Possibility spaces and algorithmic architectures

A screenshot of Sim City.

One of the con­cepts I plan on explor­ing in my talk at the Euro IA Sum­mit in Barcelona is ‘pos­si­bil­i­ty spaces’. It’s a term used by Will Wright to describe his view of what a game can be — a space that offers mul­ti­ple routes and out­comes to its explor­er. That idea maps nice­ly with one def­i­n­i­tion of play that Zim­mer­man and Salen offer in Rules of Play: ‘free move­ment with­in a rigid struc­ture’. Some exam­ples of pos­si­bil­i­ty spaces cre­at­ed by Wright are the well-known games Sim City and The Sims.

I think the idea of pos­si­bil­i­ty spaces can help IAs to get a firmer grip on ways to real­ize infor­ma­tion spaces that are mul­ti-dimen­sion­al and (to use a term put for­ward by Jesse James Gar­rett) algo­rith­mic. Algo­rith­mic archi­tec­tures accord­ing to Gar­rett are cre­at­ed ‘on the fly’ based on a set of rules (algo­rithms) that get their input (ide­al­ly) from user behav­iour. The exam­ple he uses to explain this con­cept is Ama­zon.

I’ve found myself in sev­er­al projects recent­ly that would have ben­e­fit­ed from an algo­rith­mic approach. The hard thing is to explain its charms to clients and to get a uni­fied vision of what it means across to the design team. I believe games might be a use­ful anal­o­gy. What do you think?

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Kars Alfrink

Kars is a designer, researcher and educator focused on emerging technologies, social progress and the built environment.

8 thoughts on “Possibility spaces and algorithmic architectures”

  1. Pingback: Leapfroglog
  2. Games have always been a great learn­ing point for (appli­ca­tion) design, so I agree. Amazon’s “algo­rith­mic” process doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly need such a tech­ni­cal expla­na­tion, how­ev­er. Often you can con­vince clients by giv­ing them the right source mate­r­i­al to read and learn from. And design teams are design teams — they’re either eager to learn new ways, or stuck and con­ceit­ed and unwill­ing to impro­vise any­thing oth­er than their own ideas.

    In the case of one project you and I both are in some way involved with, I’d say the Ama­zon mod­el is impor­tant to keep in mind because that mod­el is one of the only proven ways to keep a user “clear head­ed” about his loca­tion on the site, his bread­crumb-esque trail, etc. When deal­ing with such com­plex projects, any­thing that helps the user become more aware of his place in the site and the con­text rel­e­vant options he has among the myr­i­ad avail­able is a user expe­ri­ence improve­ment and there­fore top pri­or­i­ty.

  3. Rahul, I’m con­fused — do you feel games as an anal­o­gy for algo­rith­mic archi­tec­tures is a too tech­ni­cal expla­na­tion?

    I’m not sure Ama­zon is a great exam­ple of nav­i­ga­tion design by the way. I would only use it as an exam­ple of how far you can go with gen­er­at­ing nav­i­ga­tion based on user behav­iour.

  4. That’s what I meant by Ama­zon. But at the same time, Ama­zon does a good job of expos­ing your bread­cumb path, for instance.

    What I meant by say­ing that you don’t need a tech­ni­cal expla­na­tion is relat­ed to your com­ment on explain­ing the charms of algo­rith­mic archi­tec­ture to clients. My point was that you can show them a web­site, such as Ama­zon, and explain along­side that or have them read books that explain it, with­out hav­ing to use the term “algo­rith­mic” or “pos­si­bil­i­ty space”.

  5. I’m not too fond of the term ‘algo­rith­mic’ myself. It sounds scary to non-tech­ni­cal peo­ple. ‘Pos­si­bil­i­ty space’ how­ev­er, is quite evoca­tive I would say.

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