Saturday, October 27, 2007

Now we'll see...

For a long time, there's been speculation about why video phones haven't really "caught on." Maybe it's because we like to answer the phone without brushing our hair. Maybe it's because there are not enough other people that have it. Maybe it's because the idea of a telemarketer seeing me *at all* is somewhat terrifying.

I think partly it's because there hasn't been a "killer connectivity" issue related to one-to-one video conferencing. Yes, there are web cams. And they're still largely being used by bleeding-edge types, or by businesses with an interest. Absent a desire to connect with another, specific person... as of yet, there isn't a really good reason why an individual consumer might say, "Yeah. I need that."

Until -- maybe -- now.

Arsenal Interactive has announced "HeyCosmo," an online Texas Hold'em poker plug-in for Facebook, complete w/ webcam support. So you can see the other people you're playing poker with (up to 10), join new games and watch other games.

Poker is one of the few games that's; A) wicked popular, and, B) is actually improved by face-to-face play. I'm sorry... it may be more fun to play sudoku cooperatively, but I'm pretty sure that being able to vid yer opponent's mug won't significantly affect the gameplay. Poker, though? The psychology of the game is a huge part of it... in real life. And while webcam support doesn't provide all the benefits of live play -- you won't catch your opponents' tells if they're below the neck -- it will, I suspect, add to the fun and playability for many players.

Combine that with the fact that Facebook already has a couple bjillion users who already know each other... and this might be the moment that webcam stuff takes off for the masses.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My Team Your Team goes pro!

I am fantastically and wonderfully glad (and proud) to announce that the game my son and I made up one night at Bob Evans on the back of a paper menu has a site devoted to its play.

Check out:

An ongoing match of My Team, Your Team

These are actual artists, people. Which is scary. I don't know if my powers of superness will be super enough to be superest...

Truly spectacular props to the creators, Kevin Cornell and Matthew Sutter. These guys are funny, smart and Dan and I will totally kick their BUTTS if they just come to Ohio and sit down in a greasy spoon w/ us over a plate of eggs and sausage gravy.

My next thought is that a site where anybody can create an account and link to Flickr pics (or whatever) with indications of who they "beat" w/ that picture. We'll see.... Hmmm....

Anyway, my thanks to Kevin and Matthew for propogating the joy that is My Team, Your Team. And may the best toon win. 

Saturday, October 20, 2007

10 Best Web Comics [nsfww]

[nsfww = not safe for wussie work. There's no porn here, but I will be using words like "shit," "crap" and "piss." You, your boss, the camera above your desk and the NSA have been warned] 

I have lots of arguments with people about the boundaries of crap.

Crap is the stuff that you don't want to qualify as valuable or worth any effort at a particular moment. It's not necessarily an insult. I often talk about "all my great crap," or, "the kind of crap you can get from Archie McPhee," or, "the bunch of crap left over after brunch... help youself."

Crap is not shit. If something is "shit," it's worthless. As opposed to "the shit," which is roughly synonymous with my childhood, Boston slang term, "wicked pissah." In certain parts of New York (where I've spent a bunch o' time), a "pisser" is also a good thing. "That Kenny... funny guy. His party last night was a pisser." Also, a "piss-cutter" can be good thing. I guess if something is strong enough to cut piss, it must be good. Yet "not giving a shit" and "being pissed off" are bad things. So... where are we on the relative value of bodily function metaphor? I won't even start on f**k, as we all know that it now means everything and nothing.

But back to crap.

I have friends who think modern art is crap. Some think science fiction is crap, while others love it and think the term "sci-fi" is crap. Personally, I love Star Wars Episodes 4-6, and think that 1-3 are crap.

Mostly, though, the argument I hear is that "all this user created content on the Web is crap." When I point out that most of the professionally created content on the Web, on TV, in magazines, etc. is crap, too... I usually get a shrug and the reply, "Yeah. I suppose so. But there's so much more crap on the Web."

My point about the relative positive/negative metaphoric value of words like crap, piss and f**k is that there is the same relative value placed on the crap itself. What is now part of the canon may once have been, from the point of view of authority, crap. This is not news. What also is not news is our sociological inability to cope with a fantastically different medium than the ones that have come before.

We see this in telco. Phones were the devils that would interrupt family time and cause people to lose the personal, face-to-face familiarity that is the all important glue of society. Never mind that we'd been writing letters for a couple thousand years. Letters good (thoughtful, intelligent, educated prose), phones bad (conversational, immediate, pedestrian). Then cell phones were bad because they'd do the same thing in public. Then they weren't. Now people are complaining about Blackberries and other portable email readers. Give it five years, folks. The ettiquette will work itself out.

