My Tech Prediction for 2012: The Year Hyperlocal Takes Off

If you haven’t been able to tell, one of my goals for 2012 is to write more.  I had a lot of things on my mind lately, and one of them was the evolution of the kind of work I’m in for the upcoming year.  I

Initially when I started college, I had seen myself as a web designer.  I was interested in helping to make the web work and contributing to the content on it.  But more and more, I’m more fascinated with web communication.  I manage the social media presence of my university at my job, which is a big part of that.  However, I don’t think the base feature set of Twitter, Facebook, and their variant cousins are the entirety of what we can do with communication on the web.  Sometimes the best examples of connecting people are new ideas that spring from their platforms.  For example, hashtags are something that the users of Twitter created, not Twitter itself.

One of my favorite examples of how people can become connected on the web is a Facebook page that has become popular in Northwest Alabama over the past year, the Shoals Sale Barn.  It’s a very simple idea, it’s just a Facebook forum where people can buy and sell anything and everything.  But it’s gotten to the point where it’s unfair to only consider it a Facebook Page at this point, it’s virtually a platform and economy of it’s own.

It also doesn’t exist solely within bits, because it’s connecting people in real life too.  Sellers and buyers are meeting one another and becoming friends.  You could do this through Craigslist for years, but stripping that anonymity and associating items with photos, names and hometowns is awesome because it curates a sense of community.

The Shoals Sale Barn has started a number of  pages for specific types of products as well as its share of copy-cats, and I’ve started to consider testing out a spin-off of my own.  Instead of sharing what’s for sale, what if a specific locally serving platform like this shared information?  I’ve joked that something like a “Shoals Gossip Barn” would be really popular, but I think something with a better name really would.  If as many people were a member of this platform, they could quickly and easily share news and information.  For example, a quick check of this page might show that a traffic light is out at a certain intersection.  Or perhaps that a public city council meeting has changed times.  If it were used just as much as the Sale Barn, this kind of venue could even usurp the local TV news as the best source of local information.  I think TV media is aware and scared of this, both WAFF and WHNT in our local market have recently launched community-specific features on their sites.

This type of specific catering is what us web nerds have been referring to as “hyperlocal” for a few years now.  It’s supposed to deliver information and the sharing of information to someone on a ridiculously local level, even down to the street level if there are enough people creating content or participating in it.  The Shoals Sale Barn is one of the best examples I’ve seen, but there are also great examples to be had at the university I work at.  In handling social media, my job is to communicate with as many people as possible.  But there are also campus clubs or dorm floors who communicate with a very specific set of people.  Facebook pages and Twitter hashtags are useful here too, but I’ve also seen things like Google Groups and uStream videos used well for these purposes too.  For example, our Starcraft 2 club on campus streams their meetings online for members who can’t make it.  It’s not a stream for thousands of people, it’s just something specific for about twenty at most.

I think content curators are quickly realizing that attempting to reach a mass audience dilutes the message.  Leo Laporte has recently said on his TWiT network that he doesn’t want to grow his video business any further, he just wants to cater better to the niche audience he already serves.  I think that’s right on the money.  This is true too when it comes to all web communication, and is what I’m thinking 2012 will bring us.  Existing platforms like Twitter and Facebook will bring us better ways to communicate with our neighbors right down the street instead of some person far away you vaguely care about.   Hopefully, new tools will realize this as well and provide even better ways to connect us in local ways we haven’t considered yet.

 

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Resolutions for 2012

I’ve never really made a big point to make or follow New Years Resolutions, mostly because they’re always really vague and are stuff that I plan to do anyways.  I wanted to make them public this year, in hopes that people will read them and hold me to them.  I don’t trust myself to keep them if I’m left to my own devices, so making myself accountable to everyone else who will know about them will make it easier to actually do that.  I’m even going to be super specific this time around and give myself five certain goals.  If it’s been a few months and I haven’t made any progress on this, I expect to be called out on them.

1. Write at least one published book in 2012.  In 2011, my wife and best friend and I published a book digitally for the Nook and Kindle about some of the crazy stories passed around in our home county.  That was a heck of a lot of fun to do, and it’s actually put a little bit of change in our pocket.  It has also been extremely liberating to actually have a “side career” outside of my actual job, and even cooler to find it making a little money.  But perhaps the best reward is getting great comments from people who have actually read it.  Because of that, I’m going to try it again and see if we can write an even better book.  I already have started outlining something related to the tornado outbreak in Alabama of this past April, my goal is to have it finished by the first anniversary of that.

