Holistic Engagment: Lightning talk from Unsheffield 09

July 7th, 2009

We were invited to present one of the opening talks at Unconference Sheffield 09, a 20/20 Ignite-style talk as part of the “Stimulus” strand. 20 seconds per slide limits the depth it’s possible to go in to, but this is a brief (some would say, hectic) to how we see the world and the basis of our practice.

In broad terms, we look at how the old top-down message culture (particularly in terms of organisations reliant on PR and marketing) is breaking down, and even being actively undermined, by the shift that online communication has ushered in. A look at Ryanair Vs. Jason Roe reminds us that this democratic environment is also two-way, and as such large organisations do not nescessarily benefit from their scale.

We move on to look at how the architectures of the web are causing a cultural shift towards opennness and more egalitarian communication. We look at the ideas of discoverability, wayfinding and how organisations can create paths and signposts to work with their visitor base, and reinforce those paths for the future.

Finally we remind ourselves that conversation and language are themselves technologies; basic frameworks that underpin the most advanced systems that define our cultural identity and mediate our lives. Jürgen Habermas’ theory of communicative action is built on the ideal of a free public sphere, without external pressures influencing discourse, which empowers participants and leads to an freeer, more informed and consensual society.

Unsheffield

We’d like to thank Jag Gill, the team, and sponsors for organising such an excellent event –  always a thankless task. If you were there, we hope you got something from our presentation and the other delegates.

Contact Dave regarding this article.

SCANDOT

June 8th, 2009

SCANDOT is a QRcode plugin for Firefox 3 and higher. It embeds a dynamic QRcode in every page you visit or print, allowing you to easily scan and revisit the page again on printouts or your mobile phone, without any writing, typing, saving or emailing.

Install SCANDOT

INSTALLATION

Click the logo above to download and install SCANDOT from the Mozilla.org site.

Alternately, click here to download and install SCANDOT manually. Download the file then drag and drop it onto a running Firefox window. It will ask you to confirm the installation and prompt you to restart firefox.

USE

How to customise your toolbar

How to customise your toolbar

Right-click the toolbar (or control-click it on OS X) and pick ‘customise toolbar’.


Near the bottom of the list of buttons is the SCANDOT button. Click and drag it to your main toolbar to quickly toggle QR Codes on and off.

How to add the SCANDOT button to your toolbar

How to add the SCANDOT button to your toolbar

The Toolbar Button

Click the button once and QR Codes are enabled. Click it again and they’re disabled.

Configuration Options

The configuration panel is under the Tools menu

The configuration panel is under the Tools menu

To configure SCANDOT, either context (right / control) – click the icon in the Add-ons menu item under the Tools menu and select “options”, or click the “options button”. Quicker access is available from the Tools menu, under SCANDOT.

In the configuration dialogue window, you can set which corner of the page the QR Code is displayed in, and the size of the code. Longer URLs work better and are recognisable by more devices when they are given more space, but generally we’ve found around 200 pixels gives good results for most pages.

Printing a QR Code as part of a document

Make sure the toolbar button is turned on, and just print as you would normally. The QR Code will be embedded on the printed page the same way as it is on your browser window.

REMOVAL

To remove the toolbar button, just open the context menu (right-click or control-click on OS X) over the main toolbar in Firefox, and drag the button from the toolbar back into the “customise toolbar” window.

Uninstallation

If you want to completely remove SCANDOT, go to Firefox’s Tools menu, and pick Add-ons. Make sure you’re on the “Extensions” tab, then click SCANDOT in the list. Finally, click “uninstall” to remove it – this will happen the next time you start Firefox after you close all open Firefox windows (and exit, on OS X).

What’s a QR Code?

SCANDOT home page as a QRCode

SCANDOT home page as a QRCode

A QR Code is a two-dimensional barcode (or matrix code) which can embed a large volume of data into a small space. It can encode different kinds of data; SCANDOT encodes URLs, including HTTP, HTTPS, and FTP – basically, if you can type the address in and Firefox will show a page for it, SCANDOT will encode it.

QR Codes are in use more and more; you’ve probably seen one on a soft drinks can, or similar things printed on bills or stamps. Usually they help product tracking and automation, but QR Codes have become much more prominent for general consumption by those outside the logistics industry.

How do I read a QR Code?

SCANDOT does not read QR Codes. You will need another piece of software to do this; luckily, there are plenty out there, and they’re nearly all free. Google sponsor the zxing library under an open source license, which provides the backbone for many of the more recent ones.

Why would I use this?

