Meatspace / cyberspace symbiosis

July 5, 2007

some moo cards

There’s an excellent article by Glyn Moody in the Guardian today about online companies set up to deal with the physical, analogue requirements of people in the physical, analogue world – print-on-demand companies like Moo, Blurb, MyPublisher or Lulu.

There’s something ironic about the rise of the analogue as the acme of digital cool. As Richard Moross, the twentysomething who came up with’s re-invention of the calling card, points out: “It’s 300 years old; and despite wireless and Bluetooth and mobile phones, it’s still here, because it’s the single most successful networking tool of all time.”

At first glance it might indeed seem ironic that web 2.0 companies can be based on something so analogue and physical, but actually it doesn’t surprise me at all. I don’t think cyberspace has ever intended to replace physical space, rather to enhance it. Moo cards are a lovely little product – I’ve ordered several myself – but without the rise of what we might call web2.0 they simply couldn’t exist – the effort involved would be too great. Happily, though, Moo lets Flickr do most of the work and Flickr are happy to do it. The same is true of Blurb – a company making individual tailer-made products based on content stored in a fairly universal archive. It’s a bonus for Flickr to be seen as such a useful service, and the other businesses could hardly exist without it – what a happy little economy we’re all creating!

Of course, such businesses are not just tied to Flickr. Back in the mid nineties Bernard Cache created a series of what he called ‘Objectiles‘. These were beautifully carved wooden creations, fashioned with milling machines and some rather natty software which not only allowed them to be ordered and manufactured from any workshop in the world, but could guarantee that each creation would be unique.


They didn’t catch on, unfortunately, but the idea shows that more distributed online organisational systems can not only be of huge benefit to the creation of physical-world businesses and artifacts, but also increase the individuality and variety of them. It’s not an ironic relationship at all- it’s a highly likely and highly useful one. As Moody concludes, “The interface between the web and the real world is alive and well and making money.”


Piracy rampant and blatant in Romania – cheers, Bill!

February 6, 2007

From this EnGadget article…

Romanian president Traian Basescu has a bigger reason than most to owe the Microsoft founder a debt of gratitude: he claims that rampant software piracy in the Eastern European nation was the single biggest factor in developing a healthy IT industry. Yes, believe it or not, a head-of-state actually stood up in public – at a press conference to celebrate the launch of a Microsoft global technical center – and told Gates face-to-face how illegal copies of Windows “helped the young generation discover computers…set off the development of the IT industry…[and] helped Romanians improve their creative capacity…” Indeed, nearly 70% of all software used in Romania today is pirated, according to some experts (pirates even peddle their wares to legitimate businesses, reportedly), despite the anti-piracy legislation passed some ten years ago. Amusingly, Basescu justified his countrymen’s ridiculous levels of IP theft by claiming that “it was an investment in Romania’s friendship with Microsoft and Bill Gates.”

What a wally. Nevertheless, it’s a clear- if far from shining – example of how sharing things is great for growth. Just maybe not the growth of Microsoft. I wonder what the future president of Freenation might say if he ever gets to meet Gates…

No more physical sales of digital artefacts?

February 5, 2007

From the Observer

A ban has been imposed by eBay on auctions of virtual items from online games such as EverQuest. For years, players have sold virtual items that can give an edge. On eBay last week a pair of EverQuest game accounts had a first bid of $200 before they were removed.

‘Our standpoint is that everything in our games is the property of Sony Online Entertainment,’ said Greg Short, director of web development at Sony, which publishes EverQuest. ‘We can’t say definitely if it’s illegal,’ said eBay spokesman Hani Durzy. ‘It’s complex. And when something is complex like this, we have a history of disallowing the items.’

It’s interesting that ‘virtual’ items can be so highly valued in ‘real-world’ monetary terms, but of course this is nothing new. Work on RPG characters has been advertised in geek-mags between players for years and years, but with World Of Warcraft and Second Life growing so enormous, the practices are certainly more noticable.

…Particularly to the companies who own these worlds. Note that Ebay is not cancelling these auctions because they’re ridiculous (I don’t think they’re ridiculous, but admit it – you know lots of people who would) but because the owners of the world concerned regard all objects in those world as their own and not for sale. So, if you pay to use a workshop out here in the physical world, are the things you make there your belongings, or do they have to stay in the workshop when you leave? Tricky. I think most people’s initial reaction would be that they belong to you – you paid fairly for the time and the use of tools, and the workshop owners didn’t make the artefacts, did they?

On the other side of the coin, there are plenty of examples where just the opposite is true. All my design work for my university degrees, for instance, does not belong to me. The university retains intellectual property over all of my work, and it’s olnly through an understanding of fairness that I’m allowed to even put a portfolio together at the end of my years of blood, sweat, tears and poverty.

‘Ownership’ and ‘property’ are ideas which are much more complex than we realise, and I think most of us believe we own much more than we really do. I, like many, think IP law is in dire need of re-assessment. Expect to see more about this.

The ever-present ‘first post’ problem.

February 3, 2007

Pirate Village

I think a good starting point for this blog would be a brief description of my work so far in this architecture degree I’m working on. Last year my studio was given the job of turning an old Cold War airfield (an aerial photo of which can be found here) into a new village. Of course, many arguments were made and a good deal of debate was given over to what constituted a ‘village’ in this day and age, but I’ll leave that for somewhere else. Certainly we all had to come up with solid justification of how and why our proposals might work, and I figured thusly:

If, said I, a village is primarily defined by a close sense of community, then the question really becomes one of how you develop that sense amongst a small group of people. I suggested that what was really required was a common activity for people to engage in – anyone who has been on a summer camp can confirm that bonds are quickly made when clustered together in similar tasks. Seeing as you can’t force people to have the same jobs as eachother, I surmised that an incentive was required, and being interested as I am in copyright debates over intellectual property, I chose to suggest a village development zone which would despense with intellectual property law completely. A small-scale experiment of little interest to many potential villagers, of course, but some people would flock to it. DJs, collage artists, hackers, educators, and of course many a free-loader. But remember: studies have shown that the biggest illegal downloaders of copyrighted works are also the biggest spenders – these people are highly active.

So, similar interests and shared creative activity would bolster a collective spirit and sense of belonging, and from that a new village identity would be formed. How the project was to be approached architecturally can be saved for some later posts, but this social engineering trick had me very interested – could such a project actually exist?

…And blow me down if this week, the very same week I decide to start my blog, an organisation didn’t turn up whose goals are an almost perfect replica of my project. Not a village this time, though: a nation. The FreeNation Foundation has set much of the blogosphere a-yabbering this week with the announcement of its existence, and I’ve been only too happy to jump in and get involved. It’s stated goals are “To establish an ecologically sustainable society that provides the freedom to advance humanity through science, reason and cooperation”, but it originally got in motion with the Pirate Bay‘s indication of interest in acquiring the tiny nation of Sealand as a new country from which to practice it’s swarthy ways. Yaharr! The piratical heritage of the project is clear, and I could help but wade into the forums and point people towards my project, some images of which you can see above, and many more of which you can find by looking at the DS2 tag (Design Studio 2 – the name of the unit last year) on my photostream.

Obviously since doing that project I’m now looking at cross-overs between digital and physical cultures in more general terms, but that’s largely because of the nature of the suburbs I’m studying this year. They’re a good deal more vague, and a good deal more challenging to address, too. Here’s hoping we can find something in the sprawl!