2. Help my band be the best they can be. For the past few months, I’ve been the manager of a great local band made up of some younger friends of mine.  I fool around with a guitar and banjo, but I can never hope to be as good as they are.  Helping them get their music out there is the best way for me to get involved in that area, and I’ve loved it so far.  In 2012, I want to make sure that North Alabama knows the name Ashlyn Maine and what an awesome band they are.

3. Cut two minutes off of my 5K time by June.  I’ve been doing a lot of  running in the past year and a half, mostly to stay in shape but also because it’s a great way to get out of the house and listen to audio books, music or podcasts.  I’ve had an average time of 27 minutes for my 5K, which is around average for anyone.  I’m going to try to kick my own butt and cut two minutes off of that time by June and make it “official” by running a 5K then.

4. Be less selfish, and be a better representative.  I’ll try to make that sound less vague than it does.  First of all, I want to be more generous with my time and resources.  Too often, I skimp out on helping someone out with a given task or goal and make the excuse that I’m too busy or tired to do it.  I want to catch myself in the act more and stop that.  I have far more free time than I really need, and typically just end up wasting it.  It would be far better spent helping others.  Secondly, I want to be a better representative of the school that I work at, the church that I go to, or the hometown that I’m from.  I’ve got to keep in mind that people will see me as a part of one of those things or other groups that I can’t immediately think of.  If I’m the lazy guy that won’t help out, it will look bad on them.  That’s something I’ve got to work on.

5. Make 2012 the most memorable year this decade.  Again, this isn’t as far reaching as it may sound.  I often refer to 1999 as being one of the best years I’ve ever had, and it was because so much fun stuff happened that year.  Trips with friends, concerts, and all sorts of countless fun and geeky things.  The span of 2002 to 2005 was also great for me for that reason, but nothing can ever really compare to the vast amount of fun crammed into 1999.  I want to make 2012 the new 1999 for me and my wife, but to do that there are a number of things I have to keep in mind.  First, I have to stop finding excuses to not go places or do things.  Second, I have to realize that my career isn’t my life.  It ‘s just  a way to fund my real life.  I too often stress about letting my job define whether or not I’m in a good mood or not, and that has to stop.  It probably won’t be too much longer until my wife and I decide to have our first kid, but I’m going to make 2012 as awesome for us as possible before we do anything remotely close to “settling down.”


Best of 2011

Once again, it’s that time of the year in which I pick out my favorite stuff I’ve enjoyed over the past year.  Just like the past few times I’ve done this, I’d like to remind everyone that this isn’t necessarily a list of my favorite things released this year.  There were a handful of movies, TV shows, albums, games, and comics that I didn’t get around to last year.  So if you see something released previously that’s on this list, it’s because I wasn’t exposed to it until 2011.

I’ll also remind you that there’s probably a ton of good stuff I missed, and possibly some things on this list that you’ll likely disagree with.  And that’s fine.  These things represent a list of my favorite things from 2011, not necessarily those that I thought were best.  If you’ve got any recommendations for anything else or want to tell me why I’m an idiot for listing something, by all means leave a note in the comments.

Movies

11. X-Men: First Class – Oddly enough, this was a great year for period genre movies.  I wish more properties and new ideas were able to as adeptly fit their narratives into the period they originated from, because the new X-Men movie has a great sixties vibe all throughout.  It’s a bit predictable and does have a few too cheesy moments, but it’s still a lot of fun.

10. The Tree of Life – If you’ve at least heard of this, you’ll know that you’ll either love it or hate it.  It’s not a movie that even attempts to tell a story in any traditional sense, and instead plays out like a dreamy two hour trailer.  I really loved what Terrence Malick was going for here, but I think it could have stood to have been about a half hour shorter.

9. Source Code – A really great sci-fi movie that goes a long way to restrain itself from being more than it can chew.  I think Duncan Jones is capable of way more than what the studio experience confines him to, but it’s great that he got a lot of credibility in that space while managing to make a great movie.

