Nine Inch Nails' Ghosts Album is About MUCH More Than Music.

If you have been reading this blog for even a moderate length of time, you are most likely aware of the unusually high amount of Nine Inch Nails articles on this site (seen here and here to name a few). Considering the general theme of this blog, I could see how this could be seen as strange to many. Still, I tend to write a lot about how digital media (which design-technology intersects with) is changing not only mainstream media, but the society which consumes it – which in turn impacts how we do our work. For the past two years, Nine Inch Nails has really been on the frontlines of pushing media away from the consolidated, copyright-heavy, corporate-run model to a distributed, grassroots, artist-run model.

Last night, Nine Inch Nails released Ghosts I-IV, an independently-produced album that is available for download for the price of $5. There are 36 songs in this album, so that $5 looks even more reasonable than ever. For those of you into the tangible, CDs can be purchased as well. Additionally, 9 songs are available completely for free – no questions asked. While this is distribution model is new, it is not new – we have seen it with In Rainbows and Niggy Tardust, each with their own little tweaks on it. However, make no mistake, Ghosts is unlike any other album distribution we have seen.
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Social News an Upgrade From an Old-News-Only World

A while back, I read a very interesting article debating the validity of social news sites. There is no denying that the old media machine is beginning to sputter – most notably newspapers. New media has begun to pull visitors away from traditional news outlets with free access to news, less advertising (sometimes) and features unique to the internet such as voting, discussing and recommending. Getting news on the internet is not, well, news at all, however social news is starting to catch on. By catching on, I do not mean our generation, we have been well aware of it for some time – I mean that the larger mainstream is slowly starting to hear whispers of such an idea. The interesting thing is that many people are trying to pit traditional news against social news – as if “there can be only one”. Rather, social news is a great addition to the genre of news which will only improve the public’s access to information.
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A Better Web is Coming – Big Business Or Not

I read a very interesting article, Why the Semantic Web Will Fail, about one person’s thoughts on why the web will never reach its full potential due to the greed and short-sidedness of big business. The author makes some very good points in the article and it is quite compelling to read.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Semantic Web will never work because it depends on businesses working together, on them cooperating.

We are talking about the most conservative bunch of people in the world, people who believe in greed and cut-throat business ethics. People who would steal one another’s property if it weren’t nailed down. People like, well, Conrad Black and Rupert Murdoch.

And they’re all going to play nice and create one seamless Semantic Web that will work between companies – competing entities choreographing their responses so they can work together to grant you a seamless experience?

I think the author is right about one thing – big business is not a big fan of an open, sharing web and will fight it tooth and nail in the name of profit. My feeling however is that business really does not have a choice in the matter. The web is built on a very open, uncontrollable model – opening up infinite possibilities for individuals, competitors and or startups to ruin them in a heartbeat. The web is moving towards a more open model, like it or not. We do not rely on big business, big business relies on us. If corporations do not want to work in that model, all it takes is $15 for a domain name, $100 a month for hosting and word of mouth for some David to take down Goliath.
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Daily Delicious – Social Data through Microformats

Microformats are becoming hotter topic with each passing day. With Firefox 3 supporting microformats, web designers/developers are suddenly going to have many more tools hanging from their belt. I understood the gist of microformats, but it was not until I read a great brief on microformats that I understood the depth and power of what they make possible.

Semantic code now has a whole new layer of meaning and functionality with microformats that we currently have only scratched the surface of. In addition, those features will theoretically be easier to implement. The elemental microformats are where things get very interesting for me. Social features such as voting, personal connection and tags can be published and parsed through simple semantics. These features give the potential for any site to participate and contribute to socialized information. The next-generation social bookmarking/aggregator sites could be merely a centralized hub of otherwise decentralized information. This theoretically lessens the the need for behemoth all-in-one social sites such as Digg. This gives web publishers another tool to both contribute and tap into a stream of information to make data more rich and connected. Very exciting.

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Daily Delicious – (Internet) Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

A ran across an interesting article, Where Did My Beautiful Internet Go?, a couple days ago on one person’s thoughts the direction the internet is going. With RSS, syndication and the rise of the blog, the author feels that the visual design and originality of the internet as a whole has taken a hit. Honestly, it is hard to argue with this preface if one looks strictly from a visual standpoint. Nonetheless, I feel the quality of design as a whole on the web is at an all-time high with the future looking even more promising. The argument really comes down to whether you think of design strictly from a visual standpoint or consider it to be a collection of the entire experience. With myself leaning greatly to the latter, I look at the current trend on the web as good. We cannot put the usability and accessibility of information aside from this debate – they are a crucial piece of design on the web, if not the most important.

Sure, I have a bone or two to pick with certain visual design styles, and the lack of visual originality with many sites, most especially blogs. However, many of the root-caused for those very issues have allowed for an unprecedented increase in user-experience design and accessibility. The rise of the blog and the general theory behind Web 2.0 has allowed the user and other sites to have greater access to content – allowing for a richer experience. Usability and web standards have definitely stifled visual creativity at times, but the movement is responsible for a much accessible and compatible internet. A site can be absolutely visually stunning, but if the public cannot easily access the information or interact with it, the design failed.

With information becoming more modular with every passing day, we are going to have to get comfortable with letting go of controlling how our content always looks. We need accept the fact that (many) people prefer to access data from an RSS reader or a web aggregator. While one may be of the opinion that certain content looks more appealing under a certain strict visual style, imposing those beliefs onto the audience is not the job of a designer nor is it responsible. Time would be better spent working with those technologies to make the content look its absolute best under all circumstances. Fighting this is useless, content and information is only going to become more free.

Design, especially on the internet, is a balancing act. Communication and aesthetics can, at times, conflict with each other which forces compromise. At this moment on the web, communication has taken the higher priority – which probably has to do with the fact that it was so neglected in the early years of design on the web. What we are seeing now is a natural return to balance. Honestly, this is a good thing.

So, our ‘beautiful internet’ is still here and thriving, it is just becoming beautiful in an entirely different way.

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Form Design is Good Form

I freely admit that I do not derive bountiful amounts of pleasure from designing forms. Forms are a relatively dry subject. They rarely drive visitors to a site. Forms do not empower the user to take action, but they do dissuade the user from inaction. No one ever goes on and on about how much they enjoyed filling out a form. The vast majority of people recognize when forms are frustrating; the other handful may notice when forms are not frustrating. Forms are the offensive linemen of web design – amazingly crucial to the success of the collective, rarely given credit and only concentrated upon when they fail. I used to give very little thought to the design process of form layouts. I would concentrate instead on the “important” pages that I believed would garner the most attention. My point of view has completed changed. Forms facilitate users to make purchases, register into communities, exchange information with organizations, etc. These functions are the basic elements of a majority of websites – money, participation, information. Continue reading “Form Design is Good Form”