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?
8 thoughts on “Possibility spaces and algorithmic architectures”
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.
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.
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”.
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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