8. The Muppets –  It’s cheezy and stupid, and also a heck of a lot of fun.  I wouldn’t want the Muppets any other way.

7. Shutter Island –  It’s hard to talk about what makes this movie great without giving away exactly what makes it great.  But I will say that this movie is two for the price of one, since it’s a totally different film altogether when you watch it the second time.

6. Black Swan – I think the narrative of this wasn’t as fresh as everyone seemed to think, someone descending into insanity isn’t exactly new.  The Shining already did it perfectly decades ago.  But to see someone as frail and graceful as Natalie Portman doing it (and doing an amazing job of acting at selling it) was what made this awesome.

5. Adventures of TinTin – This was a way better Indiana Jones movie than Crystal Skull ever could have hoped to be.  It’s better to be surprised at how fun this movie is, so I won’t give too much away.  But I will say that the one-shot chase scene in the latter half of the movie is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in a CG motion capture film, far surpassing anything that Avatar ever did.

4. Attack the Block – I was tempted to put this way farther up on the list, just by nature of it being the most fun movie that I’ve seen in a long time.  It certainly is the most kinetic, since so much fun stuff happens within just a span of an hour and a half.  Even within that time frame, you go from despising the group of kids to seeing them as heroes by the end of the movie.  Attack the Block was even unwittingly a great social commentary, as it was released about the same time as the London Riots early in the Summer.

3. Captain America – This has probably turned into my favorite superhero movie, simply by nature of how optimistic and upbeat it is.  Chris Nolan’s Batman movies have been great because they’re realistic and gritty, but far too many other comic movies have tried to follow this formula too closely.  Captain America throws aside that dogma completely and follows the template of an Indiana Jones movie far more closely than a comic movie.  Steve Rogers is a guy who actually wants to be a superhero, and isn’t doing it to avenge anyone.  (No pun intended.)  It was also awesomely refreshing to see a leading man who was unashamed and proud of his country without silly jingoism or political implications.

2. 127 Hours – My favorite Danny Boyle movie since Sunshine.  Most of his other movies have taken on a grand scope, whether it be post apocalyptic or involves the mood of an entire country.  Instead, he makes this essentially a one man show that forces you to take his point of view.  It’s tedious and excruciating, and is great because of it.

1. Super 8 – This is one of those movies where I’m convinced that a group of writers and producers sat down in a boardroom and said “let’s make a movie that Daniel will really love.” It’s no secret that I love a lot of the movies that came out of the 80’s, so I was instantly drawn to this when JJ Abrams announced this as his next project after Star Trek.  I don’t think it entirely accomplished the goal of looking like a movie that came out of that era, but it still absolutely feels like one.

There have been far too few movies since that time that featured a realistic portrayal of kids as their main protagonists.  I’ve missed this because using those kinds of characters as your POV is a great way to drive an adventure narrative forward.  When you become older and jaded, plowing headfirst into challenges by pure virtue of curiosity seems less realistic.  (I doubt anyone in Oregon in their mid 20’s would ever go underground looking for a pirate ship of gold.)  Super 8 brings back that kind of awe and adventure that even Speilberg himself has abandoned for whatever reason for the past twenty years.  I had hoped that this would bring back that sort of trend in movies, but at least it will still be an awesome example of what something like this can accomplish.

Music

5. Foo Fighters: Wasting Light – I’m not as big as a fan of this album as most music blogs and magazines have been, but it is great to hear the Foo Fighters go back to their mid-90’s sound somewhat.

4. Sleigh Bells: Treats – I’m a little late to the game on this one, but I got to see this band at SXSW this past March and loved their unique sound.  I’ve been hooked on this album ever since.  The latter half drags a little bit, but I love the first few tracks enough to forget that.

3. Rolling Stones: Some Girls –  This is something that I probably wouldn’t have listened to if there wasn’t hype around the re-issue (of if it wasn’t on Spotify), but I’m glad I gave it a listen.  Most of the time when you go through something old that was groundbreaking at the time, it’s tough to understand why it’s great because everything else has copied it since.  Not the case here at all.

2. The Dead Weather: Sea of Cowards – In the year that Jack White broke my heart by disbanding The White Stripes, he also made an awesome record with one of his million other bands.  Dead Weather has an otherwordly and grungy sound that might not be for everybody, but that’s why I like them.

