Dopplr: More Fuzziness Wanted [en]

[fr] Dopplr est un de ces "social tools" (si vous avez une meilleure traduction que "outils sociaux", qui franchement, ne traduit pas du tout l'idée, faites-moi signe) qui permet à chacun d'indiquer quels sont ses prochains voyages prévus et de les partager avec ses contacts. Là où Dopplr ajoute véritablement quelque chose, c'est qu'il va informer l'utilisateur s'il se retrouve dans la même ville au même moment qu'un de ses contacts.

Dans ce billet, je parle de deux choses qui pourraient à mon avis rendre Dopplr encore plus utile: un peu de "flou spatial", pour que Dopplr "sache" que Genève c'est tout près de chez moi, et que je ne veux pas seulement être avertie quand mes amis viennent à Lausanne, mais aussi s'ils sont de passage à Genève (et pourquoi pas quand ces villes seront dans le système), Morges ou Yverdon. Et deuxièmement, du flou possible dans les dates, que je puisse indiquer si ce sont des dates "fermes" ou déplaçables -- ou encore si mon voyage est sûr ou bien en projet.

I really, really like [Dopplr]( I does something rather simple (from a user point of view) and does it well. It lets me know if [my travels]( are bringing me in the same town as other people I know, either because they live there or because they’re travelling too. It also allows people to keep up-to-date with my travels, maybe in a more user-friendly way than my [Where is Steph?]( public calendar.

My Dopplr Page

Having said that, there is a way in which Dopplr could improve its usefulness for me quite a bit, by introducing some amount of temporal and spatial fuzziness. Huh? Let’s start with the shortcomings I’ve found, and hopefully I’ll explain things more clearly. *(Ugh, feeling clumsy with English today, not sure why.)*

I have set my hometown as Lausanne, Switzerland, so when Dopplr-contacts of mine travel to Lausanne, I’m informed. Great, so far. But what if a normally US-based Dopplr-contact of mine comes to Geneva? Geneva is about 40 minutes away by train. If somebody I know, and who lives on another continent, is coming to Geneva, well, I would definitely want to know. Even if the destination was Zürich, for that matter. It’s as good as if they were headed for Lausanne.

See where I’m headed? Of course, this is a complex feature to add. For the moment, I imagine Dopplr matches trip coincidences based on location names. This would involve computing distances between various cities. It would also involve determining what level of geographical fuzziness makes sense in which situation. For example, I’m going clearly going to be interested in knowing when people who live really far off are coming less far away — hell, I might even go to Paris to meet up with some of my friends who live on the other side of the pond. I might not be that interested in knowing that a friend of mine from Geneva is travelling to Paris, when I haven’t got any plans to go there. Maybe we could have sliders somewhere to change location fuzziness easily.

The other shortcoming I’ve bumped into has to do with time (hence “temporal and spatial fuzziness”). For some of my trips, the dates are set. It’s the case with my upcoming trip to Denmark, for example. I got a special priced flight with “no changes allowed”, so the dates are set in stone. (And yes, of course, [I’d like to]( change my return flight. Gah.) My upcoming trip to Paris in November, however, is very fuzzy. I know roughly what dates I’m going to be there, but I could head there earlier or hang around a few days once the conference is over. It would be really useful for me to be able to indicate how “hard” my travel dates are.

Another type of “time fuzziness” I’d like to have is for “not sure yet” trips. I’d like to go to India next winter — not quite sure when, not quite sure where exactly.

Of course, having said all that, I’m going to play devil’s advocate a bit (am I really?) by reminding everybody that “less is more” and that it’s often better to “do one thing, and do it well”. I feel the same about Twitter: I feel it’s missing features to make it “really great” for me, but on the other hand, I fear that adding too much to it will make it lose what makes it special and turn it into a tentacular monster. I’ve seen that happen, to some extent, with coComment — at the beginning, a rather straightforward comment tracking system, now with many layers of icing and social goodies which make me feel a bit lost when I look at it. *(Disclaimer: coComment were a client of mine, and I encouraged them to add certain features to it at the beginning — like tagging, neighbours — but now I wonder if pushing in that direction was such a good idea after all. Future will tell, I guess — version 2 is due out soon.)*

So, what’s missing to make *your* Dopplr “perfect”?

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Culture Shock in Second Life [en]

[fr] Second Life est vraiment ressenti par ceux qui l'utilisent comme un espace physique. Preuve en est le sentiment de désorientation qui m'habite alors que je découvre cet espace -- sentiment très proche de celui qui a accompagné mes premiers jours un Inde: un choc culturel. On trouve également dans Second Life des problèmes de racisme. A mon avis, un terrain fertile pour mieux comprendre, par exemple, comment l'utilisation de jeux vidéos interactifs (comme WoW) peut agir sur nous.

