Slides for my “Conflict of Interface” talk at Eyebeam

Originally presented at The Politics of Interface and Obfuscation a special event at Eyebeam, NYC on March 11th, 2014, together with Helen Nissenbaum (NYU) and moderated by Michael Connor (Rhizome).

The internet, once associated with openness and decentralization, is increasingly understood in terms of control exerted by government agencies (like the NSA) and advertising (targeted ads). What is less commonly discussed is how this subliminal control is embedded in interface design. In this special event Eyebeam alum Mushon Zer-Aviv will argue that web interfaces demand our silent obedience with every page load. Through a talk and a presentation of a few recent projects, Mushon will offer new approaches to challenging the politics of the interface. Mushon will be followed by Helen Nissenbaum who will discuss the tactic of obfuscation as a subversive response to surveillance interfaces; she will present some highlights from the recent Obfuscation Conference at NYU and together with Mushon present their current collaboration with Daniel Howe, the AdNauseam browser extension. The event will be moderated by Rhizome editor and curator, Michael Connor.

tnm_turing_600

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Disinformation Visualization: How to lie with datavis (the essay)

Following my Disinformation Visualization workshop at the Info Activism Camp, the wonderful people at the Tactical Tech Collective have invited me to publish these ideas as an essay on their site. I am cross-posting the opening here and encourage you to read the whole thing on the Visualizing Advocacy site (and get their wonderful book too)

InvadeHospitalVertical

Seeing is believing.

When working with raw data we’re often encouraged to present it differently, to give it a form, to map it or visualize it. But all maps lie. In fact, maps have to lie, otherwise they wouldn’t be useful. Some are transparent and obvious lies, such as a tree icon on a map often represents more than one tree. Others are white lies – rounding numbers and prioritising details to create a more legible representation. And then there’s the third type of lie, those lies that convey a bias, be it deliberately or subconsciously. A bias that misrepresents the data and skews it towards a certain reading.

It all sounds very sinister, and indeed sometimes it is. It’s hard to see through a lie unless you stare it right in the face, and what better way to do that than to get our minds dirty and look at some examples of creative and mischievous visual manipulation.

Over the past year I’ve had a few opportunities to run Disinformation Visualization workshops, encouraging activists, designers, statisticians, analysts, researchers, technologists and artists to visualize lies. During these sessions I have used the DIKW pyramid (Data > Information > Knowledge > Wisdom), a framework for thinking about how data gains context and meaning and becomes information. This information needs to be consumed and understood to become knowledge. And finally when knowledge influences our insights and our decision making about the future it becomes wisdom. Data visualization is one of the ways to push data up the pyramid towards wisdom in order to affect our actions and decisions. It would be wise then to look at visualizations suspiciously.

DIKW: Data Information Knowledge Wisdom

continue reading at the Visualizing Advocacy site

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Audio-Spatial Storytelling

shoppinghour_mag_10

The following is a short essay I wrote for the 10th issue of Shoppinghour Magazine (UK) titled Feast on Listen. It involves what I refer to as an Audio-Spatial experience and is mainly inspired by my experience with the You Are Not Here project.

For the past few decades digital storytelling have been delivered mainly through screens. The networking of the image, whether pictorial, written or moving have largely expanded the canvas of media makers and helped flatten the media horizon. The centralized audio-visual medium of television has been challenged by the proliferation of distributed networked screens, multiplying the perspectives and voices allowed to be heard. But while screens were emancipated from the single cords that fed them, the messages they convey are still trapped within the boundaries of the screen. Standard or wide, low or high-res, one-way or interactive, these screens have been cropping our horizon into predefined blocks. This limitation is surfacing more and more these days with mobile computing hitting the mainstream and bringing with it the hype around “Augmented Reality”. AR is an emerging technological trend layering perceived reality with networked channels to add, contextualize and augment our bare senses. As with digital media, the prime sense to augment has been first and foremost our sight. But the experience of augmented sight has been mostly underwhelming. It seems we are not that excited about moving in space and having to fixate our view through a 4 inch smartphone screen or even through a retina display tablet. And so, even though we’re seeing a lot of development in this field in recent years, we are yet to see an audio-visual augmented reality experience dramatically augmenting our lives.

But visuals are not the only expressive medium to undergo a revolution with the rewiring of the media space. Sound has been a huge part of the equation. Networked audio has brought the recording industry to its knees and have developed new media topologies in the forms of the iTunes store, streaming radio, Podcasting and Skype. Yet, I would argue we’ve only been scratching the surface. The potential of networked audio is still largely untapped. With sight being the most primary sense, it is understandable that when attempting to augment reality we would first turn to visuals. But when it comes to the production and dissemination of culture, sound has actually been networking for much longer and much stronger than images. After more than 100,000 years we are wired to communicate through vocal language. Oral culture has helped frame the human experience much before the invention of writing and in a much wider scope than image making. Possibly more than anything, sound is spatial, it surrounds us, it does not ask us to be its spectators, it simply absorbs us within it.

