More Richness

Denham has a post about the 80/20 rule and the inequality of the power law. Though the thing to take away is the long tail point, what lies in the tail is greater than what lies at the big end, so for online stuff something important is that while it might seem obvious that there are hubs (though it isn’t, why link to Google?) what is less obvious is the scale, and complexity, of the tail. Nga has a simple and useful account of why earlier web sites end up with more links to them than later ones (part of the explanation of preferential attachment). Lucy has a simple and elegant account for networks, centres and scale free networks.

Is It a Game?

Jake talks about how some games aren’t about winning. I’d suggest they aren’t games anymore. At some point an interactive narrative driven ‘game’ isn’t really a game, it’s an interactive narrative. Just as an interactive narrative that has a small moment of game play in it probably doesn’t make it a game. While Gone Home is narrative driven it is still a game – we don’t need to describe a novel as ‘narrative driven’. So what happens here is there is a strong narrative thread as it is a classic style puzzle quest game. I haven’t played it, but if the quest needs to be completed, it is a game. If you just explore a story world, then in my argot it is more interactive narrative than game. If people talk about it in terms of how you play it, and what you need to do in room X to be able to do thing Y, to discover Z, then it is a game. Play is play. Play that is orientated towards a measurable outcome (a result, however conceived), becomes a game. Reading narrative is not a game because we can’t measure the outcome, and we don’t.

Losing, Winning

Ajeet has a very good post. Questions, thinking out loud, joining ideas. Good questions open ended answers (it’s a fool’s paradise to think there are yes no answers to many of these questions). Play is not the same as a game, a game is, basically, competitive play and it becomes competitive because there are some sort of rules to determine an outcome. You can play mum’s and dad’s as a child, and that is so NOT The Sims.

Last Week.

Denham’s post from the unsymposium is worth a read, not just picking out the key take aways but providing some commentary on them too. The observation about film and hypertext and so much digital media making as a relational media is, I think, exceptionally important. The role of recommendations, and those systems that now elevate some people over others is what I meant about trying to work this out algorithmically. We know how to make recommendations based on things like what you buy compared to other people who buy similar things. But to do this just on comments we make is much harder – how do you tell who is more authoritative than someone else? The most common way this is being done at the moment is through peer review. I rank other people’s comments and those who consistently seem to be highly rated by others will be elevated in terms of authority in, and by, the system (this is essentially a slashdot system as they invented it). But there is a lot of time and money being spent on trying to solve this just on the stuff that’s already out there, without needing people to vote and rank.

Unsymposium 0.6

We will segue into this week’s questions via last week’s uncompleted answers:

  • Does a network have a centre? Or do we all create centres for our own networks?
  • Anderson states that infinite access to entertainment media is accommodating more niche tastes, encouraging exploration away from a hit-driven culture that thrives on “brain-dead summer blockbusters and manufactured pop songs”. Why are these still the most popular, mainstream and successful in our entertainment culture?

This week’s questions:

  • Why does the 80/20 rule seem to appear universally in the physical world?
  • What kinds of systems does the 80/20 rule apply to?
  • Why didn’t Tim Berners-Lee patent the web?

09 Reading (For Week 10)

We are moving away from networks to think about technical, aesthetic, computational sorts of things. About making content using computers that is computer specific (as opposed to using computers to do what we’ve always done). This week, two readings from the one anthology. This anthology is edited by Victoria Vesna, a media artist who is very interested in databases. The readings are from Lev Manovich, one of the most influential writers and makers in this area (he has recently been instrumental in establishing the new field of ‘software studies’), and Bill Seaman, an artist and theoretician interested in cognition, computing, and creative practice.


Manovich, Lev. “Database as Symbolic Form”. Database Aesthetics: Art in the Age of Information Overflow. Vesna, Victoria, ed. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 2007. Print. 39-60. (PDF)

This is what became a chapter in his seminal The Language of New Media and is about the relationship of narrative to database. The work is more refined later, but it being a bit less refined here is useful to see the ideas a bit rougher.