After [my first few hours inside Second Life](, I realized that the confusion I was feeling was very similar to what I had experienced when I [first arrived in India]( I was suffering from a [culture shock]( “Some thoughts I wrote down after a few days in India, in French.”).

There were people all around me that looked like nothing I’d ever seen before. I had trouble communicating (I’d try to chat and I’d fly up in the air) and identifying what I saw in my surroundings. I didn’t know where to go. I read notes which mentioned places which ringed no bells. I just didn’t know what to do or where to start.

But what really rang the “culture shock” bells for me was that I was feeling anxious and afraid of the avatar-people around me. I feared somebody would pounce on me (well, my avatar, but by then the identification process had kicked in), or animate my avatar against my will, or start shouting obscene things at me. I felt pretty insecure and vulnerable amongst all these people with masks on their faces. I had no idea what to expect from them, just as I had no idea what to expect from people when I landed in India.

In India, I was afraid to go out by myself and explore. In Second Life, I get some of that feeling too. I’m afraid of ending up in “bad places”. Talk of griefers and guns makes me scared. So I tend to hang out in the [New Citizens Plaza]( a lot. *(Note: if you click on that URL, you’ll be shown where that place is on a map of Second Life. If you’re running Second Life, you can click on the “Teleport” button to go there. Doesn’t seem to work for me, though.)* Then last night [buridan]( showed me to [Joi](’s [island Kula]( (fun stuff there with merry-go-rounds and dancing floors).

The interesting point here is that I’m exploring Second Life space just as I do real physical geographical space. I find the same patterns in my behaviour. Same with activities that do not match anything in my life experience yet: flying, teleporting — I don’t tend to do these things much yet, just as it took me a while to start taking rickshaws on my own, queueing to get somebody else to photocopy (“Xerox”) documents for me, and fend off beggars efficiently.

Second Life is much more than “chat with graphics”. As I told my Grandma on the phone yesterday, when she asked me what on earth my last posts were about, it’s almost like an “internet inside the internet”. There are chatrooms in it, but they are informal and transient: put a few people in an open space, and if they gather and start talking, you have a chatroom-like atmosphere. But you can walk/fly/teleport away, [do your hair]( or build/program stuff while the others talk. All that without leaving Second Life.

As a long-time IRC chatroom inhabitant, I see two major differences between what I’m used to and Second Life.

From the chatroom point of view, first of all, you cannot be in two places at once inside Second Life. On IRC, I sit in way more than one chatroom at a time, and it’s not uncommon for me to be conducting conversations in two or three chatrooms at once. In Second Life, you can send private messages in parallel to the “physical group conversation” you’re having, but you can’t have more than one group conversation.

Another “quality” of Second Life that strikes me is that it’s less “partial-attention-friendly” than text-only chat or instant messaging — or even web surfing. I find it very hard to do “something else” at the same time as I’m in Second Life. I think it has something to do with the graphical nature of Second Life, and how rich an environment it is. There’s enough material *inside* Second Life for partial attention as it is 🙂 — but also, the fact there is a graphical representation of the people you’re chatting with helps capture one’s attention. (Maybe I feel things this way because I’m new to Second Life, I might think differently later on.)

So, even though Second Life is an entirely on-the-computer thing, it clearly activates the pathways in our brains that we use to deal with physical space and beings. I’ve already said many times that the internet is broadly perceived as “space without space”, but it’s much more obvious in Second Life. Another element that shows us how “real” this virtual environment is to our brains is the presence of [racism in Second Life]( The topic came up when I was talking to a few “Furries” (ie, people with an [animal-like avatar]( who mentioned there were “furry areas” because Furries were often subject to discrimination from others. Even though we know the aspect of a Second Life citizen is a mask, it seems to have an impact on the way we relate to him/her.

This, to me, is related in some way to the fact that the learning experiences you make in interactive virtual worlds (think “video games”) affect your “non-game” life as well (think “flight simulators”). Which can bring us to question, for example, what effect it can have on one’s brain to spend a long number of hours “killing virtual people”. But that’s another chapter!

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Keeping The Flat Clean: Living Space As User Interface [en]

How I applied what I have understood about designing user interfaces to organising my flat so that it too is ‘usable’ and remains clean.

One of my ongoing post-study projects is reorganising my flat from top to bottom, hopefully throwing out half my stuff in the process. I have been thinking a bit about the way I store things.