So there's lots of stuff on the Web. And much of it (like this blog) is "amateur" content; ie, nobody pays us. Much of it is also, by traditional standards of authority, crap. Of course it is. To claim that most MySpace pages, YouTube videos or eBay items are anything but crap would be nonsensical. I'm not saying that they aren't crap.

I'm saying that crap is OK. And that may be what the canonical guardians of traditional media are really afraid of finding out. That for many people, well... we like the crap. Yes, yes... required statement about the value of classics goes here. I'm a Lit Major, for the love of Proust. I read "A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu" in French. I've written 20-page essays on "The Wasteland." I've read Dickens that wasn't a course requirement. I like classical music.

But I also like web comics. Which wouldn't have existed without, well... the Web. Comics like (in no partiklar order):

There are many more. OK, two of the above (Homestar and Bunny Theater) aren't comics, per se, but cartoons; animation. So sue me. I love 'em and they're on my list.

My crap list  :)

Some will argue that a few (or all) of the above are the work of professionals. Just like reading the NYT on the Web, it's OK. It's not the medium that's crap, it's the bjillions of messages. But without the bjillions, there's no Web. And if they couldn't blog, post, comment and connect... they wouldn't have spawned the messages above.

The medium is the message. And the medium now includes everyone. And you don't get your crap without it being mixed in with everyone else's. As I've said before, there's not such thing as "user created content." Everybody is now a user. Stop worrying about it and enjoy. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Non-Apple stuff on my blog


Ye faithful readers of this blog (yes, that's you, Jen) will notice an advertising rectangle to the right, featuring links to MP3s that you can buy from I have great expectations that the revenue from this feature will help pay something on the order of 1/10th of what my Web hosting services cost me (ie, maybe about a buck a month).

Why, then, do I sully the pristine, amateur clarity of my blog with the pixels of filthy commerce? 'Cause I really don't like the way Apple handles the DRM for iTunes, and I like how Amazon is going about their new MP3 product sales.

I generally like Apple. I like the iPod. I like the iPhone. If we could go back in time, and somehow convince Steves B. and J. to license Mac tech the same way that IBM did -- giving us competitive, 3rd-party versions of the Mac computers --  I think the world would be a better place, though. And now they're doing similar crap with DRM.


I don't like DRM. It makes me feel like the company selling me something doesn't trust me. That's all. No rant, no preaching, no marketing strategy. I just don't like DRM. It's a pain in the bootox and makes me feel icky. So get yer MP3s from Amazon, or another DRM-free source.

The 500

So, for reasons related to astrology, humidity, international politics or global warming, all my blogs (I host some for some friends) have been going down for the last few days, sometimes for as much as 18 hours at a time. They all get a nice, vague "500 Error."

After only one initial, "It's Wordpress; you figure it out," email exchange, my hosting company acknowledged that the problem is on their end. Which is very nice. When 7 blogs dump all at once... that can't be me. I can screw up one thing at a time, but don't have the talent or luck to simultaneously crash 7 SQL databases. I just wouldn't know where to begin.

The picture at left is my inner Spartan, battling the forces of un-understandable technical glitches. I assume that, like all such battles, it will result in eventual glory, my own physical destruction and several hundred thousand dead Persians. 

Saturday, October 13, 2007

To play's the thing

This is one of those rambling, "I'm figuring things out while I'm typing" posts. No guarantee of clarity. But there are good links, so there's that.

If you play games, and haven't heard-of or read anything by Richard Bartle, you need to. He is one of the creators of MUD, which you also need to know about. Richard created the "Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology" that ranks gamers on four scales; achiever, explorer, socializer, killer. It's kinda like Myers-Briggs, but for gamers. I am an ESAK. From the test:

ESAK players often see the game world as a great stage, full of things to see and people to meet. They love teaming up with people to get to the hard-to-see places, and they relish unique experiences.

Breakdown: Achiever 40.00%, Explorer 80.00%, Killer 20.00%, Socializer 60.00%

This reminds me a bit of my Myers-Briggs type, ENTP (Extrovert, iNtuition, Thinking, Perception). When I took the full MB test years ago, I was right in the middle on the first three (ie, not particularly extroverted, somewhat intuitive, and inclined, a bit, to prefer thinking to feeling). But on the "Perception vs. Judging" scale, I was hugely P over J.  

