Saturday, November 17, 2007

One of my October 2004 predictions was for more internet polls and compasses.

Now the Political Compass is on Facebook, as are a multitude of self-classification widgets of the "what do you think of these films", "what's your favourite thing to do on a first date" kind of questionnaires.

Polls / compass widgets and YASNS are made for each other. A poll widget is a "feature" not a full "application". And it's essentially social. Having classified yourself, your next instinct is going to be to compare yourself with your friends and to announce your affiliations to them.

Now, what's fascinating about political compasses (eg. the world's smallest political quiz) is that they (at least some of them) have a rhetorical function : to persuade people that more options are available than merely some kind of one-dimensional left-right spectrum.

Effectively that your social beliefs can be detached from your economic beliefs.

What I'm curious about now, is whether it has been effective for this. Or do most people find themselves on the left-liberal or right-conservative quadrants? It would be nice to see the empirical evidence.

And then, what reasons there might be for either result. If there is now an even distribution across the compass, why have people traditionally not seen it? If there isn't, perhaps people have a deeper intuitive understanding of the connection between the economic world and the social which the libertarian misses?

Anyway, what that also reminds me is that there never was another official "predictions" page on ThoughtStorms. But anyone who reads me knows that this year I'm pretty continuously raving about two trends :

a) the break-up of the traditional computer into a swarm of more varied, loosely coupled devices with more specialized, exotic behaviours and interactivity. (I'm, of course, talking about all the Nabaztags and Chumbies and Wii Controllers and Roombas etc.)

b) the break-up of the traditional software-application into a swarm of more varied, loosely coupled widgets.

Both processes are analogous. And enabled by the same underlying patterns. And, I believe, will interact reinforce each other.

In both cases the fragmentation of a monolithic architecture is enabled by a cheaper underlying network to bus the information around. In the case of the desktop computer, that's mainly more ubiquitous Wifi, and secondarily Bluetooth and cheaper packet-switching mobile networks. In the case of the fragmentation of software applications, it's mainly social networks bringing the users and small applications together, and secondarily the open web 2.0 "mashup" interfaces, RSS etc.

Chumby, by accident or design, seems very fortunately placed in both these trends. It will bring socialized widgets outside of the computer : just keep Googling the term "Chumby Facebook news-feed" for a while until the obvious happens.

Which brings us to the other important enabler of the break-up of monolithic architectures. A user-control device. What excites about magic wands (ie. Wii controllers or other sticks with accelerometers that can recognise gestures) is that this is a potential input device to control / co-ordinate the swarm of devices. A mouse or joypad is still focussed on moving a pointer within a 2D space. That's great for the desktop or laptop with one screen, but not once your computer is scattered in 6 different places around your room. Even if they can all potentially talk to each other by Wifi, how do you tell two of them to start doing this now?

This is the problem that a wand solves better than anything else.

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