1. Arcade Fire : The Suburbs – An absolute adventure of an album.  It’s a kinda-concept album that has a overarching story that’s hard to follow, but the themes of being jaded in the false dream of success in the suburban sprawl is one that struck a big chord with me.

Green Day covered this ground already in American Idiot, but they chose to take a purposefully artificial and far fetched approach that dealt more with political turmoil than anything.  That story was far better suited for their kind of populist punk rock.  Arcade Fire looks at it way more realistically, and puts their own completely unique sound on it.  The story they tell throughout the album finds a great way to reflect the aloofness and loneliness that anyone can find themselves in when living in the suburban sprawl that they take two songs to describe.

Video Games

4. Fallout 3 – I was very late to the party with this game this year, mostly because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  I’ve always through the graphics in this game were merely a step or two up from N64 era, which probably held me back.  I’m glad I was able to get past it though, because I love these sort of “choose your own adventure” role playing games.  And yes, I know Skyrim is out there from the same developer.  As soon as I finish some other games up, I fully expect to be lost in it for months.

3. Portal 2 – There’s not a whole lot that I could say that hasn’t already been put out there about this.  It’s a mind bending, genre breaking game with a fantastic story that could only be accomplished in a game.  If Call of Duty games are the equivalent of Michael Bay movies, Portal 2 is the kind of movie that comes out at Christmas and ends up getting a dozen Oscar nominations.

2. Skyward Sword – This is almost certainly the last great Wii game, and probably will turn out to be the best.  Instead of trying to be graphically more than it really is, it embraces the hardware limitations and makes up for it with a fantastic art style that invokes an impressionist painting instead of realism.  It’s also a direly needed breath of fresh air for a formula that has forced itself stale by variating on the same thing since Ocarina of Time.  I’m not 100% sold on the motion controls, but that could change since I’m only about halfway through the game as I write this.  But this is still one of those great games that sticks in your head, even in the time that you’re not playing it.

1. Mass Effect 2 – I’m surprising even myself by putting this above Zelda.  But I’d be discounting what this game accomplished by not honestly acknowledging how mind blowingly awesome it really is.  It might not be the case for anyone, but a free roaming game that lets you play it the way you want inside a Ridley Scott inspired sci-fi universe is exactly the sort of thing I want out of a game.

TV Shows

10. Community – I’ve still mostly missed out on this, but I’m putting this in the list mostly based on the fact that Remedial Chaos Theory was the best half hour of TV I’ve seen this year.

9. Parks & Recreation –  I’ve always loved the premise of this show, because it’s great to see warm and cheery people actually doing their best (although often failing) to make their small town better.  But in the recent seasons, they’ve managed to give these well meaning characters an almost surreal hilarity that’s made it the best comedy on TV.

8. Futurama – I’m mainly putting this in here because of one episode, The Late Phillip J. Fry, which is a perfectly summed up thesis of everything that’s cool about the show.  It takes a wild sci-fi idea with a funny twist and explores the emotional and hilarious consequences of it.  Anything more that I could say about this episode apart from the fact that everyone involved deserves an Emmy would spoil it, so just seek it out yourself.

7. Doctor Who –  Yet again something I’m late to the game on, but holy crap I’m so glad I’ve got on board.  I’ve mostly been watching Tenth Doctor stories on Netflix, which I’ve totally fallen in love with.  David Tennant’s obvious enthusiasm for the role is contagious, and you can’t help but share his geeky curiosity and excitement for anything and everything.

6. The Clone Wars – The recent batch of episodes have proven that the show has finally allowed itself to be more adult and moody.  Most of the earlier half of Season 3 was a mess, but the latter half that dealt with some of the more dark mythology of the Star Wars universe was absolutely mesmerizing.  Season 4 has so far gone this same route, even dealing with some of the deeper moral aspects of what it means to be a clone or Jedi.  This series has always had great animation and action, but the plots and writing have now far surpassed anything that the live action prequels ever hoped to be.

5. The Walking Dead – I considered rating this a little lower because the search for the little girl really drug on for most of the new episodes we got this year, but then I remembered how mindblowingly awesome the first and last episodes were.  The writers have gone out of their way to show that they aren’t going to be bound by the storyline of the comics, but they’ve absolutely kept the mood.  Just like in the books, anything can happen at any time.  Just because a character or status quo has proven to be popular doesn’t mean that they will stay.