Sound is tied to location, many of us have probably experienced the phenomenon of audio/spatial Synesthesia. This is a strange experience of our brain pairing different senses together. For example, walking in a certain street, listening to a certain song can pair that song with the spatial experience of walking in that street. Listening to that song could bring up memories of that street. And vice versa, walking in that street can bring up an imaginary soundtrack in our heads, playing the memory of the song to augment our spatial experience. That is the experience I first felt when we started running the You Are Not Here project (youarenothere.org).

The streets of Tel Aviv showing through the two sided dislocative tourism map of Gaza

The streets of Tel Aviv showing through the two sided dislocative tourism map of Gaza

In the summer of 2006 I was a part of a group who designed You Are Not Here, “a dislocative tourism agency”. YANH meta-tourists used a two sided map and a telephony system to explore Baghdad walking through the streets of New York and later to explore Gaza walking through the streets of Tel Aviv. The map overlaid the paired cities encouraging the participants to for example, navigate the Baghdad/NYC map to the West Village to “visit” the Baghdad Zoo. The remote location was explored through audio tours, augmenting the city you’re in with the narrative, the audio and the (imagined) spatial experience of the remote place. Years after I could still find my way around Baghdad, walking in the streets of Williamsburg. New York has become a platform for stories of a place far away and it was that very audio-spatial experience that made the stories stick.

It is audio, not images that are a perfect fit for what could be a networked experience with a true potential to augment reality. YANH was an early experiment, back in 2006 it was using a printed map, a telephony system and stickers in the streets. Today, audio spatial experiences can be self-contained within mobile applications, taking advantage of digital mapping, audio streaming and geolocation technologies.

These days, podcasts are becoming more popular and the audiobook medium is on the rise. We’re getting more comfortable with customizing our audio fix to our current preference, we might also enjoy customizing it to our current location.

Beyond an invitation to explore this emerging creative opportunity, I would argue that when exploring the new networked media possibilities digital storytellers have mostly been looking under the streetlight. We’ve been networking the written word, networking the moving image, networking the audio recording, but each medium has for the most part been maintaining its original dynamics and characteristics. It is the merging of different media that is truly worthy of the problematic title “New Media”. Audio-spatial is a new networked approach that is based on the much older networks of oral culture and on the origins of storytelling. If you’re looking to augment reality, you might want to start there.

Janet Cardiff / FOREST WALK, 1991

Janet Cardiff / FOREST WALK, 1991

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OPEN DESIGN NOW / Learning By Doing

open-design-now-why-design-cannot-remain-exclusive

I guess “NOW” is relative as the essay I wrote for Open Design Now is now at least 2 years old. But still I figured it makes sense to share. (on more than one level) I recommend reading this in the original site, but just as a backup I will publish it here as well. One of the reasons I waited with publishing it here in the blog (even though the whole book is CC-SA-BY licensed) is that the publishing model they took was to slowly publish the essays over a long period of time, one essay at a time. And the book was going from 0% open to 100% open. It’s an interesting model, certainly a compromise between the OPENESS tribe and the publisher’s concern over the INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY and the commodification of the content. Now that it is 100% open, and my essay is just slightly dated, I think it’s fair to share it here :)

Mushon Zer-Aviv describes his efforts to teach open source design as an attempt to investigate why collaborative work combined with individual autonomy has not been common practice in design, as it is in open source software development. He discusses whether what worked for code might just as easily be transferred to design: the physical object as binary structure.

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The Turing Normalizing Machine

A machine learning experiment trying to decode social normalcy. This is a collaboration between Yonatan Ben-Simhon and myself and was initially presented at the Science Museum in Jerusalem as a part of the Other Lives exhibition inspired by the life and work of Alan Turing on his birthday anniversary.

More at the project’s page: mushon.com/tnm

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RE: Open Knowledge Festival—Between Open Data and Public Knowledge

logo (obviously laser-cut)

The first Open Knowledge Festival (#OKfest) took place in Helsinki, Finland, September 17-22, 2012. The festival, arranged by the UK based Open Knowledge Foundation was dedicated to the growing culture of openness extended through digital technology. Following that spirit it covered 13 different “topic streams” coordinated by multiple program planners and attracting talks, panels, workshops and hackathons pitched through an open call. Throughout the festival 6 of the many parallel sessions were constantly streamed live online, all of these recordings are (openly) available.

