Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

The Web of Intentions

2881902001_9445c69839_mJohn Battelle recently pointed out that Google is compiling a Database of Intention (strictly speaking, he pointed this out back in 2003).

Said database is comprised of every search ever entered, every list of results every tendered, and every click-path thereafter taken. Referring to AdWords, AdSense, and Omniture, he additionally pointed out that an ecosystem had blossomed around this pure, though recently attenuated, signal.

One implication/assumption of his insight: Wherever we feel that humans are expressing intent, business(es) will grow.

To put it another way: When I know what you want to do, I can make money by facilitating the accomplishment of that need.

Although there were some who disagreed with Battelle, the many comments on the post demonstrated the concept’s potential primarily by playing with it. For example, some said the Web also constitutes a database of “What I’m listening to” or “What I’m eating” or “What I just saw.” Furthermore, someone also pointed out that all the commercial information on the web – “What I actually bought” – significantly completes the intention picture by capturing which intentions actually led to thing businesses care about most: realized revenue.

This all took me back to 1995 when I was teaching Hegel to Middelbury students and told them that the world wide web was the true realization of Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Mind” because, in the totality of the web, Spirit (“Geist” or “Mind”) represented itself to itself in an unprecedented manner. (In his characteristically grandiose fashion, Hegel had implied that this self-representation was happening in his book.)

The web is the medium of our lives and increasingly a medium where fusion overcomes immersion. As such, the Web doesn’t just archive what we’re looking for; it archives much of what we actually do. Not just, “This is what I said,” but, “This is what I’m saying.” Not just, “This is what I saw,” but, “This is what I’m seeing.” Not just, “This is what I thought,” but, “This is what I’m thinking.” Etc.

Many years ago, I saw some German dudes talking about how private videotapes constituted the greatest recorded catalog of everyday life ever assembled. The web has absolutely superseded that by creating “not just” a database of intention (in addition to a database of videotaped qoutidiana), but a database of consciousness itself.

Any idears how we could make money off that? Wait, somebody already has!

Image Source: quapan.

Arthur the Talking Trash Can

Yesterday I was to meet with a fellow, Charles Hamad, so naturally I Googled him.

Among the treasures that Google served up was this article from 1974 describing Hamad’s work as a graduate student on a talking trash can named “Arthur.”

Here’s a clip from a spot the BBC did about this novel application of behavioral psychology to the problem of environmental pollution:

Enabling a trash can to talk in an effort to curb litter reminded me of the more recent work of BJ Fogg in the area of persuasive technology.

More importantly, it reminded me also that technology can be used for good, and not (just) evil.

Is 4-D the New 3-D? Thinking about Photosynth

One thing that irks me about the 3-D world is that it’s hard to find things in it. I’ve often been looking for my keys or a book or a CD and wished that I could just open up a search box, type in the object of my fruitless and frustrating search, and instantly locate the darn thing. The fact that 3-D spaces can be difficult to search visually is one thing that stands in the way of the the 3-D desktop metaphor, IMHO.

Then I remembered Photosynth, a software that allows you to make 3-D models of places from 2-D images which, thanks to the magic of tagging, come replete with a conveniently searchable 4th dimension (raising the question: Is information, and not time, the 4th dimension?).

I first wrote about Photosynth on Aquent’s Talent Blog in 2007. Here’s the original post:

Visual Information, Design, and the Future

photosynthjp.jpgA friend of mine passed this link along to me. It is a video of a software demo at the TED Conference back in March. The speaker is Blaise Aguera y Arcas who was demoing two software packages – Seadragon, which is used to browse large amounts of visual data, and Photosynth, which organizes pictures into navigable, 3-D spaces.

This stuff really has to be seen to be believed. It represents the future of how we will interact with visual data and also highlights that we are already creating virtual models of the world we live in by uploading content to websites like Flickr. There is also a cool example of an explorable, high resolution advertisement for Honda. Imagine if a picture in a magazine contained the richness of data you could find on an entire website. Mind-boggling.

Microsoft acquired Seadragon back in February. Aguera y Arcas makes a funny comment about that when people start clapping at the amazing things he’s showing them. Have you ever attended a software demo where people burst into spontaneous applause?

Image Courtesy of Live Labs.