Will Wright’s Spore

Nova Spivack writes about Sim City creator Will Wright’s next game, Spore. GameSpot has more:

[Spore is] a sim that allows the players to control life on all conceivable scales–an emergent and beautiful simulation game that ranges from the cellular level all the way to the galactic level.

The game allows the player to begin with developing a creature as a cellular entity and eventually creating a creature with more sophisticated brain functions, which will change the nature of the game to a more RTS-type game (he cited a particular favorite of his, Populous), where players will control herds of creatures. Once you upgrade the “hut” around which the creatures centralize, the game changes into what he called “a simple version of SimCity” where the player manages technology and interacts with other cities that have sprung up around the world.

He demonstrated how the player can eventually purchase a UFO to travel between planets–and eventually star systems–to populate, conquer, or simply observe. Particularly impressive was the game’s emergent gameplay and seemingly infinite possibilities for playing creatively–two qualities that define Will Wright’s celebrity status in game design.

Mobile Phones Buttons and Form Factors

Russell Beattie has a couple posts on mobiles having too many buttons and the various form factors.

On Buttons: Mobiles are the ultimate consumer computer. They are meant to be used by 12 year olds, teens, college kids, business people and your mother in law. But right now, the design of the interface is still way too confusing. Even Nokias which rank high on the usability scale have problems when it comes to using their phones. I was just talking to someone today about the “overloading” problem with Nokia. The re-use the same button for different, completely disparate tasks: like your power button to change audio profiles. What?! And the fact that if you click the menu button once, you go back to the home screen, and if you click it again you go to the menu, and if you hold it down, you get a list of running apps. On other phones, they have a tendency to do things like combine the power and hang up keys. Huh? The regular user wants One Button To Do One Thing.

On Form factor: I’d love a phone that was the size and shape of the XDA Mini II, with a QVGA screen and an OS that supports display in both portrait and landscape modes, but then it *needs* a slide-out data entry mechanism. In other words, what I’m thinking of is a keyboard that you can swap out. One keyboard you add slides one way and is a full QWERTY mini-keyboard (like a HipTop). The other slides the other way and is a normal phone keypad (like the Nokia 7650 or the new Samsungs). This to me would allow the user to choose their appropriate use case, but leave most of the phone alone for development. The QVGA screen would be big enough to play games and videos and maybe you could just go “free-form” with the phone and leave out the snap-on keypads/keyboards all together and navigate iPod style through your pre-loaded lists. Or I guess you could even use a pen (like the XDA works now), but I really think that’s going away completely. It just doesn’t work well.

Wikipedia and Social Networking

How Not To Blog has an interesting idea:

I can’t think of a larger publicly-accessible database of people, places, and things than Google. However, its vast database is actually quite disparate and scatter-brained. It does not contain a single, reliable identifying method to link you with what you need to be linked to no matter how good you think it is at finding what you’re looking for. Google still has to search through hell and high water for it.

A unique identification code for every event, person, place, and thing is the next logical step. It’s where the future is headed and we might as well go there now. There’s simply too much to keep track of to not have a unique way of identifying something you’re related with.

Wikipedia is the perfect platform on which to bring everything under the sun together. It is already well on its way, with hundreds of thousands of user-submitted articles and bits of information. This could easily be extended to include the man sitting in the cafe, the cafe itself, the event he’s waiting for in the cafe, and the book he’s reading while he waits.

Every person, place, thing, and event would be assigned a unique ID (this can be automatically done for both new and current entries). One could then form or enable the formation of a relationship with anything in the database merely by copying and pasting the ID. Put it in your blog profile, mobile phone, an email, feed reader, or other field in your client. It will automatically know what it is because of its categorically-oriented ID, and how to organize it in your profile. You could even select the type of relationship you have with it (“relationship key”) from a list of relationship types.

Consumer Power

The Economist writes in a survey on how the digital marketplace has made the cusotmer king:

This new consumer power is changing the way the world shops. As this survey will show, the ability to get information about whatever you want, whenever you want, has given shoppers unprecedented strength. In markets with highly transparent prices, they are kings. The implications for business are enormous: threatening for some, welcome for others. For instance, the huge increase in choice makes certain brands more valuable, not less. And as old business divisions crumble, a strong brand in one sector can provide the credibility to enter another. Hence Apple has used its iPod to take away business for portable music players from Sony; Starbucks is aiming to become a big noise in the music business by installing CD-burners in its cafs; and Dell is moving from computers into consumer electronics.

With consumers becoming increasingly empowered, how can the marketing, advertising and communications firms that companies use to promote their products hope to get their messages across? And what does it mean for media businesses relying on advertising revenue, the traditional channels for reaching this increasingly elusive audience? Disintermediationthe process of middlemen being cut outseems to be in the air.

