links for 2009-07-27

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Kars Alfrink

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

4 thoughts on “links for 2009-07-27”

  1. we wel­come skep­ti­cism (re the social pat­terns project). creduli­ty is bor­ing!

    chal­lenge us! is the whole idea b.s.? did we struc­ture it poor­ly? are the pat­terns lame, obvi­ous, use­less, tired, wrong­head­ed, lim­it­ed, smelly?

    please help!

  2. Hi Chris­t­ian. I hadn’t expect­ed you to drop by and com­ment here, that’s cool! To be hon­est, I’m most­ly scep­ti­cal about the use­ful­ness of a pat­tern col­lec­tion in gen­er­al. I know it’s a bit of a down­er to say this. For sure, the work you and Erin have done looks sol­id and thor­ough. But what I find lack­ing is the rela­tion­ships between the pat­terns, this is what makes Alexander’s book so great — his pat­terns apply to dif­fer­ent orders of mag­ni­tude of build­ing and encap­su­late each oth­er. Also (even though you define a pat­tern as some­thing that applies to a spe­cif­ic con­text) all pat­terns in your col­lec­tion seem to be good to include in any and all projects, but we all know that’s nei­ther fea­si­ble nor desir­able. I hope I’ve explained my reser­va­tions clear­ly. Regard­less of these, I wish you best of luck with wrap­ping up the book. I’ll be sure to have a look once it’s on the shelves.

  3. Hey, Kars. I think you are rais­ing inter­est­ing and valid points. If you don’t mind me turn­ing you blog post into a mini-dis­cus­sion thread, I’d like to address them here (to the best of my abil­i­ty):

    I’m most­ly scep­ti­cal about the use­ful­ness of a pat­tern col­lec­tion in gen­er­al.

    I am too! That is to say I do believe they have some use­ful­ness but I also believe they can be eas­i­ly mis­used and “in the wrong hands” could do more harm than good. There are some larg­er con­texts that ben­e­fit more from a pat­tern approach than oth­ers might. (For exam­ple, at Yahoo! we have this sprawl­ing suite of prop­er­ties and a need to uni­fy them in terms of UI con­sis­ten­cy and qual­i­ty with­out impos­ing a strict pix­el-for-pix­el brand iden­ti­ty on each prod­uct, the way a dif­fer­ent type of com­pa­ny might be able to do.

    What I find lack­ing is the rela­tion­ships between the pat­terns, this is what makes Alexander’s book so great — his pat­terns apply to dif­fer­ent orders of mag­ni­tude of build­ing and encap­su­late each oth­er.

    Yes, I agree, inso­far as the Alexan­der lan­guage has a more thor­ough­ly devel­oped “lan­guage” coher­ence than almost any­thing sim­i­lar in the comp.sci or HCI world. To be fair, (“real”) archi­tec­ture has had a sev­er­al-thou­sand-year head start! Any­thing called a pat­tern in the UI space is at best a first sketch, and there is a ten­den­cy for them to be ephemer­al and wid­gety. I believe UI pat­terns would ben­e­fit from deep­er think­ing about the under­ly­ing forces and from aggres­sive re-work­ing as times change to clar­i­fy what is essen­tial and what is fash­ion.

    Hav­ing said that, you have to start some­where.

    Also (even though you define a pat­tern as some­thing that applies to a spe­cif­ic con­text) all pat­terns in your col­lec­tion seem to be good to include in any and all projects, but we all know that’s nei­ther fea­si­ble nor desir­able.

    Indeed. This per­cep­tion you describe wor­ries me a great deal. Erin and I did a workshop/presentation around the col­lec­tion of pat­terns at the Web 2.0 Expo in SF ear­li­er this year and at least one per­son in the audi­ence came away with the impres­sion that we were advo­cat­ing the appli­ca­tion of every sin­gle one of these pat­terns to any social prod­uct, which is absolute­ly not what we believe.

    The fact that our work can lead peo­ple to think it is an exhaus­tive manda­to­ry check­list is some­thing we have to work on, in terms of the actu­al con­tent and how we dis­cuss it.

    Now, to be fair, our pat­terns each have a “Use When” sec­tion that will vary in nar­row­ness or breadth depend­ing on the pat­tern. If you have any ideas how to bet­ter rein­force the fact that only some pat­terns are rec­om­mend­ed in a giv­en sce­nario, I’d love to hear it!

    I hope I’ve explained my reser­va­tions clear­ly. Regard­less of these, I wish you best of luck with wrap­ping up the book. I’ll be sure to have a look once it’s on the shelves.

    Thank you and yes, your reser­va­tions are quite rea­son­able and well explained and I do appre­ci­ate the time you’ve tak­en to artic­u­late. As with the point above, there can be a sort of “false author­i­ty” that can come from any large detailed body of work and while I do strong­ly believe in the val­ue of the project, the last thing I want is for peo­ple to accept it all at face val­ue with­out ques­tion­ing and chal­leng­ing it.

    If our only accom­plish­ment here was to help peo­ple wrap their arms around the cur­rent think­ing in social design and begin a con­ver­sa­tion start­ing from our sug­gest­ed orga­ni­za­tion, if only as a straw mod­el, then I will be proud of it.

    Whew, I am wax­ing pro­lix here and I risk abus­ing your hos­pi­tal­i­ty, so I’ll leave it there, but thanks again for your atten­tion!

  4. I’m a bit late, but let me address a few of your points here:

    There are some larg­er con­texts that ben­e­fit more from a pat­tern approach than oth­ers might.”

    I can cer­tain­ly under­stand the use­fulnes of a pat­tern library to a com­pa­ny like Yahoo!

    I believe UI pat­terns would ben­e­fit from deep­er think­ing about the under­ly­ing forces and from aggres­sive re-work­ing as times change to clar­i­fy what is essen­tial and what is fash­ion.”

    So do I. I’m not clear on how to go about this though. For one thing, the com­mu­ni­ty that would be re-work­ing these pat­terns would need a com­mon under­stand­ing of these forces that goes beyond what most of us under­stand today. I think Alexander’s pat­terns are so pow­er­ful and seem so cohe­sive not because of architecture’s long his­to­ry (to be sure there are many dif­fer­ent ways to think about archi­tec­ture and a lot of those con­tra­dict Alexander’s ideas) but because he has a very deep and clear set of valu­ables that guide the for­mu­la­tion of the pat­terns.

    If you have any ideas how to bet­ter rein­force the fact that only some pat­terns are rec­om­mend­ed in a giv­en sce­nario, I’d love to hear it!”

    I find it wor­ry­ing as well that peo­ple would take a pat­tern library and think it’s a manda­to­ry check­list. Per­haps the rea­son for this has less to do with the char­ac­ter of your work specif­i­cal­ly, but is due more to the fact that there is a gen­er­al lack of under­stand­ing of what a pat­tern is sup­posed to mean. The word has been used in so many dif­fer­ent ways recent­ly, that one can argue it has become almost mean­ing­less.

    Whew, I am wax­ing pro­lix here and I risk abus­ing your hos­pi­tal­i­ty, so I’ll leave it there, but thanks again for your atten­tion!”

    No wor­ries, I’m glad you’ve tak­en the trou­ble to share these thoughts here. Sor­ry about the late reply and again, best of luck with the book.

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