So. There's been some discussion at Terra Nova about "A fifth Bartle type." Timothy Burke, the post's author, speculates:

Where the attraction to design is a part of the experience of play, and where the player's activities within the game are at least partially aimed at a kind of pure understanding of how the game or world functions (rather than an understanding which is aimed at maximizing achievement). It's always seemed to me that this approach to play was distinctive enough that it could easily be called a fifth Bartle-type to go alongside achiever, killer, explorer and socializer. Call it subcreator, or if you want to get fancy, demiurge.

It's an interesting idea; that playing the game to understand (or appreciate or accept or influence) the game itself is, for some, more fun than achieving within the game, exploring the content or beating or socializing with other players. On the one hand, if I want to stay pure-Bartle, I think that Burke's proposed category could come down under "Explorer," where the player is simply exploring the meta-game as opposed to the game. It's a role I enjoy, both as a player and as a critic. In fact, one could say that someone who plays a game in order to understand its mechanics, player motivation, changes over time, etc. is not really playing the game, but "playing at gaming" or "playing at play." Or, maybe, sometimes even "working at play."

This intersects in my head with a post at The Escapist (by way of Infocult) called "WebGame 2.0." Kyle Orland writes about how aspects of list keeping--especially numbers of friends, popularity rankings, etc.--lend game-like aspects to some social networking activities. Self-googling, of course, falls into this category of behaviors, too. I made (and make) a very specific effort to be at the top of the listings on the major search engines for "Andy Havens." Why? Because a substantial part of my life is now "lived" on the Web. And Google is the phone book for that life. Currently, I own the first two pages of results for my name, and the majority of the results for pages 3-5. At that point, you're getting into comments on blogs that have better SEO than my own blog.* On the third page, though, you get a link to my Googlegänger, who (unfortunately for me, I think) is a marketing guy, too... but who's got some Web pursuits that I find a bit... well, it's just not my style. If he (she?) were a trombone player from Australia, somebody happening onto his/her Web efforts would (probably) realize that I'm not both an Ohio, USA marketing guy and a musician from Sidney. When the Googlegänger's activities are pretty close to mine, though... well, I'll keep working on my personal SEO.

But (and here's the point related to the above), is the fact that I'm keeping score and indication that I'm playing a game? I don't think so. Although many games have scores, not all scores are related to games. My weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. are all "scores" of a type, yet I don't monitor them as an act of play, but as something related to the decidedly non-play act of trying to stay alive. Similarly, many of the things we do to measure success (in a worldly sense) are scores--salary, neighborhood, quality of stuff, size of office, number of minions--yet are quite serious, non-play-y and not games.

There are all kinds of discussions about the nature of play and what is a game, etc. I don't want to get into that, because others (including Richard) are much better at it and have done great work already. What intrigues me at this point, though, are the two ends of a continuum that seem to bracket a "play" experience:

1. Taking something that is intended for play (a game, in this case) and doing something with it that is non-play. Now, you can argue (I won't) that the Fifth Bartle Type proposed by Timothy might be engaged in play. Sure, that might be the case. The act of building new resources for a game, for example, might very well feel like "play" to the modder. But it isn't (usually) going to be within the scope of what the designers had in mind. You can make small totem poles out of baseball bats, but at that point you are not "playing baseball" in any sense of the word. You can write and perform songs about your favorite baseball team... but again, you ain't playing the game.

2. Taking something that isn't a game, and playing it. We use the phrase, "He doesn't really care about you; he's just playing games," to mean that the subject isn't engaged on the surface level, but doing something else, using the activity in a different context. That we use the term "player" to describe a philandering male really brings home the idea that "playing" and "games" are often synonymous with a lack of sincerity or seriousness of intent. Someone who is not a player would, constrastingly, "work" at a relationship, neh?

I think Thomas Malaby said it best here:

Games... are domains of contrived contingency, capable of generating emergent practices and interpretations, and are intimately connected with everyday life to a degree heretofore poorly understood... Rather than seeing gaming as a subset of play, and therefore as an activity that is inherently separable, safe, and pleasurable, I offer here a rethinking of games as social artifacts in their own right that are always in the process of becoming.

Or (in Andy-simple terms), games ain't always games, and play ain't always fun.