4. Mad Men – The fact that my favorite show is this far down the list is a testament to how much great TV there was this year.  The latest season of Mad Men was the best since the first.  It was awesome to see the characters go through so much change this year, while still keeping to what makes them great.

Don went from being an old fogie to being pertinent to his time again, and it’s so much fun to see Peggy become more and more powerful on Madison Avenue as time goes on.  I love how the show has become just as much about her as it is about Don, and I can’t wait to see whats going to happen for them as it turns into the “real” sixties when everything starts going to hell.

3. Friday Night Lights – The first and third seasons of this show are still my favorite, but the last that aired this year would come right behind those.  The writers clearly got away from network interference and got to tell the story they wanted without too many distractions.  I do have some problems with the final fate of some of Dillon’s students being out of character, but it was still great to see the show conclude on it’s own great terms.

2. Sherlock – I can’t even watch the Robert Downey Jr. movies after watching the BBC modern day version.  It’s even hard to picture Holmes as a Victorian era character any more.  The stories are written so well and the beats are made so fresh that other retellings pale in comparison.

1. Game of Thrones – A little more than ten years ago, the kind of scale and production value for this sort of show was absolutely unheard of.  Lord of the Rings managed to convey it, but that was a billion dollar franchise that both critics and popular audiences all loved.  The fact that such a high fantasy episodic show of ridiculous proportion exists in the first place is a unprecedented feat.  The fact that it’s as great as it is, even more so.

I haven’t read the books, so I’m unaccustomed to the kind of story that it tries to tell.  I’ve heard from many who have that the show closely follows it, which amazes me even more that they’ve accomplished such a great translation to screen.

 Comic Books

Action Comics – They way that DC is retroactively introducing some of it’s characters in their vast reboot has been clever, but the best example is how they’ve chosen to re-invent Superman’s origins.  In this, he’s just a cocky guy in a t-shirt and cape who can’t even fly yet.  He’s a way more interesting character when he’s stripped down like that.

Spider-man: Spider Island – This past year has been an eventful one for Peter Parker.  He scored a sweet new job, became an Avenger, became one of the Fantastic Four (or whatever they call themselves now), and did a million other things in related books that’s impossible to keep up with.  I do think Marvel has stretched him too thin and has made him lose his strongest characteristic in how identifiable he is to much of their audience, but the Spider Island arc did a lot to solve that problem.

We already know what it is like to be Peter, because every college kid or young adult has too much stress like he does.  The concept of giving everyone spider-powers seemed stupid at first, but dealing with the consequences of everyone suddenly wanting to be a do-gooder like Spidey was brilliant.  What would we do in that situation?  To me, comics are at their best when they use their characters and universe to try to answer those kinds of questions.

Ultimate Comics: Spider-man – I was extremely skeptical of this at first, and for two reasons.  First, it felt like a smack in the face that Marvel would get rid of their most cherished character.  Second, I didn’t think it would be permanent anyways.  But what they’ve done so far is really promising.  Instead of playing United Nations by putting in a minority character, they’ve made him more relatable to a younger audience without pandering to them.


Using Google+ In Higher Ed

Most of everyone that I’m following in tech and higher ed circles has been really excited about Google+ in the past few days.  Google has had their real try at social networking and sharing in the works for a long while now.  Google Circles was rumored to have been shown to a few at South By Southwest in March, but it turns out that Circles was only one integral part of a larger Google+ experience.

What is Google+?

First of all, a primer for those who haven’t been following this:  Google released a +1 button a month and change ago that allowed users to “plus one” a link or page.  This was Google’s version of liking a link on Facebook.  The only big difference is that the plus ones that your friends hit make an impact on your search results.  Instead of a default list of links, you’ll now find the ones relevant to you based on your social graph.  (I’m really amused at how this is a big setback for the snake oil salesmen otherwise known as “SEO Experts.”)  Google opened up the +1 button to all users and implemented a button that can be embedded on a site’s front page recently, which made the sharing functionality a lot more relevant and useful.

Now, let’s fast forward to about 48 hours ago when Google opened up the entire +1 project to a private beta.  It turns out that the search relevance feature was only a small part of a larger social network that’s both similar and a step ahead of Facebook.