Extra (but very very useful in relation to the Manovich)

Seaman, Bill. “Recombinant Poetics and Related Database Aesthetics”. Database Aesthetics: Art in the Age of Information Overflow. Vesna, Victoria, ed. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press, 2007. Print. 121-140. (PDF)

A different take than what Manovich takes but the idea of a recombinatory practice is one of the foundations of networked experience and making. Nothing is fixed done in place or sequence in networked practice, and so it is always about recombinations of….


Prani on games, winning and narrative. Re The Sims, you play it as a game, it has rules, and winning (as much critical writing points out) equals maintaining a family in ‘health’ etc. You can game it, but it is not a story. It is trivial to make games that you can’t necessarily win, but they are still rule governed, procedural (e.g. turn taking) and about the accruing of points, even where the game doesn’t call them point (in The Sims it is a house, income, job, and other middle class things). Stories don’t let you accrue health points, gold, power up, form clans or guilds, barter, and so on. And while some games have narrative the issue is whether narrative is fundamental to games. That is the debate, not whether a game might use some narrative but whether it is fundamental (can you have a game without a narrative, if yes therefore narrative isn’t what we need to use to understand what games really are).

Kimberly picks up similar points and uses Mario Bros as an example. The issue though is that saving Princess Peach doesn’t
‘matter’ to the game play. In other words Mario Bros is a successful game not because of its story, but because of its game play, which uses some very simple things to provide a frame for the game play. Afer all, it’s a pretty long reach to claim that Mario Bros is a good game because it is such a good story. It’s a good game because of the quality of its game play, the story, if we treated that as legitimately a narrative we’d have to recognise pretty quickly it is even less sophisticated than most stories told to children. (We have to save Princess Peach – why? i.e. as a ‘story’ what is the narrative motivation and justification here?) Similarly the motivation is to level up, not save the Princess, levelling up comes first (who asks how many characters have you rescued versus what level?) and the Princess is some decoration. Finally the multiple endings described by Kimberely are not hypertextual (this post and another on Maths and English and finally the one on Ted Nelson where I use some diagrams to explain hypertext are useful.

Ella too, suggesting Tetris is a narrative because there is a goal and you need to progress toward it. Let’s get academic here, there is no viable definition of narrative that says it is progression towards a goal. This is, though, a strong definition of what a game is. When we read we might aim to finish the book (a goal), but that is not what a story is, that is what you need to do to read the story. To think finishing = story would be the same as saying reading (since we need to read the novel) = story. It doesn’t. The phone book is not a story.


Molly picks up my post about recommendation systems and notes that she hates the ads on Facebook but likes Spotify. Exactly, the former is only selling ads, not recommendations of what other people like you liked. (Though imagine an ad engine that worked like that?!)

Anna D has notes from the unsymposium, including reputation networks, games and narrative. Gabrielle has three take away ideas. Hypertext and games, writing hypertext, and IBG (Internet before Google).


Jackie has a nice post about hubs, networks and their emergence. Emergence is a specific term that means something that seems to be chaotic in fact has a structure, which emerges out of the complexity and chaos, over time. Molly as a good overview of hubs and networks and how they grow. Note, what is joined (linked) is not random, which means a link expresses an intelligible connection (e.g. this is related to that). And as a result clusters form. This happens on the web. It happens in hypertextual work that you make yourself. Molly also has a really good outline of power laws and bell curves. Kimberely notes the point that heavily linked nodes tend to be linked to more often. This promotes the power law imbalance, but also is why you link to the tail (so is for example one reason why these posts keep linking out to you). It really is a bit like not trying to be friends with the most popular kid in school but making friends with people less popular because they are worth knowing. Denahm has a really good illustrated post on this stuff, read it.

Daniel thinks about link decay. He’s right, links decay over time. The web is an amazing system which we take for granted, but it doesn’t break when pages or entire sites go away (and you get a 404 error message). Try reading a book with missing pages. A TV show with missing segments. It is an extraordinary model that can tolerate things dying and disappearing. Again, this is the opposite of previous media. Rebecca wants to know if a network has a boundary, and outer edge. The sort of network being discussed here is called a scale free network, and as the name implies, no. The web has no outer edge, there is no reason it can’t keep on growing.