First of all, I tend to try to minimise waste of space. I will organise things into cupboards and drawers so that they occupy the less space possible. Second, I tend to organise things with taxonomy rather than function in mind. I will try to store objects of the same type together, regardless of their respective frequency of use.

The result is a perpetually messy flat, with whole areas that I never use (places I do not go, cupboards I never open).

I have therefore been rethinking my whole living environment in terms of function and process. What do I use this thing for, and when? How do I deal with common tasks like washing up or doing my mail? And most important, how does clutter arise? An environment where each thing has a place is not sufficient to prevent clutter. If clutter arises, it is not due to “laziness”. It is because the storage system is not usable enough. It was not designed with the user in mind.

I have switched to considering my living space as a user interface rather than as a library of categorised items.

If I catch myself dumping something on the table instead of putting it away, I’ll try to identify what is preventing me from putting it where it belongs. I’ll try to bring this “where it belongs” closer to where I am naturally tempted to put it. (Instead of thinking “ooh I’m a bad girl, I’m not putting things away as I should,” which we all agree does not help in the least.)

Here are a couple of examples of what I have been doing.

First, I identified the main sources of clutter in my flat: dirty kitchen things, clothes, papers and books. Then I tried to analyse how these things ended up lying about my whole flat. I know that I can clean my flat spotless, and that within a couple of weeks it will be messy again. So obviously, there are things I do mechanically which create clutter. Something which breaks the natural “keeping clean” flow.

Let’s take the dirty dishes to start with. (Not the most glamorous example, but I’m sure there are many of you out there who can relate.) Why do I leave cups, glasses, or even plates lying around in various places? A first reason for this, obviously, is that I do not only eat in my kitchen. That’s a fact we will just have to live with. But why don’t I bring things back to the kitchen? Well, more often than not, the kitchen is in such a state that there wouldn’t really be any place to put them. The sink, of course, is already full of dirty dishes. We have here are perfect example of how disorganisation in one area leads to clutter elsewhere.

One factor which helps stuff pile up in my sink (despite my “fool-proof” method for taming dirty dishes) is that I usually have to make space on the drainer before I start washing up. (I’m one of these people who don’t dry dishes but leave them on the drainer to put them away “later”.) And putting the dishes away is a pain because my cupboard is so crammed with stuff that I have to empty half of it before being able to put my plates were they belong. That is where the bottleneck is. Or the limiting factor, if you prefer.

I realised that out of my four kitchen cupboards, there are only two that I regularly open. I proceeded to empty all the junk out of the others and get rid of the most of it (if I never open the cupboards, then I can’t really need what’s inside them, can I?) I then reorganised the things I use on a regular basis in all the available cupboards, focusing on “how easy will it be to put it back there?” rather than “could I use less space for this?”

One significant result concerns plates. (Don’t worry, we’ll soon be done with the kitchen things.) I have big plates and small plates, four of each. I used to keep the small plates piled up on the big ones, which meant that each time I wanted to put a big plate back in the cupboard, I had to lift up all the small plates first (see what I mean?) That didn’t help prevent things from accumulating on the drainer. Now I have the small plates on one shelf, and big ones on another. I use up more storage space, but it’s easier to put things away. I have rearranged all my kitchen cupboards along the same principle, and the kitchen is now much more usable.

This post is getting much longer than what I expected. However, I don’t want to leave you without letting you know what I have come up with for dealing with my incoming mail. I have been using a tray-based system for sorting paperwork for a long time, but it has shown its limitations regularly over the past years. The new system still uses trays, that groups papers according to what I have to do with them instead of what they are. So now, this is what my trays look like; I’ll see as I use it if it needs any modifications:

  • to do (bills to pay, things to investigate or have a closer look at)
  • to do, ASAP (anything urgent)
  • to file, daily business (bank papers, medical papers, salary slips)
  • to file, important (tax stuff and other important things)
  • to look at (optional) before throwing out (various newspapers, information leaflets)
  • to throw out (envelopes and anything else I don’t keep; the bin is often not close at hand)
  • to sort (anything unopened; sometimes I fetch my mail and don’t deal with it straight away

In conclusion, here is my line of conduct:

  1. pay attention to cupboards that are never opened or shelves that are never reached at
  2. keep an eye on what I do automatically and try to adapt the environment
  3. think “actions”, “process”, and “frequency” instead of “categories” and “families”
  4. accept my limitations

The last point is important: there will always be clean washing waiting to be ironed, because no matter how hard I try, I’ll never get around to ironing and putting it away as soon as it’s dry. I therefore need to take this into account and explicitly plan a space for my huge pile of Clothes Waiting To Be Ironed, even if in an ideal world, Clothes Waiting To Be Ironed should not be around.

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