Adding Friends in Circles

One of Facebook’s major problems is that it doesn’t really offer a realistic way of separating your friends into groups.  Google essentially does that for you by placing your followers and followees into “circles.”  For instance, you might have one for work friends, one for family, one for internet friends, and so on.  With those circles, you can share specific content with specific circles.  This is a huge improvement upon existing platforms when it comes to contextual sharing, and more important, privacy.

How can it work in Higher Ed?

The circles function allows for what I’m hoping will be a much better social platform for sharing and collaborating in a higher ed context.  Of course, it’s going to be easier for university staff and faculty to add one another in a circle specific to that.  It’s also going to be ideal for students to add one another in a circle just for them.  It might even be great for them to create circles specific to each of their classes.  This way, the information relevant to those circles doesn’t become lost in the shuffle, and they will be able to hold online study groups in a manner that doesn’t require responsibilities in time or location.


The +1 feed looks like Facebook, but there’s a feed for each circle.

There are also a few other aspects of +1 that are light years beyond what Facebook currently offers.  The one I am most excited about is called Hangout.  It rethinks group video chat in a new way that makes it far more casual than what Skype currently shoehorns users in to.  Vic Gundotra, the Senior VP of Social at Google, explained how it works in a great metaphor on TWiT’s This Week In Google yesterday.  If someone is inside their house at 8pm, they probably would be annoyed if you came in for a visit.  But if they are sitting on their front porch, it would be almost rude for you to not at least wave if you walked by.  In a nutshell, that’s Hangout’s approach to video chat.

Hangout is what I’m most excited about when it comes to applicability at a university.  Students often need to collaborate after hours on group projects, and typically like to share notes (or talk about the instructor behind their back) outside of class.  Hangout allows a group of students to meet and ignite discussion in a way far more analogous to “real life” than any other online collaborative tool so far.  There’s no need to schedule anything or place anyone in a socially awkward situation.  They can just meet online as they are working in a way that’s more like bumping into one another in the University Center.  I’ll be teaching a First Year Experience class this Fall, and it frustrates me that I probably won’t be able to encourage the use of this because it likely won’t be public yet.

What are the challenges?

As anyone who has followed Google’s attempts into social knows, they don’t have a great track record.  They’ve yet to fully commit to a project like this beyond the attention spans of users who often don’t really grasp it.  However, as Gina Tripani points out, this seems as if it’s the culmination of those mistakes.

Another possible challenge to this is Google delaying deployment of this into their university offering.  UAH has used Google Apps for Universities for about a year and a half now, and it seems to be stuck in 2009.  None of Google’s new projects, even those out of beta, have been deployed there for some time.  Google+ seems like such a perfect tool for universities to collaborate with, it would be a shame if it were to suffer the same fate.

The most important challenge to Google+ is going to be adoption.  This has to be at least as widely used as Twitter in order to succeed.  The tools are in place, but they really have no worth if there aren’t enough users there to take advantage of them.  College students are typically a crowd of early adopters, so I am hopeful in that area.  I do think that we will think a lot more highly of Google+ in around a year than we did about Wave and Buzz.


Web Design (As We Know It) Is Dead

From the title, you can see where I’m going with this.  And you’re probably thinking that I’ll really have to back that assertion up, which I think I can do.  In effect, the idea that we’ve had for the past decade of what web design is, is dead.  There is still a lot of value in aesthetically pleasing design on the web, but it doesn’t hold nearly as much importance or meaning as it once did.  If you can get over that wild idea, read on to find out why I think why.

In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, a sole web site hosted on a server and delivered to a browser was the one and only way of massively communicating.  Early on in the web, sites that functioned like glorified print publications only allowed for one way communication from the messenger to the reader of it.  We would put up email links to allow for some limited discussion, but that was mainly it.  Things like message boards and Usenet have existed for a long time, but those have been fringe venues that have never caught on with mainstream users.

Now lets go forward a few years more to where blogs became prevalent on the web.  This was early on in the 2000’s before the time of Twitter and Facebook.  At this point, more mainstream and “normal” web users have a more efficient way of publishing their own content via outlets like Blogger.  It also facilitated an easier way of communication, with readers of blogs being able to quickly and easily comment on each post.  Authors and readers of blogs began to form communities by creating link rolls on each of their sites.  Eventually, larger organizations such as colleges and companies started adopting blogs and joined in on the kind of community and discussion that it enabled.

