Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I was talking to someone today about Marc Canter and all of the other people who think Wiki's are ugly. I was talking about how Marc Canter was a "media" guy and how Wiki's are for text people. Then, it hit me. (Apologies to everyone else who already thought of this before...) McLuhan talks a lot about how "looking" at TV is different from "reading" text. When you read a book, your eyes are focused a bit above the text and the text sort of just goes into your head to create symbols. With TV, you actually LOOK. You really care if the font on the TV is ugly, but you rarely remember the font of a good book you just read.

So, maybe this is the difference. When I am on a Wiki, the way it looks really doesn't concern me as much as trying imagine and understand all of the context that is captured in the web of pages linking to and from the page. I imaging all of the people from all kinds of places and what they must be thinking. It's less about user interface and more about code.

When I think about broadband, iLife, digital photos and things that I "look" at I CARE how the user interface works and how it feels as an experience. On a Wiki all I care about is that it is easy, which is part of user interface, but a different part. (I think I saw a discussion about the aspects of user interface somewhere... but I don't remember where.)

So... if you follow McLuhan's thinking, the looking culture and the reading culture are different. Are blogs/Wiki's going to merge them? What happens? Can the "keep it simple and easy, I just want the context, I don't care how it looks" people co-exist with the "give me an experience" people? Is it about meta data?

Again, another random note on a Japanese holiday...


I think that may begin to explain it. Most people surf the web. So a wiki is awful for that. Some people read the web, so a wiki is ugly to them but legiable.

Some people understand that a wiki is a totally different way that they have ever experienced the web. (for that matter anything else that is this "technical")

The lowest common denominator, can I put my thoughts down and interact with other people about these thoughts. Yes.

Can I surf around a wiki and add content with a 56K modem. Yes.

I was talking with a friend yesterday who felt Weblogs were ugly too.

Trying to move past what it looks like to how it works is the task . . .

Nice entry in working through this question. best, mark

It doesnt have to be an either-or situation. Go check out Edward Tufte's website - Edward Tufte

He's an old school, just enough to get the message across advocate. Some of his stuff is truly amazing.


Merry Golden Week - Joi-san.

I was trying to make the point in this post - that words are just not the same as images. And way back when - I was blown away by RSS Photo feeds - I see all my news as photos. Facerolls, creative, inventive and appropriate uses of images and sounds are where it's at.

But there is some hope for blog/Wikis. Imagine if there was an on-line outliner built into it. We're not done yet - but it's getting cooler everyday.

Mark. I think your outliner as a method of putting information into Wikis makes a lot of sense. Originally, I thought that creating structure was what I would use my Wiki for. As I use Wikis more and more, I realize that comments and almost the lack of structure is what makes Wikis weird and interesting.

So, I think outline. YES. I want one. I want the outliner to talk to my Wiki and my blog. But I don't think the outliner can be the primary interface to the Wiki. Or can it?

you can look at a picture (absorb it) or you can read (analyze) it. The inverse is true of text. You can read (absorb) it or look at it (analyze the look of it).

So even when you think that look doesn't matter you end up making an esthetic choice. In the case of Wiki a poor one. But we're talking about taste.

so, to take your comparison further, do you think blogs are a hot or cold medium? McLuhan talks about a hot medium being data-rich, and a cool one as "low-res" where the user has to fill in data. hot=film/tv & cool=radio/telephone.

so where do blogs fit in? they may be data-rich but they are still conceptually cool. there is lots of filling in and construction on behalf of the writer AND reader. also i dont know that McLuhan is the best model.. but the conversation is still interesting.

so i would place blogs closer to cool.. but i think things are definitely starting to heat up ;-)

I Commented over on my blog about a cultural difference between blogs and wikis - blogs amplify the individual voice; wikis suppress it for consensus.

Outlineres provide some structure, but it is weak compared to what wikis enable. If only the backend made XHTML from it and used CSS for layout we might get closer to what Marc wants.

None of these explanations work for me. I'm a librarian, a reader, a writer--a text person. There are lots of text-only/text-focused environments that I like.

But if you're going to do "just text" I think you have to do it better. One major flaw with wikis is the unconstrained line length, which makes large blocks of text unreadable. Another is the fact that if you cut and paste text from another environment, you typically lose line breaks (as I discovered when trying to add chat transcripts to the ED wiki).

Stewart Butterfield, in his comments on my many-to-many post that kicked off this wiki conversation, pointed out that wikis need better tools for seeing a top-level view of the information (an outline? ;-), as well as a way to quickly see "hot spots"--what pages in that high-level view have been recently modified, most often modified, etc.

So I don't think it's a simple as hot/cold, single/many, etc.

Will probably follow up on many-to-many with pointers to all these discussions, though. It's been fun reading them!

For my offline work, I've been playing with visual outliners. They're the best way I've found to show relationships among different pieces of information, especially when the information doesn't fit the hierarchical structure of a traditional outline. I'm not sure current web tools are ready to support visual outlining, though.

Our outliner can ttach images, .swfs, RSS, web links and soon video and audio. But it's still a traditional outliner in the sense that nodes stack vertically.

Tieing it into better layout, a Wiki backend, and other requests - well, that's why we're putting it out there for (Pete?) others to use. We have some "bigger" (or shall I say other) fish to fry.

Can anyone say "pass the pecan batter please?" We just hope that whoever uses our code keeps it OPML compatible and sucks in and spits our RSS. ENT enabled - of course.

Liz, when dealing with copy/paste, there's 2 possile approaches:

(1) most wikis support some sort of "escaping" mechanism that avoid processing on a chunk of text;

(2) take any decent little text editor and turn every linebreak into a double-break. I did that for the SSA cha transcript last week.