Reinventing TV

Bob Cringely writes:

Enter the Internet. Six years ago in this space, I wrote a column saying it would be at least six years before the Internet would be a viable medium for the distribution of video. I was correct. What I wasn’t thinking of back then were the dual personalities of this business, and how the Internet could be an ideal medium for serving small audiences for materials that have long been paid for. For this kind of archival video serving to succeed, most of the work still to be done is administrative. We need a way of rewarding the content creators when someone enjoys their work. It’s really just an accounting system, but of course, all parties have to agree on the rules.

Deciding what to watch wouldn’t change very much. There would still be a main broadcast or cable channel. But there would also be a second channel — a myPBS — that would be unique to every viewer. Choose a show from any of the 10,000 or so that have reached archival status in your local station’s library and download it into your DVR. Ftp, http, broadcast, unicast, multicast, BitTorrent — I’m not sure the networking technology makes much difference except that I’d try to use them all for reasons I’ll explain shortly.

The money to pay for all this would come from subscription fees. How much would you pay for unlimited access to 10,000 shows, most of which are otherwise unavailable? Have you tried to find a copy of my “Nerds 2.01: A Brief History of the Internet?” Short of finding an old VHS tape on eBay, it can’t be bought. Now multiply that experience by at least 1,000X and you can see why such a subscription would be attractive. Yeah, but what would you pay? Ten bucks a month? Ten bucks a month would not only pay for the system, it would effectively double the funds available for new productions.

What I am describing is a whole new kind of television because it offers content that is literally unavailable otherwise.

Chris Anderson adds:

There is no shortage of smart people thinking about how TV can find its way out of its corner. But it’s not easy. For starters, most of the networks are content renters, not content owners. (NBC, which bought Universal ten months ago, is now an exception). This means that the archives are often not theirs to monetize.

Rights also continue to be a total hairball, made even more complicated by exclusive geographic distribution deals (which conflict with the Internet’s global nature) and syndication options. And then there’s music, which is a nightmare. Want to know why you can’t watch old WKRP in Cincinnati episodes? It’s too hard to license the music that was used in the show.

Bottom line: TV is begging to be reinvented. Fortunately, there are a lot of new companies that have emerged to try to do just that. One of them is Brightcove (formerly Vidmark), whose CEO, Jeremy Allaire, gave me a briefing last week at PC Forum. They’ve got an open-access video publishing platform that could make it as easy to be a video publisher tomorrow as it is to be a bookseller today. Impressive.

TECH TALK: The Future of Search: RSS to OPML

As we have seen in the series, Search will evolve along multiple dimensions. It will become more personal, more local, more vertical. It will also move beyond text to encompass multimedia formats. It will also have better support for mobile devices. Search results will combine matches on our own data stored on local disks (or on the Internet) with the information on the Web. Search APIs will allow developers to build search into applications. Search will thus become part of the tapestry and shift to the background.

What will come to the fore is our continued desire for answers and insights delivered on time to the device of our choice. Information at our fingertips is finally going to happen. One of the key enablers will be Information Dashboards — built around events, subscriptions, tags and discovery, built with cutting-edge software innovations, available to us on the devices of our choice, and focused around optimising our attention.

To consider how information dashboards will be built, we first need to understand how reading on the Web has changed over the past decade. In the beginning, we had pages and websites built around HTML. As the URLs became too many to remember, we started using bookmarks in the browser. Directories like Yahoo helped us navigate through hierarchies to get us to the sites of interest. Search engines like Altavista and Excite helped us find pages based on keywords. Second-generation search engines like Google improved on the relevance and also simplified the interface. In parallel, portals like Yahoo offered customised start pages through MyYahoo and their ilk. Email newsletters delivered updates on sites to our mailbox and continue to do so. Much of this reading was based on Pull we decided what we wanted to see or search, and then clicked on to it.

In the past couple of years, there have been the portents of change in this model. RSS now delivers updates from a subscriptions list to our aggregators. Even though RSS readers are used by a small fraction of Internet users, Yahoos adoption of RSS for MyYahoo and a rapid increase in the websites publishing RSS has helped simplify reading on the Web and is taking it beyond the early adopters. The ease of reading, though, has lagged the progress in publishing. Tools like MovableType and Blogger have made publishing easy. Web-based services like Flickr and del.icio.us have enhanced the publishing and sharing process.

Yet, there are limitations. Even as we talk about Web 2.0, there will be a need to upgrade the content publishing and sharing process. For this, a level of abstraction that is a level above RSS will be needed. This is where OPML (outline processor markup language) comes in. OPML is a mechanism to represent a collection of subscriptions. OPML has an interesting feature called transclusion which allows for remixing and repurposing of subscriptions and therefore, content. Just as RSS allowed us a better way to view content pushed from sites, OPML will enable a better way to view a collection of subscriptions. Each cluster can have its own associated view. This is the foundation on which Information Dashboards can be built.

Tomorrow: MyToday

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