As we go forward a bit more, things like Facebook and Twitter have made that kind of simple point to point communication even more simple.  By following or liking a page or product, information and updates are aggregated and delivered to the reader.  Now information comes directly to a reader instead of them having to seek out a site each time.  This kind of aggregation also gives groups and brands a level playing field by giving each one just as much space in a tweet or Facebook update.

As this kind of simple point-to-point communication becomes more accepted and widespread, I feel that the value of a web site as we’ve come to think of it has been greatly lessened.  There will always be a need for a web site to exist so that interested readers can find a collection of information curated in a more specific way for them, but the modern web isn’t really about lengthy or involved reading.  Aside from areas within academia, modern web readers aren’t going to become that involved.

There will still certainly be a place for web development.  There will always be more ways to expand how we can use the web to communicate, and it will take more talented developers to enhance what we already have and create what we don’t.  And there is certainly still a place for design on the web.  Devices like Android tablets and iPads provide for almost physical real estate that beg for print-like design.  But as those kind of devices become more prevalent, they make traditional computers the “trucks” of computing that fewer readers will use.  How people view content online has changed and is continuing to change very quickly.  As a designer, I feel it’s important for me to rethink what it is I’m publishing because of that.  If I’m writing and designing content all day long, does it really matter if everyone is just on Facebook and Twitter all day and aren’t actually visiting my site?

I originally wanted to title this article simple “Web Design Is Dead,” but I realized that isn’t true.  What we’ve come to expect from it and what we’ve assumed of it has just changed drastically in the past few years.  How people use the web is now different, so it’s time to re-evaluate how we design and publish for it.  Do we care more about what something looks like, or how effectively people are effectively communicating and being communicated to?


Nintendo 3DS Impressions

A few weeks ago at South By Southwest, I stopped by Capcom’s booth where they were showing the new version of  Street Fighter 4 on a new Nintendo 3DS.  This was pretty cool for me, because this was the first time that I got to try a major new console before it was actually released.  I’ve been meaning to post my impressions of the device for some time now, and since it’s actually being released today I thought today might be a good time to do that.

I’ve already owned a Nintendo DS Lite and a DSi, which are essentially the same console with a little less horsepower and of course without the 3D effect.  Aside from those features and a few other, this is still basically the same handheld console.  The 3DS hinges on the 3D effect, which it does manage to pull off without the need of glasses.

So does it work well?  In my opinion, not really.  Once you do figure out the position that you need to hold the device, you do get a sense of depth.  But it feels somewhat like a hologram sticker on the front of one of those cereal boxes from the 90’s.  Sure, it looks like 3D.  But in an uncanny valley way that feels cheap and unrealistic.  Plus, the device itself goes out of the way to warn you about not using the 3D effect for too long.  I’m old enough to remember the Virtual Boy, which had all of those same warnings.  If you’re of my generation or older, you remember how well that console went over.

The 3DS does have some good things going for it, the extra graphics horsepower does allow for some more visual impressiveness, whether or not the games themselves are in 3D.  And while the 3D effect isn’t really that impressive, it does work a lot of magic in some of the camera and augmented reality functionality.  There’s a lot of promise in the hardware, it’s just up to Nintendo and the developers to keep up support for the device.  That’s not that promising given Nintendo’s lackluster history with the Wii and Gamecube, but we can still hope.

If you have no other handheld device for gaming and you’re looking for something, then I hesitantly recommend the 3DS.  It might be worth your time and money to look into a slightly cheaper iPod Touch, however.  The games are certainly cheaper on that platform.  However, if you already have a handheld gaming device of any kind, I can’t really recommend it.  For $250, it doesn’t really add anything that revolutionary or new that makes it worth that hefty price tag.


My SXSW 2011 Adventures

Now that I’m back from Austin and have covered my bases as far as getting back in touch with all of the contacts I made there, I wanted to sit down and review everything that I got to see and learn while I was at South by Southwest this past weekend.  First off, this was my first SXSW and it was absolutely amazing.  That word is overused lately, but it’s very applicable here.  It was a lot of fun, but it felt like I was being extremely productive at the same time.  I met a lot of great people working on really exciting products, and getting in on that community was one of the most professionally rewarding things I’ve ever done.