You want to send a web page from your computer to your phone. Emailing it is a lot of work, and time-consuming, and possibly expensive. Instead you turn on SCANDOT, start the barcode scanner on your phone, point it at the screen, and instantly recieve the page, with no clicking required.

You print a map out. Months later, you realise the URL has been cropped, and would have been too long to type in anyway. Luckily, you had SCANDOT, which embedded the address as a glyph on the page. You use your computer and a webcam to recognise the code and restore the page.

About TANDOT

TANDOT is a strategic design company providing planning, design and production services for social and interactive media. We love mobile, geolocative and innovative new technologies and have a track record in creating and delivering ground-breaking solutions.

About QR Codes

Invented in 1994, the QR Code was designed to provide a machine-readable and robust mechanism to embed data about the manufacturing process into the car production process. Since the format has been released, a number of standardised data formats employing QR Codes have emerged, encoding such data as URLs, email addresses, and business cards.

QR Codes are the patented property of Denso-Wave. Denso-Wave has released the standard under a royalty-free license and promised not to assert patent rights.

License

The current beta version is ©TANDOT Ltd. and may not be redistributed without permission. Once we’re out of beta (early August 2009), it will be released under an open license.
We cannot be held responsible for any loss of data, livelihood, time, or functionality you may consider to be caused by SCANDOT. As much as possible, the software is safe and does not interfere with the normal operation of either your computer or Firefox iteself.

Version History

0.9.0 First beta release

Contact Dave regarding this article.

The Merzweb: Web 2.0 and the 1930s avant garde

May 25th, 2009

While it feels like our online lives are unprecedented, at least from a technological perspective, they’re not, from an avant-garde art perspective. From the 1920s to the 1950s, a sadly neglected artist from Hanover, Kurt Schwitters, derived his own practice that has earned him accolades from being one of the first multimedia artists, to a pioneer of collage and objets trouvés. I’d like to afford him a new title; Patron saint of the Social Web.

Schwitters’ work, born between world wars, was partly a response aiming towards reuniting the fragments of a shattered world. Beginning with paper-based collage works, Schwitters selected and combined elements based on the relationships and associations he percieved between them, before extending this process to sculpture, environments and ultimately whole spaces.

What’s really interesting about his merz practice is how much it echoes how we build content online, and how the spaces we inhabit behave – in many ways, Schwitters was constructing social networks, ad-hoc infrastructure, and content built around association using physical objects. He rejected the idea of ‘completeness’ in favour of a constantly expanding and evolving production process, mirroring our idea of web ‘pages’ – what’s the definitive version of a google page? We live in an environment of dynamic ‘pages’, pages no longer with definitive versions but evolving content which changes over time in response to the associations and taxonomy informing it.

Much as there’s no difference in the structure of two pages showing videos on YouTube, divorcing their arrangement from their content, Schwitters treated his collage surfaces. There were no boundaries or judgments passed on the quality of content; everything, from bodily waste to works of art, we treated equally in the eyes of the merz process. The exterior was a reflection of the structural arrangement of the interior, mediated by his own life and acquisition process. This freedom we have only discovered en masse through the recent evolution of folksonomies and personal, free-association organisational structures that have evolved with the web and modern document management practices. Taxonomy is no longer recieved; it is something we evolve, that changes through its use, reflects the user, and responds to meeting others when it becomes folksonomy.

In many ways, Schwitters’ Merzbau is a physical manifestation of a Facebook homepage – a reflection of the individual, emergent evidence of their influences and activity, and ever changing, albeit on a slower scale. Sadly, the original Merzbau was destroyed in an Allied air-raid on Hanover; a second Merzbau in Norway was destroyed, and his final Merzbarn, in the Lake District, fell into disrepair after his death, sadly as forgotten as Schwitters was in his adopted country.

That what was radically avant-garde and rejected at its time has now become the routine way we read, learn about the world, and document our existence shows what a misunderstood and unexplored medium the web has become. Commentators are already lunging at ‘web 3.0’ without fully grasping the implications of the ‘web 2.0’ shift. Schwitters, while never experiencing any of the parts that have enabled global adoption of his practices, would have understood where we’re headed; that when we talk about the ‘web’, we’re exploring all our content in terms of relationships of the signified, rather than concrete destinations and fixed, dependable content. Our global brain is as shifting, fickle and malleable as the human mind itself.

While Isadore of Seville is mooted as the patron saint of the internet (based on completeness and determistic processes), let us respect Kurt Schwitters as the patron saint of the web – completeness an unnatainable (and negative) goal.

Some insightful commentary on this presentation are on The Art of Fiction.

Contact Dave regarding this article.