What do maps mean to you?

GDNWitnessMapsThe Guardian are running another one of their guardianwitness assignments, following up from the one on walls, that ended with a fabulous interactive article on the ‘walled world’.

This time the assignment in question asks: “what do maps mean to you?” It only has 4 days left, and has garnered 53 contributions so far. The blurb for the article goes:

Whether it’s a beautifully illustrated treasure map, something scrawled on the back of an envelope, a conceptual brainstorm or even a palm reading, share your maps with us. We don’t want to you to share photos of OS maps or AA road atlases – rather, we’d like to see your own maps that help you navigate and place yourself in your surroundings. We will make a gallery of some of our favourites…

There are contributions from cyclists, postgraduate students, artists, environmental workers, geologists, metalsmiths and more.

Newsroom Dynamics

Looks like the BBC are having a few problems with their big move to New Broadcasting House. The irony of designing an open-plan newsroom and then issuing instructions on where and how people move is seemingly lost on them. MediaGuardian have got hold of internal documents outlining some new ground rules, including this little snippet that amused me:

BBC journalists have been briefed on “newsroom etiquette” in preparation for their move and given maps of where they can and cannot stand in their capacious new work place.

And here is the map!

tvc moving around


Make sure you don’t stand near the studio windows. Be aware of places where you could be on air, and make “the most of huddle zones, casual chairs, teapoints, meeting rooms.” A great example of how an open architectural ethos actually impedes the everyday nature of news. Sounds like the BBC wants to condition it’s newsroom to show a projected image of how it actually functions, rather than the reality. Maybe because that reality is little less sanitized and smooth that it wants to appear to the general public to be. I thought news-making was meant to be messy, frantic and unpredictable?

Another interesting point I’ve taken from this is that this open ethos has pushed a job previously reserved for architectural and structural features (walls, doors) back onto the individual. Walls and doors serve particular functions. They block, separate and restrict as well as open, shape and dictate. In their absence, inhabitants are forced to self-govern actions. A ‘Please don’t stand here’ sign replaces a wall. A ‘You could be on air’ message replaces a partition. They don’t govern quite as authoritatively as structural features so the BBC’s journalists are forced to internalize these restrictions and govern themselves. Whether it works or not is another issue altogether.

Battle For the Internet

The Guardian have been running a series all week entitled; ‘Battle for the internet‘, taking a look at the new frontiers of the web. So far the most interesting article posted in the series focused on ‘walled gardens’ – closed computer hardware (mainly Apple’s new stable of mobile products) with restricted operability. That is, a growing range of devices such as the iPad that limit user ability to dig down into code, run non-authorised software, or curate their own, self-verified programs.

The fulcrum of the piece was the antagonism between ‘generative’ devices (those that can be programmed to do more than they were set-up to do) and ‘reductive’ devices (as above, those that limit/deny programmability by the user). Mobile smartphones, by and large, fall into the latter category. Jonathan Zittrain‘s book The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It (2008) shapes this argument.

The obvious question, then, if mobile smartphones are results of a ‘tethering’ process (Zittrain 2008) designed to limit program operability to those screened and sold through App stores or other similar marketplaces, is; why is this necessary? What do smartphone manufacturer’s have to gain from, in effect, reducing their product’s usability? And, does this reduce a product’s value?

Of course, it’s easy to simply say this is a case of Apple (and others) wanting to profit from their own success. The brand itself has swollen in worth, even since the mid-noughties, and despite Steve Job’s death remains a technological powerhouse. It’s App Store – combined with its iPad – represents the frontier of it’s business currently. In securitizing the use of the latter through the former, Apple have bricked up large swathes of internet usage behind its rather menacing walls. In operating with such impunity, Apple have managed to attain a level of online policing unknown to, or uncharacteristic of Western democracies, and much more akin to online modus operandi of the Chinese Communist Party, Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party or Iranian Government. This – rather than mere profit – becomes a greater concern for global web usage.

There’s also a great quote from journalist and author, John Battelle on the ‘unstoppable’ mobile nature of the web:

“The PC-based HTML web is hopelessly behind mobile in any number of ways,” he [Battelle] wrote on his blog. “It has no eyes (camera), no ears (audio input), no sense of place (GPS/location data). Why would anyone want to invest in a web that’s deaf, dumb, blind, and stuck in one place?”

Whilst the quote itself draws on the hapless PC to elucidate the absurdity of a ‘non-sensing’ platform (slow, clunky, vulnerable, flawed), on the whole, the article lauds it as some sort of biblical feature pre-dating the narrowed confines of web 2.0. Of course, this is doubly untrue. Firstly, the PC-based HTML web can indeed sense in all the noted ways. It still has eyes (web-cams), ears and a sense of place (however fixed and immobile).  And secondly, the continued investment in mobile technology (aka web 2.0) is predicated on open, expansive, experiences. Only Apple and other pretenders seem to gain from the walled garden effect. The challenge, like Zittrain notes, is to traverse these boundaries in ways that cast open the future of the web.