I’ll talk about some of the great services I learned about in a bit, but first I wanted to cover some of the awesome panels I got to sit in on.  I had a bit of pride in myself for earning the “Panel Nerd” badge on Foursquare for having attended so many of them.  It was true that I was there to learn, and SXSW was the perfect place for me to do it.  I sat in on around a dozen different panels in my three days there, but I wanted to go over some of the most informative ones in detail here.

Google’s Marissa Mayer Presents – From the description of this keynote, I thought it was going to mostly pertain to Marissa Mayer talking about her career experiences at Google, but that was dead wrong.  This was a full blown Google keynote with product launches, and it was the best event I attended during the conference.  Google showed off some new mobile products they’re working on, most notably of which was Google Hotpot.  It’s kind of a cross between location check-ins and Twitter trends, which I think is the next evolution of those services.  I also got to speak with Marissa directly about how she thinks mobile services like this might intersect with higher ed institutions like UAHuntsville, she says that this is definitely something that they’re looking at in terms of student engagement.

How Print Design is the Future of Interaction I’m mostly a visual designer in my work, so this was a great way to learn about how the two areas I mostly work in intersect.  The speaker at this event was one of the main UI designers at Microsoft who had his hands very dirty in the design of their Windows phones, and I was very surprised to learn how much influence print design had on their work.  This made me realize how much print design can and should play into the web and new interfaces, and I was able to get a lot of creative ideas of things to use in the future.

Drawing Back the Curtains on CSS Implementation Most of the events I attended were mostly about theory, but this was the most technical.  There were representatives from all of the major browsers here, all of whom are on the W3C Working Group.  This felt like one of my local web group meetups in Huntsville, and there were a lot of specifics I was able to jot down about CSS implementation that should help me in the future.  I was also really pleased to see that they were all taking suggestions from the crowd in terms of what standards they should set in the future for CSS.

Other panels I attended included sessions about iPad design, the “death” of Flash, inclusive design, and much of the same.  I get the feeling that there were even more panels I could have gotten a lot out of, but SXSW is a lot like visiting a major theme park or city.  There’s so much to do, there’s no way you could do everything you want.

However, I wasn’t that surprised to discover that most of the value of this trip was also outside of the conference center.  Just on the shuttle on the way to Downtown Austin, I met the CEO of a new Bay Area based service called Kullect.  Kullect is an upcoming resource that will allow you to crowdsource questions and tips in a way that will let specific users of services or residents of locales become gurus of their areas.

Crowdsourcing questions and answers seemed to be the theme of new services this year, as Localmind is already doing the same thing.  I met a few of their reps there, and was really happy to find out that the service was already being widely used at SXSW.  I got a lot of great tips on where to find things around Austin using it.  If I got a vote, Kullect and Localmind would be mine for best startups at SXSW.

I was also there to make connections for our LAN Party at UAH, and I was able to hit a lot of home runs in that area.  Companies like Revision 3 and Twisted Pixel are going to be supporting us in the future, which is something I never could have achieved without attending.  I even got the chance to try out a Nintendo 3DS before it’s released to market.  (It wasn’t really that impressive, but that’s another blog post altogether. ) I was also able to talk with Brian Brushwood and start scheduling him to come do his tech / magic act at UAHuntsville this Fall sometime.

As for other things to do in Austin at this part of the year, there’s of course plenty to do.  My favorite event of the weekend was the Digg Meetup and Diggnation party on Saturday night.  Digg hosted a nice dinner at Parkside in Downtown Austin, where those of us who were invited got to speak with their CEO and bounce around ideas for the future of the site.

The Diggnation party was of course a blast with some great music and awesome new friends.  If you haven’t heard of it, Diggnation is a tech podcast that’s just as much about inside jokes and a lot of fun as it is about technology news.  It may sound boring, but the hosts practically put on a rock concert around it.

If you even remotely work in tech or design, South by Southwest is an absolute must.  After meeting so many other people who are doing awesome things in my field, I feel more pumped up than ever to be in the kind of work that I am.  SXSW is a place to go to make connections and meet people, but it’s also a place to go to get insanely inspired.  I will absolutely be back in Austin for SXSW 2012, I can’t wait.