Now it can be told

· Enterzone, the Dead, man..., Web Gossip

nicholas_meriwether 2gdBack in the dawn of the web, a scrappy bunch of iconoclasts (and I) put together a hyper web text media zine art thing we called Enterzone.

This loosely knit hyperlinked episodic publication contained creative and reportorial content, experimental and traditional works, art and reviews. Some of the founders shared an interest in loose-limbed improvisational music and we prevailed upon one of our friends, Nicholas Meriwether, who even then exhibited a preternatural affinity for deep scholarly inquiry into the counter-culture (as he likes to style it*) and related phenomena.

Also, the Dead, man…!

Because, yes, Nicholas is today the curator of the Grateful Dead archive at UC Santa Cruz, a role he may have been put on this earth to play (among others – Nicholas is a stunningly talented person in many ways).

Anyway, back then we leaned on Meriwether heavily to fill in the gaps on early and recent Bay Area counterculture (that’s how I spell it) happenings and also perhaps because he was still under the thumb of a (friendly) dissertation adviser, he preferred to make some of his contributions to our ‘zine under a semi-acrosticlike pseudonym, Griffin Nicholson and I must say that some of the best original work we published in Eneterzone was by this Griffin fellow.

So, anyway, at the dawn of So Many Roads, a scholarly Dead conference that Meriwether is curating at San Jose State University this fall, it seems appropriate to formally acknowledge that Nicholas is Griffin and that Meriwether is the author of all of the wonderful pieces archived on his author page at Enterzone.

 


* UPDATE: Meriwether writes “I no longer spell ‘counter-culture’ with the hyphen… that was a legacy of my time at Cambridge (where I was nominally registered at the time)[.]”

AOL?!? Really?

· AOL, Best Practices, Business, Design, Information Architecture, long story short, Teamwork, User Experience, Web Gossip

By now most of my friends and colleagues and readers know that I resigned from my job at Yahoo! nearly a month ago. The meantime has flown by like a dream. B and I went to New Orleans and I was able to enjoy Jazzfest with no “homework” on my mind for the first time in years. I spoke in Minneapolis on the Web App Masters Tour, returned home, and last week I spoke at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.

In the midst of all this, a week ago Friday I started my new job at AOL.

I’ve started joking with my friends that I must have joined a company called “AOL!? Really?!?” because that’s the first thing out of most people’s mouths. (The ones who can speak, that is – some just boggle their eyes at me.) To be honest, when my friend and mentor, Matte Scheinker, first told me he had come out of retirement to take a new role at AOL as VP for consumer experience I reacted in almost exactly the same way.

For anyone who’s fought the good fight at Yahoo! against a headwind of Bay Area techie-insider scorn, it might seem like moving to AOL would be a matter of taking on more of the same.

But I listened to what Matte had to tell me about his new gig, and the more I heard about it the more intrigued I got. First of all, I like the idea of a company embracing a turnaround effort head on. At Yahoo! we were winning in enough categories that I did not always feel a sense of urgency in the culture about fixing and improving the areas that needed it.

At AOL I feel a bracing awareness: “now or never, do or die!” The new management team has wasted no time remaking AOL, taking it public again, refreshing the brand, repositioning the strategy, and challenging its employees to excel and win.

At some point while we were talking I realized that Matte was recruiting me to join his team, to help him place design thinking and a laserlike focus on customer experience at the heart of the (digital/software) product development process. In some ways, this is a designer or UX guy’s “put your money where you mouth is” moment, where the leadership of a major corporation says, “OK, you’ve been arguing that the customer is key and that design is a tool that is relevant to a company’s strategy and business processes, so now prove it.”

While I enjoyed my role curating the Yahoo! pattern library immensely, and it provided me with plenty of ego-boosting attention in the user experience design community, I did not always feel like I was able to exert my influence within the company in a concrete, effective way. I was there to offer advice and set an example, but I did not always have the ability to put into action ideas about how to make better products and how to employ better processes.

