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Blog posts tagged as 'senses'

Friday feedback

It’s Friday, so let’s see what people have been saying about Pulse Laser…

An easier update first. I mentioned pagefeel, toying with taste, mouthfeel and extra browser functionality. Not only has Ben Gimpert put his culinary talk online, Theomatics of Food, he’s also offered more suggestions for what the browser-mouth could taste. All good stuff.

Now a slightly tougher comment.

Anne Galloway gave us a generous write-up on the first few days of posts, and asked some important questions of my model railway exhibition observations:

Matt’s assumptions about technology, and his expectations of technological progress over time, become very apparent in these excerpts. But what if the values these hobbyists associate with their craft include the beauty and nostalgia of keeping history alive? Or the joyous absorption of manual work and constant maintainance? What if there is a desire to resist automation and ease of use? What could we learn then about what people want and expect from new technological designs?

It’s true, it’s true!

Phil Edward’s comment on Anne’s post amplifies those questions, saying that they’re: “Pretty fundamental questions, in fact – and I dislike and distrust technophiles like Schulze and Webb (and Archigram, for that matter), precisely because they don’t ask them.”

And if that’s the side of us I’m showing, I’m doing something wrong!

I hope what generally colours our work is the preservation of existing practices. While I use technology more than most, I wouldn’t call myself a technophile. I like exploring the possibilities inherent in things, it’s true, and by making and using mainly–can I be a thingphile instead?

But there’s a specific point I should make about technology in the context of this hobby. Here, also, is where my post failed to give the full picture. Take Anne’s point about “keeping history alive.” It feels to me that, 20 years ago when I last went to an exhibition, that the history being kept alive was the railway. New technology went in the service of that modelling: electric points rather than manual points, lights inside trains, electric turntables. The technology felt contemporary, and it felt as if it had been kept contemporary for decades. Today, however, it feels like the history being kept alive is not that of the railway, but of the state of model railways from the late 1980s.

In short: It felt like the hobbyists used to chase technology in pursuit of their modelling more then than they do now, and that’s a big change.

Is this true? I have a low confidence in it, a tiny sample size, and a hazy memory so I don’t even know whether I’m remembering correctly. That’s why I didn’t discuss it… but omitting that comment was a mistake, as my surprise at the technology in play permeated the entire post without any explanation. It’s in that context the absence of computers and monorails stood out for me, not one of a general drive towards progress and automation. (I was as happy as many of the folks there just to watch the model trains move. The smaller the trains the better, for some reason.)

Anne, Phil, I hope this clarification leads to slightly less dismay!

From pagerank to pagefeel?

Back in June, at reboot8, I presented a series of web browser enhancement ideas based on an investigation of the human senses. (The slides and my notes are online: Making Senses.)

The concept of taste led me to imagine what it would be like to take a hyperlink on a webpage, and pop it in your mouth (taste starts on slide 7). Just like our tongue picks up a 4 or 5 flavours, but sometimes we really enjoy a salty or bitter taste and sometimes we don’t, what are the 4 or 5 tastes of a webpage that we like depending on our mood and nutritional requirements of the day?

Web page taste

In my sketch, tasting a link involves hovering over it and having a flavour summary pop up. This includes a thumbnail of the page at the end of the hyperlink, it’s extracted terms (corresponding to the smell), and a bar chart of the 4 page tastes (flavour is a combination of all of these). The 4 I chose, with only a little thought, were:

  • Is it an outward-linking page, like a contents page, or an inwardly focused page like an essay?
  • Is it frequently updated?
  • Is the text more in the 3rd person, like a corporate or academic page, or more about the 1st person–subjective, like a blog or journal?
  • Do many people link to this page, ie what is its pagerank?

They’re okay, as tastes, I think, but really could be better.

Fast forward a few months…

At eurofoo06, Ben Gimpert presented on the “Theomatics of Food” (he has a culinary background). He spoke about mouthfeel, that sensory experience of taste, materiality, stickiness… it’s a grand word.

Where I really pricked my ears up was when Ben joined taste to mouthfeel. What is the feel, he asked, of the main tastes? He speculated:

  • “Sour” mouthfeel: pucker-y
  • “Salty” mouthfeel: chewy
  • “Bitter” mouthfeel: coating-y
  • “Sweet” mouthfeel: crunchy

(I don’t recall whether he mentioned umami/pungent or spicy in this section too.)

Now this I like. Given those 4 tastes, and their corresponding feelings, are what we need to make a first-pass judgement on whether we need the buckets of chemicals available in any given food… could I use these real tastes to make the equivalent 4 for webpages?

What does my browser-mouth taste when I click a link? What are the basic flavours of HTML? What is the pagefeel?

So I think I’ll revise my original 4 web tastes. They’ll still take a lot of datamining to calculate, but that’s fine. Perhaps crunchy pages are like popcorn, ones people stay on for not much time, but when they click away it tends to be on another, almost identical page. Coating-y pages are ones that linger… could these be social sites, where you get embroiled in the community, sticky sites?

Chewy sites are long and worthwhile: academic papers, pages that are knowledge hubs, using keywords from a lot of separate parts of the web. And I’m not sure what pucker-y/sour is. Sour makes me think of lemons, which makes me think of citric acid at the centre of the metabolic cycle, which tastes nasty but is at the middle of all life. Perhaps the equivalent for the web is hyperlinks. Pages with a lot of hyperlinks on them are the concentrated stuff of life on the web, and so they taste very, very sour.

Okay, enough of that silliness.

I still think it’s worth taking huge quantities of every metric we can gather about the web and web browsing behaviour – page linger time, click-away time, search terms, text reading age, word tense, link network position, everything – and datamining it as much as we can. Maybe out of all of that we’ll find some stable metrics for describing pages, possibly even those pagefeels, and those will be great additions to search engines and web browsers.

Alternative taste suggestions welcome!

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