First Impressions: the iPhone, Proficiency, and the Internet as Appliance

Being the Director of the Netlab means that I have to try anything being touted as a fundamentally new way of networking, right? Of course, it doesn't mean that the Netlab pays, unless by that you mean that I pay!

So what are my first impressions?

To be sure, this is a paradigm shift. The gestural aspect of the Interface seems to work well. Assigning some rough values to proficiency, I would say that I am about 70% proficient with it now, whereas I might be 98% proficient with my Mac's interface and ever only reached 95% with my Treo.The difference between 95 and 98 may be small, but it's big enough that whenever I used the Treo, I felt like I wasn't at home. That was significant. In contrast, there's something about drawing pens that doesn't work for me. Whenever I use one, my hand cramps up and I've never been able to get beyond 75% on them. In other words, they're unusable. The first big test of the iPhone is how quickly I will get used to the interface.

In certain ways the interface is contradictory: on the one hand, web pages are rendered as exquisite miniatures that you zoom in on to read, on the other hand, settings pages have inordinately large text for such a small device, making it necessary to navigate multiple menus to accomplish a task.

An obvious solution would be for the user to have some access to the settings, but this isn't possible. There is definitely a locked-down feeling on the phone compared to my Treo. On the Treo I was limited in my options, but I had them. For example, I could set up my screen as a set of icons or as a list. Not so on the iPhone. The most frustrating aspects of the Treo was the phone application which was impossible to configure. The iPhone is entirely like that, which is disappointing, except that unlike anything Palm has done in the last few years there is some sense of design here.

Now on to another, serious issue that has larger implications beyond the iPhone. Over the last few years, it's become rather common to see the Internet as a place of media convergence and the web as the means by which this will happen. In particular, open APIs such as Google Maps, Amazon, or Flickr have allowed programmers to build applications that remix online content in a plethora of way, some ludicrous, some, like hopstop.

The iPhone's interface undoes this completely. If you go to a YouTube site in iPhone's Safari, a notice that you either have javascript turned off or an old flash player appears instead of a video. Quicktime videos from Apple's web site work great (perfect for watching trailers from Apple's web site!), but flash doesn't play. And of course you can't download anything so forget about trying to install Skype or Google Earth.

To be fair, I still remember the bad old days when every architect had to have a flash site built. All of these were equally wretched and I welcome another nail in that coffin. But the the iPhone has reinscribed the isolated nature of flash sites. The widget based nature of the device suggests that Apple sees a future in single purpose applications for the web. Really the weather and stock applications (who needs the latter, really?)—front ends to Yahoo! services—aren't much different. So what's next, Wikipedia and Flickr widgets? Certainly I have nothing against such projects when they make Internet resources easier to access, but in the iPhone's closed architecture they suggest that Apple will lock down the web into a series of discreet applications with Apple the arbiter of who gets to be a provider (read provides a sexy widget and good corporate sponsorship).

The iPhone is less than a day old and Apple was scrambling just to get it out the door, but the device clearly will make the Internet a true mobile platform for the first time. How this will play out, however, is far from certain.

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blog pages moving

Dear Reader,

If you are reading this, then you need to switch your feed or your bookmarks to For a variety of reasons beyond my control, this feed will not contain all of the posts to this site starting in the near future. Moreover, it will not contain the most important posts! So go ahead and migrate over…


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Categories Uncategorized


Bored of Youtube? Then try Ubuweb,which is the kind of archive of avant-garde video that you always hoped existed on the Internet but didn't, until now. I had a chance to watch a video performance by Joseph Beuys, an Yves Klein's Anthropometries of the Blue Period and Fire Paintings, and a Brief Passage of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Moment in time. Well, you get the drift.

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Visualizing Internet Traffic

From Read/Write web, we find that AKAMAI technologies now has tools for visualizing current Internet traffic on-line. AKAMAI hosts a huge amount of Internet traffic by acting as a host for images, videos, and other large files for large corporate sites such as CNN and Apple. AKAMAI's strategy is to house these images locally so that if you are in the New York area and you pull down a site half way across the country, AKAMAI delivers the byte-hefty content from servers in the city rather than 1,500 miles away. Since long distance pipes are more costly than local connections, AKAMAI can save money for sites while improving download times.

Obviously keeping track of Internet traffic is part of AKAMAI's business and they have recently made available online applications showing such data in near real time.

Visit these tools here.

internet traffic

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Sighted at Columbia

Sited at Columbia's spring 2007 exhibit a couple of weeks ago.

With all due respect to all the fabulous work we saw there, ACTAR's Michael Kubo and I agreed that this was the single most memorable image.


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bots and riots

A Fistful of Euros asked Gavi Eran, an expert on botnets about the recent cyber-attack on Estonia. Incredibly, although botnets (massive number of PCs infected with viruses directed to do a specific operation) were involved, a good part of the traffic was a cyber-riot, consisting of Russian citizens attacking sites manually on the suggestion of forums and blogs. For more, go to the post here.

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Taking a Look at Google Street View

Both CNN and the New York Times carry a stories on how Google Street View may be too good. The Times quotes individuals who believe that the service is an invasion of privacy—although as Google points out, you could see more driving down the street…maybe those concerned should try curtains? CNN points out that the random nature of Street View's photography means that you get a slice of life which sometimes can be rather unseemly (I'll leave it to the story to explain) or unwelcome, e.g. protesters in front of abortion clinics who might make clients nervous.

photo of guy breaking into house

Link (via Mashable)

We should side with Google on this one. As a photographer, I've been concerned by the twisted limits on our freedom to take pictures that have emerged after 9/11. I don't see how (or why…surely any terrorist clever enough to take down a bridge will be clever enough to get past such silly limitations) anyone can restrict my right to take photographs from bridges or in tunnels, but on your way in and out of the city, signs clearly denote otherwise. Taking photos of certain office buildings and infrastructural installations will often get you a visit from security, but these characters will often wilt if you hold out the Photographer's Bill of Right, drawn up by a lawyer, to them. And although I couldn't find a reference, some architects seem to believe that by copyrighting their buildings it is possible for them to prevent unauthorized photographs. If enforceable, I suppose that would be a good way to ensure that historians will write them out of history. No images, no discussion. I'll be glad to hold to that policy.

I doubt that the Myspace generation would have qualms about having their likeness or their house's likeness on the Web, but other generations still cling to older models of privacy (anybody have the demographics on sales of shredders?) and, in this case, their "right to privacy," which is not enshrined in the Constitution, infringes on freedom of speech, which is.

But there's more to Google Street View.

Having investigated the work of the Architecture Machine Group in a course last fall, naturally, I was impressed by how Google has finally delivered the Aspen moviemap, developed by Michael Naimark, nearly 40 years later. The other precedent, is quite obviously, the first person shooter (games such as Doom, Marathon, or America's Army), which is not unrelated. Like many of the Architecture Machine Group's projects, Aspen was funded by military research. In Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture, Alex Galloway points out how the first person viewpoint of such games is at odds with previous cinematic practice. Instead of montage and rupture, the first person shooter demonstrates the video game's obsession with seamlessness and continuity. This is what Google Street View, like the Aspen Moviemap before it, delivers, making it a great example of Network Culture.

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