The topic streams included everything from Open Democracy and Open Development, through Open Cities and Open Education, to Open Design and Data Visualization. The one thing shared throughout the sessions was a conviction that opening things up is generally a good thing that can leads society in the right direction.

I was in Helsinki as a guest of Pixelache and the Mushrooming Network giving a workshop titled Dis-Information-Visualization (more on that in a different post). My contributions to OKfest was two slightly more skeptical sessions in the Open Design (Wikipedia Illustrated) and Open Cities (Life in the Urban Panopticon) streams. Yet as a volunteer with the Israeli Public Knowledge Workshop (PKW) I was mainly interested in discussions around government transparency and civic engagement. This is also what I focus on in this post.

Best nametags ever! Each of them a custom laser-cut…

A Global Movement

The Open Knowledge Foundation is mainly an Open Gov NGO, so the Transparency and Accountability topic stream was a prominent one. On the first morning session of the first day after a few speakers gave their case studies, there was a lightning round presenting around 25 different government transparency projects from around 25 different places in the world. Each presenter was given 2 minutes and one slide. Funny enough most of them spoke of pretty similar efforts and challenges: governments reluctant to release data, lack of standardization, efforts to find partnerships with representatives, and so on… I could’ve just repeated the same story for our work in the PKW but instead I decided to tell the uplifting story of the “Opening the Finance Committee” project — the committee’s protocols were berried in print archives and our volunteers decided to force them open by scanning and crowdsourcing their digitization. 12 hours after launching the project’s website, the government got the message and released the protocols online in a machine readable format. We got some enthusiastic claps for that.

The Declaration on Parliamentary Openness

Another interesting session focused on ways for parliament monitoring organizations (PMOs) to collaborate, especially under the umbrella of the joined “Declaration on Parliamentary Openness”. The declaration, signed by more than 80 orgs (including us) from more than 55 countries, is a collaboratively written document laying out principles and best practices for governments to follow and for PMOs to push for.

The 44 points document is not necessarily something to expect govs to fully implement at once (though it could be nice), it is mainly used as a platform for cross-pollination between PMOs and as a tool of leverage to further advance the cause.

María Baron, from the Argentinian Directorio Legislativo, shared their strategy in using the document even before it was published. They got their government (which she personally doesn’t like that much) invested in advance as a partner and invited them to actually comment on and influence the declaration. Her group evaluated the Argentinian government’s standing on each of the 44 points in the document, not comparing them the UK or the Netherlands, but to the neighboring Chile, Peru, Paraguay & Uruguay. When it was clear that in this comparison the Argentinian gov is not looking so good, they warned they’ll be going to the press with the alarming results. The government in response set a joined work group with the PMO to change the reality for the better.

The declaration is written as a live document. It can receive inline comments adding local perspectives. Even better, it is built to collect local examples and updates that can serve as case studies and leverages for parallel efforts.

An interesting remark from Sarah Schacht (from Knowledge As Power) was that in most cases the politicians can’t necessarily change much in the government’s approach to openness as it’s the clerks who set the standards. Beyond the big words about democracy and transparency that politicians would gladly align themselves with, the staff has to be on board. It is true that some clerks won’t act without higher political will, but they often are much more critical players in the process than we usually consider. We won’t win them over by waving open standards and democratic euphemism but by listening to what they need and by understanding what the tools mean for them. We should remember that their focus is mostly on the document management system, for them openness is an after thought.

In this conversation I have also learned about two relevant projects that are gaining some global interest. The first, Akoma Ntoso (http://akomantoso.org), is a machine readable XML format for parliamentary, legislative and judiciary documents. The second, Bungeni (http://Bungeni.org) builds on top of Akoma Ntoso to provide a suite of (Python based) open source tools for drafting, managing, consolidating and publishing legislative and other parliamentary documents. The names of these projects may sound African, that’s because they are. In these projects openness is not an afterthought but a foundational essence. Obviously, once standards and tools are shared the potential for cross-PMO Open Source collaboration is huge.

The steps to take full advantage of this document initiative is to print it, translate it, localize it (make it fit the local political system and culture). Out of the 44 points in the declaration, each country can choose to focus on its few target points, then obviously share examples and updates with the other PMOs by annotating the living document and participating in the mailinglist.

Data Overload

As engaging and exciting as it was, almost all of the conversations in the festival seemed to be very low level – more about opening data, less about what to do with the data once open. Personally, I feel like the openness is just the beginning, and even if it is not complete, heck, even if we have to get the data by scraping PDF files, open knowledge is not only about informatics.