Further, AOL is aggressively interested in reshaping the world of media, publishing, content, attention, and advertising. This has been my wheelhouse since before the web. I came from book publishing, where I was astonished at the 19th century business practices I saw. The upheaval ripping through the worlds of publishing and journalism are messy and frightening for those being tossed about by the rapid changes, but I’m convinced that new models will emerge to connect people with the information and ideas and art and entertainment they want, and people will be compensated for their talents, yes and empires will grow up around these new models of weaving it all together.

AOL is playing in exactly that space. For example, AOL’s Seed beta and the Patch startup AOL recently acquired both represent (to me) very interesting experiments:

  • Rethinking the “content” business and the infrastructure (is “supply chain” too industrial a term for creative work?) for cultivating high quality writing.
  • Exploring the capabilities the web offers and the types of flows the web favors.
  • Sourcing small pieces of content.
  • Targeting hyperlocal geographies.

I honestly believe AOL has a shot at turning around its fortunes and rejuvenating its illustrious brand and I’m excited to have the opportunity to help the product teams at AOL perform to their highest abilities and succeed at delivering content and experiences that are better than the best of what the Internet has to offer (we call this goal “beating the Internet”).

Are the odds long? Yes, of course they are. That’s what makes the challenge so ambitious and so exciting.

So, yes, AOL. Really!

My Yahoo! years

· Design, long story short, Patterns, Social Design, Teamwork, User Experience, Web Gossip, Yahoo!

This post has turned out to be a lot more difficult to write than I expected. Last Tuesday was my final day at Yahoo! I wrote a valedictory post for the YDN blog as my official signoff.

It wasn’t easy resigning from Yahoo! I started working there more than three years ago and had a splendid time throughout. I met a slew of incredibly talented, brilliant people. I learned a lot about the pros and cons of large companies (and what can happen after a startup experiences hypergrowth). I expanded my network and became a much more visible member of the global user experience (aka “UX,” although I’m leaning toward describing it as “digital design” these days) community.

I’m leaving a lot of friend behind there and I expect to keep in touch with all of them. These days with the twitters and such, that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Beyond my work on the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library, and the social design patterns project, I’m most proud of my involvement with Yahoo!’s Open Strategy, from the earliest days of formulating and fleshing out the strategy, to the difficult, slow, but fruitful efforts to rewire Yahoo! and expose more and more of the underpinnings and utility features to the large web developer community. If you haven’t checked out YQL, for example, you really should.

Right now, I’m on a very brief hiatus between jobs. I just got back from a long overdue return to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, today I’m speaking in Minneapolis on the UIE Web App Masters Tour, and on Friday I start my new job. More about that in my next post.

First YDN video podcast with Jonathan Leblanc

· Design, Patterns, Social Design, User Experience, Web Gossip, Yahoo!

Jonathan gives a few shout outs to the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library and my new book, Designing Social Interfaces.

The best part is when the host says he considers the Yahoo! Developer Network to be “the unsung hero of the Internet.”

What can I say about OpenSocial?

· Social Design, User Experience, Web Gossip, Web Services

opensocial.jpgThe blog world, along with my slice of the twitter world, is abuzz with attempts to understand, analyze, deconstruct, laud, and excoriate Google’s new OpenSocial initiative.
One key question seems to be: is this true openness or simply using the (increasingly at risk of dilution) “open” mean as a handy cudgel to ward off Google’s current nemesis, Facebook, with it’s extremely popular but closed application development platform, active and growing userbase, and impending social ad network play?
Another key question I’m hearing people ask is whether this is a hand-off attempt by Google to hew to its roots of faciliating access to information and monetizing the traffic and data that passes through its metaphorical ands or is it an attempt to do judo and place itself at the hub of the social web as it matures?
My meta question might be to ask whether each pair of possibilities is truly mutually exclusive.
But I don’t feel like I really can comment on this right now.
If I were still an independent writer or even just a user experience consultant at an agency with a blog, I’d be much more comfortable jumping into the geek-punditry fray, but I’m not.
I work for a company that view Google and Facebook as competition, a company full of people who use both Google and Facebook, a company in the midst of announcing and operationalizing its new strategy, a company that has just made a commitment to openness and has its own ideas about what that mean, and it’s really just too hard to figure out what has been announced and what hasn’t and I really don’t want to talk out of school, so I’ll just adopt a wait and see attitude and for the time being keep my opinions to myself.