The final point being a question: is there a model that describes a tendency to either "game that which is not-game," or "do 'not-play things' with that which is game?" Or does it depend on the game/situation? I have no interest in many of the social "games" that people play. Feh. And I do like to delve into the hidden, meta-nut-meat (what the hell?) of games beyond the surface. What does that say about me? What would those "types" look like?

  • G vs. M = Gamer vs. Metagamer (in game spaces)
  • S vs. P = Straightforward vs. Playa (in RL)
I'd be an MS. What that means, I have no idea. Yet. Let me play around with it for awhile...




Saturday, October 6, 2007

Social features, functions, relays and exclusivity

The Long Tail blog has a post up about social features. Chris Anderson mirrors my thoughts from last December about the differences between social features and social functions, the main point of his being that more sites across the board will adopt social features. The Long Tail post by way of a Micro Persuasion post that claims that the portals (Yahoo!, Google, MSN) will "win" the social networking wars. There, Steve Rubel makes that point that people might use social networking services, but they get there through trusted portal partners and will use those portal's services (email, IM, etc.) even more while using social networking sites. Back to Chris, who says that, "... focused sites that serve niche communities will extract the best lessons from Facebook and MySpace and offer better social networking tools to the communities they already have."

To a certain degree, I agree with them both. I do believe, like Steve, that all the traffic galloping through the big social sites will have positive impacts on the portals. We already know that much of Google's traffic comes from MySpace, for example. I also agree with Chris that many many more organizations will begin to build small, very vertical social applications that really tailor services to meet their needs and the needs of their clients' clients; I'm starting to think of this as "social relay" functionality. That is, can a social site provide not only for the group needs of its immediate members, but ways for them to then push out to their constituents? A good example is professional services (lawyers, accountants, architects, etc.). A social site that helps lawyers, for example, network and communicate in specific ways would be good. One that helped them then pass along appropriate social features to clients and posible clients would be better. Hmmm... I'm thinking that "social relay" needs a post of its own at some point...

Anyway... Chris and Steve both kinda make the point that you can take your social biz from MySpace to Facebook (as many kids do when they hit HS or college), so the social ties there may be kinda weak. Yup. I been sayin' that for awhile. Both MySpace and Facebook are collections of social features, predicated around basic, high-level social functions... but not around any one in particular. And when you base a service on a collection of lowest-common-denominator features... Gulp.

So the heart of the question becomes (I think), at what level do you embed "the wall?" To be social with some means being unsocial with others. Not in a mean way, but at the level of appropriateness to your community/ies. My writing buddies don't (necessarily) care about my marketing stuff, my game stuff, my work stuff, etc.

I'm already running into this on Facebook. I don't use it much, being a Child of Email. But I've begun having some weird moments of virtual fugue, when folks I know who aren't from work post stuff or ping me or poke me or put something on my wall or whatever. I signed up for Facebook through work, and at least 70% of my friends there are work/industry related. But a few kids from the college where I teach once a week have friended me, as have some buddies from previous work lives and some plain-ol' friend-friends.

Now, it's something I'm getting used to and, I assume, would not have any problems with if I used Facebook lots more. It would be like my home email where... hmmm... wait a sec. I mostly get email from friends and family at home. Some cross-over, but not much. And my virtual-social relationships r.e. games mostly take place on blogs and listservs. And my writing stuff happens (again, mostly) on a writing site.

There are lots of little plug-ins on MySpace and Facebook that let you do various, specific, fun or useful things. But they are "in Facebook" not "of Facebook." When the Web gets to the point where there are some easy, free "space creation" tools (I'm looking at you Google, and you Raph Koster), that allow for really generic plug-ins... will there be a need for Facebook and MySpace? I mean, you still need a host for the files (but the portals have that) and a unique moniker (again, the portals' got 'em)...

I think I'm beginning to really agree with Steve. I'm not sure, though, that the portals will "win" the social wars. I think that the rest of the Web will just become social enough that a specific place ain't needed. Maybe it will take 2 years, maybe 5, maybe 10. But if I can embed all the social features of MySpace or Facebook into my email/IM client (or into my group's web site)... there goes the need for a dedicated social provider.

What is Google doing with JotSpot anyway... 

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Is the article count for Vicipedia, the Latin translation of Wikipedia, in Arabic numerals and not Roman?

As far as I can tell, the count should read:

    Nunc sunt XVCVXCII  paginae

Except the first X and both V's should have lines over them. Which I can't seem to make happen in WordPress.
Damn intertubes... can't handle dead languages. 



Monday, October 1, 2007