I have a variety of spins on Wiki "po" Outlining at

sorry i tracked back to you 3 times! i didn't realize that when reposting was re-pinging.
anyhow, i made a post

More from me:
Blogs and wikis have different tendencies
(Is there a way for me to trackback manually?)

Typographers have been developing fonts for books for hundreds of years so they've had plenty of time to come up with beautiful fonts that we no longer notice because they don't interfere with the task of reading. I imagine that if you tried reading a book written in some non-typical font (e.g. the gothic fonts used in German books), you would start paying attention to that font (and cursing the typographer who chose it).
What I'm trying to say is that aesthetics is an essential part of our experience, even when we're not aware of it.

All this McLuhan talk and nobody rung me up and told me I was missing the party. Sigh… I suppose one of these days I'll get onto that "A-list."

The looking vs. reading business from McLuhan canon has to do with the fact that, in McLuhan's day, television was a cool medium and books were a hot medium (and still are). As zak correctly points out, hot and cool have to do with how "well-filled" the medium is with information, and how much we have to fill in to complete whatever it is we are dealing with. In the early days, the TV picture was considerably more pixelated, for instance, and we had to complete the picture in much the same way we complete a mosaic. As such McLuhan identified TV as having a tactile quality – that it appealed - in a synaesthetic fashion - primarily to our sense of touch rather than sight. Books, and the printed word in general, were hot, linear and lined-up on the page.

What is key here (at least in modern McLuhanistics, which is my thing as Chief Strategist at the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto) is not so much how we sense it, or whether we look as opposed to read, but rather what effect it tends to have on us. For instance, a hot medium might tend to put us into a state of hypnosis or trance (think "couch potato" here). It may tend to fragment us, as opposed to bringing us together in some sort of engagement. There are other effects as well in terms of intensity, the ability to grab our attention, compared to we offering our attention, and so on.

Media temperature is not an absolute, but rather a relative indicator of engagement, comparing one medium to another, and especially, one medium relative to its ground. (The nature of ground, and especially hidden ground, is a whole other topic.) So now to the question(s): Are blogs / wikis / threaded bulletin boards / chat / email / webpages relatively hotter or cooler than each other, and how do they compare to other forms of collaboration and team building, both online and in real life? (Come to think of it, this would make a great essay or seminar topic for an upcoming course on collaborative tools…)

The answer is, (in true McLuhan fashion) in the form of a question: How well does each engage its participants, and in what state of awareness are they after considerable engagement? (Note that here at the McLuhan Program we have extended the application of media temperature beyond what Marshall did to make it more useful, in much the same way that Marshall extended the application of the term "medium" in Laws of Media. According to Eric McLuhan, media temperature even confused Marshall!)

Here are a couple of my thoughts. Your mileage / kilometreage may vary…
Wikis are very cool. They are, by nature, highly participatory, with each user filling in much information. The more hyperlinked they are, the cooler they become, since the detail of the information for filling in is elsewhere, but one can get a sense of the information behind the hyperlink based on the linked word or phrase (and you fill in the rest based on your sense). The effect of wiki on us is to engage, since they invite even casual visitors to edit, thus creating the conditions for completion and filling in - even when the wiki page appears to be "finished."

Blogs are a little hotter than wikis, but cooler than many other of these online media that we are considering. There is participation via the trackback and comment mechanisms, and they tend to be non-linear among the "nodes" that are each post. Again, they invite completion and participation, tending to draw people in.

Threaded discussions are hotter still, since they are overtly organized hierarchically and linearly, as opposed to being overtly "networked" via hyperlinks going out every-which-way. Threaded discussions are easier to dominate and overpower (see usenet). Sometimes, comment threads on a blog post heat up in this way, often corresponding to the "heating up" of the content - i.e. a flame war in a series of comments. A good example of this is the war of words that occurred on this blog between (primarily) Adam Greenfield and Richard Bennett.

Another interesting one to consider is the nature of chat. Instant message chat is cooler than a chat room. Now this is an interesting one, since many will observe that, in a chat room, all sorts of people are simultaneously engaging in multiple conversations in multiple type faces and colours. However, the structure of chat room software - think of MSN's, for example, creates a very static frame around some flowing action. Many people will just sit and stare at it, and even participants will be amazed how hours flew by without them being cognizant of what they may have been doing in the interim (i.e. trance).

The more important consideration that comes from all this is, what do we do with the design of collaborative software in order to engage its participants and create an environment that is conducive to collaboration by its ground effects (and not merely by its subject interest). This is a key issue, and, unfortunately, many researchers in the field of collaborative environments are not approaching the investigation by looking at the effects of the online environments themselves on the participants.

I'll stop now and crawl back into my corner…

Got it in one, Joi! I have been thinking something similiar since I wanted to call SunirShah a "book bastard" during the related discourse on Plastic Bag.

And, gee, it was as if Joi stepped away from the line to see the movie and pulled Mark Federman into the movie from the movie set to raise the level of the discussion. (Nevermind, if you don't understand this referenece, you would have had to have seen the movie.) (And, no, the movie wasn't "A Random Note On A Japanese Holiday" which is a great title for a movie!)

I guess it has something to do with images and imagination and artsy-fartsy concepts about participation. (Do Indie filmakers dream of electronic wikis?)

I like Kevin's comment re "...a cultural difference between blogs and wikis - blogs amplify the individual voice; wikis suppress it for consensus."

Meanwhile, I'm experimenting with stylesheets in wikiland...

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"When I am on a Wiki, the way it looks really doesn't concern me as much as trying imagine and understand all of the context that is captured in the web of pages linking to and from the page." Joi Ito's Web: Does McLuhan explain why some people think W... Read More

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