Interface as a Conflict of Ideologies

Originally written in April 2007. Minor edits: March 2010.


In the past 50 years the digital user-interface has become a major field of cultural production, since the innovations of Douglas Engelbart in the sixties (mouse/keyboard/video-screen) through the personal computer revolution in the eighties to the rise of the World Wide Web in the nineties and the wider trends for social web applications since the turn of the century. Producers of hardware and software systems have been attempting to develop interfaces that will direct the users to produce the interaction desired by the system they represent.

Discussions about interface design have been constantly revolving around the axis of experience and usability, presented sometimes in contradiction and sometimes as complimentary assets of ‘good interface design’. As a tool the success of interface is defined by its ability to generate the desired interaction on behalf of the user and have the user understand and act by the set of rules that the system defined.

It is important to mention though, interfaces have existed for a long time before the personal or the institutional (academy/military) computer. Actually, they have been around longer than culture or man-made tools have. Yet the rapid development and consumption of interfaces have made this an important and influential part of contemporary culture.

Interface is defined as a point of interconnection between two independent systems. This definition sheds a different light on the way we have learned to know the interfaces around us. If the sides interacting through the interface are to be two independent systems, then one would expect interface itself to maintain that balance and not favor one system over the other. This essay would address the question of control and agency embedded within interfaces and attempt to find where is interface situated within the map of power. It would also use several examples and attempt to propose tactical and strategic approaches to act within this conflict.
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Help Strike a Win for Watchdog Journalism – Vote for NewsShift

NewsShift is the title of the grant application coming from some of us at the ShiftSpace team in collaboration with NewsShift basically turns a news page into a node in a networked collaborative journalistic effort. It has made it through the first round of proposals and is constantly trending as one of the highest … Continue reading Help Strike a Win for Watchdog Journalism – Vote for NewsShift

NewsShift: watchdog journalism with a long tail [Grant application]

Kevin Connor & Matthew Skomarovsky from (an involuntary facebook of powerful Americans, collaboratively edited by people like you) & David Nolen and myself of ShiftSpace have teamed up and together with Eyebeam have submitted an application for the Knight News Challenge. It is a cross between what LittleSis and ShiftSpace do best, applied to … Continue reading NewsShift: watchdog journalism with a long tail [Grant application]

ShiftSpace Commissions Program

ShiftSpace Commissions 10 grants of up to $2000, deadline: Feb 25th [ — Please circulate widely between your friends, peers, students, blogs and lists — ] November 5, 2007 Turbulence Commission: “The ShiftSpace Commissions Program” by Dan Phiffer and Mushon Zer-Aviv Turbulence has commissioned ShiftSpace and now ShiftSpace commissions you. Ten development grants of … Continue reading ShiftSpace Commissions Program

Highlights Space

Just finished the design for the new Highlights space which I will develop with two of our Open-Source community members, Avital Oliver and Dudu Buchbut. User Scenario: The user launches the space through the shift-menu The Highlights tool-bar opens allowing the user to: highlight by drag+drop on text (the cursor changes to this icon) repeat … Continue reading Highlights Space

Trails – the story so far (+)

Trails is the upcoming main addition to ShiftSpace it is an an interface for mapping information in the world of ShiftSpace. the idea is that shift (ShiftSpace annotations/interventions/user-generated-content) left on different pages will be trailed together into information maps.

We have been drafting tons of mockups, trying to figure out how should it work, what would be compelling to use? What would be a way to sculpt Trails in a way that would facilitate the potential we see in it? What would be feasible to execute? What would be flexible enough to iterate on as we develop? and so on… Continue reading “Trails – the story so far (+)”