I often use the DIKW model which generally says that DATA given context becomes INFORMATION give meaning becomes KNOWLEDGE given insight becomes WISDOM. I would add “…given organizing becomes ACTION”. Yet, the Open Knowledge Festival was much more concerned with open data than with open knowledge. It seems like this movement is breeding a new phenomenon: the spreadsheet activist. It’s a somewhat apolitical way of dealing with politics and that’s not good. When there was any discussion of contextualizing the data, the automatic solution was always: Data visualization. And you know what I think about that

It got me thinking about the time when we chose to call our NGO the “Public Knowledge Workshop”. At first I regretted the departure from the term “Open Knowledge” that was already spreading around Europe. But now I think that “Public Knowledge” is actually a much more committed term. Open Knowledge can be piles of valuable books freely and openly available to read, inspect, remix and distribute, even if no one actually does that. Public Knowledge means that data, information, knowledge, are being used and shared, not just potentially but actively. This requires much more than making the data available, it requires us to put it into action, and much more, to get it to drive civic engagement and to actively improve not only our information systems, but our societies at large.

Trying to be proactive, I grabbed Banjamin Ooghe, from the French PMO Regards Citoyens, for a one-on-one session. He gave me a demo of the parliament monitoring work they do and I responded with a demo of our projects. They’re doing some interesting stuff with search and automation, taking advantage of the Open Source Solr search engine. They’re also making much less use of user generated content than we are. I posted my interview of him demoing on YouTube, to show the gang back home. I loved his response to the way some activists rush to declare themselves as non-partisan. He said: “We’re not non-partisan. We’re trans-partisan.” We were both tremendously inspired and agreed that this is exactly what the next OKfest (next year, in Switzerland) should have more of. Let’s make it happen!

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Dis-Information-Visualization Workshop Summary / Helsinki Sep 2012

The 1st Open Knowledge Festival was also the host of the 1st Dis-Information-Visualization workshop, a critical attempt to actively explore the dark side of information visualization. In the full day workshop (led by me, Mushon Zer-Aviv, and organized by Pixelache and the Mushrooming Network) 4 groups were encouraged to lie with infographics. Rather than falsifying the data, the dis-info-visualizers have manipulated its meaning by creating truthful, yet misleading representations.

We started with an introductory presentation offering a few critical tools through which to investigate (and generate) visual manipulation. The talk suggested that rather than looking at data information visualization as “Beautiful Evidence” (to quote the title of a book by Edward Tufte) we should read them as often beautiful and sometimes even seductive arguments.

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At the Open Knowledge Festival, Helsinki

click to enlarge

This week I’ll be presenting Wikipedia Illustrated and participating in other events at Helsinki’s Open Knowledge Festival. I would love to see you there:

Monday, Sep 17, 5pm
Open Publishing and Visual Free Culture
 - A satellite event hosted by M-Cult and Pixelache, discussing Collaborative Futures, Wikipedia Illustrated and more

Thursday, Sep 20th, 4pm
Open Source Hardware for Renewable Energy + Manufacturing in Motion + Wikipedia Illustrated
 - presentation and discussion of Wikipedia Illustrated as a part of the Open Design topic stream

Thursday, Sep 20th, 6:30pm
Life in the Urban Panopticon Discussion -
 a panel discussion on privacy and policy in public space as a part of the Open Cities topic stream

Saturday, Sep 22th, 10am
Dis-Information-Visualization
 a workshop hosted by Pixelache and the Mushrooming Network and actively exploring the dark side of InfoVis

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לדעת קהלים נסתרים / Getting intimate with Invisible Audiences (Hebrew Translation)

The following is a Hebrew translation and presentation documentation for my Sept 2010 paper. I recommend reading the original, hyperlinked and slightly more up-to-date text in English. Both the original article and a video of the accompanying presentation are available in English.

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Introducing: Good Listeners

a spiritual plugin visualizing the (forced) confessions obtained by divine web trackers.

As the Decode exhibition opens I am very happy to launch a brand new project today, Good Listeners, commissioned by the V&A with generous support from the Porter Foundation and in collaboration with Design Museum Holon.

Good Listeners is a browser plugin that exposes the secret ways in which our browsing habits are shared with and mined by 3rd party web trackers (like Google Analytics and Facebook “Like”) without our consent or knowledge. Whenever a site exposes the visitor’s data to a third party service a confessional booth window is opened and the priest in the window offers words of invisible wisdom, divine providence and spiritual guidance pertaining to matters of web browsing, social networking, e-commerce and digital identity.

…Learn more and install the plugin on the Good Listeners site.

(and many thanks to the wonderful Zohar Arad for the awesome code work on the project)

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