, to failure, or perhaps to slow acceptance in the commercial world where slowly, after considerable time, the products and applications jointly evolve, and slowly the need develops.

I suppose one difference is in scale, with respect to impact, time frame and return on investment. If you need to actually make some money on your idea in a relatively short period of time, you may want to adopt the lean startup model, and prepare to accept customer-driven compromises along the path toward your grand vision. The next presentation seemed to offer a middle way.

OcarinaSmuleGe Wang, Assistant Professor of Music at Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) and Co-Founder, CTO and Chief Creative Officer of Smule, played us out. Offering an example of Don Norman's observation that new technologies inspire technologists to invent things, Ge shared the process of inside-out design behind the invention of the Ocarina iPhone application: he and his team decided that they wanted to build something musical with the iPhone, taking advantage of its various sensors (multi-touch screen, accelerometer, microphone, GPS), but they weren't initially sure what. The Ocarina app allows you to not only play the iPhone as an instrument, but create and share tablature for songs / musical pieces and to see, hear and play with an organic community of Ocarinists around the world, in a global visualization (and auralization?) of imperfect harmony. Among the unintended consequences was the adoption of the instrument by a nose flautist.

LighterArtSmule Another Smule iPhone application, the Sonic Lighter, has also yielded unanticipated consequences. Sonic Lighter creates a real-time visual and aural simulation of a lighter that responds to tilting, blowing into the microphone and being positioned near another iPhone that is running the app (which creates a flamethrower effect). It also creates a dot on the Sonic Lighter Ignition Map whenever it is lit and then blown out, which has led to an entire category of unanticipated effects now called Lighter Art (I love the double entendre ... and enjoy this much better than the darker art represented by the Oil Spill Crisis Map, for which one can also imagine an ignition component). The first known example of Lighter Art can be seen to the right, where someone created virtual graffiti - the word "hi" - by turning the Sonic Lighter on and off while walking around Pasadena in a pattern that sketched out the letters. Other Smule applications demonstrated include the Magic Piano (only for iPad), and I Am T-Pain, a mobile voice synthesizer / karaoke app, both of which include interactive mapping capabilities that enable people - or cats - to spontaneously play or sing duets with people they don't know.

Ruminating on Ben Huh's earlier presentation, and Victor Borge's quote about connecting via laughter, I found myself wondering whether music might represent the second shortest channel between two people ... or among larger groups.