communication modes

My wife is getting frustrated with the medium as she constantly checks for the latest in the raging debate in her favorite mailing-list. Meanwhile, writers and researchers lament the loss of the art and practice of writing letters.

There’s no spec for Croquet. Although the architects have mature experience and good taste in evaluating technologies for what does and doesn’t work, I don’t think they set out to achieve a particular set of characteristics. Yet one of the things that appeals to me about Croquet is the characteristic that it is agnostic about what mode of communication works best: Synchronous like face-to-face conversation and chat, or asynchronous like email or a handwritten letter; Seemingly anonymous like most of the Web and multi-player games, or full of social cues like voice and video communication. Croquet is equally facile at all.(*)

But what works best? When? In what ways? My boss, Julian, has been bringing together a very interesting group of educators and scientists as initial users of a Croquet Collaboratory that we are building. Although they come at it from perspectives that range as far as art, public health, and games, I think they are all vitally interested in this issue. By having a single medium that provides all – a meta-medium – they can study group interactions and observe how different communication techniques affect outcomes.

(*) I’m not quite sure what it says that I’m comfortable saying this, even though the effectiveness of both persistence and naturalistic voice and video have only been suggested in demonstrations, rather than proven in practice. Is it vision, confidence, or faith among the developers, or naiveté and the academic environment?

welcome Joshua!

<%image(20050317-josh-gimped.jpg|400|400|Josh)%>We are excited to have a new developer joining us on Croquet at U.Wisconsin. Joshua Gargus is moving to Madison all the way from Atlanta, which is quite a big step for such a young man. And he and has wife had just bought a house in Georgia! Both my boss and I have moved our families cross-country for new jobs, including a period where our wives had stayed at the old house, and we know it’s not easy.

Joshua has already clearly dedicated his work to highly interactive applications on the cutting edge of technology. A haptic controller that lets you physically mold “digital clay,” including the ability to pull the molded surface out as well as merely pushing it in. (Think about it.) A sketchbook that recognizes individual strokes (not bitmaps) on a timeline for playback, annotation, and hardware rendering in various styles. Much of his work has been in Squeak, done at the leading centers for Squeak development. (Croquet is built on top of Squeak.)

I’ve looked at some of Joshua’s code, and I’m excited that we’re getting such a talented developer. Coming up: what we’ll both be working on…

Inventing the Future: enchancing performance

Like many people I’ve talked to, I tend to imagine using Croquet for automation. We envision physics and molecular chemistry simulations running on their own, while the people in the collaboration walk around among the ball and stick model forest and observe. Maybe we reach up and grab an atom or two and pull on it to see how that changes the path of the simulation. That’s my nature. I’m an engineer and I want to automate stuff so I don’t have to work so hard, even in visualization. I’m so lazy I even want to automate my imagination.

I worked for more than a dozen years creating some kind of automation or another. The biggest misconception I had to clear up with my clients was that you can’t automate what you don’t understand. You have to tell the computer exactly what to do. I learned this lesson in high school when we had a model bridge-building contest in physics class. Everyone assumed that I would design my bridge on a computer, and I sat down to try it.

Continue reading

Inventing the Future: learning the system

Dear Diary,

I’m off to Japan Tuesday for the big conference. Better take a snapshot of what I’ve been doing, because I expect my world to change by the time I get back. My first six weeks on this radical Croquet project were spent with very general learning of what’s what. Drinking knowledge from a firehose. For the next six we’ve been prototyping some of the features from conference papers written by my boss, Julian, and his counterpart at U. Minnesota. We’re going to demo these at the conference, and we go on right after Alan Kay’s keynote address. Yikes. Good thing Julian gives great demos! I imagine the conference organizers know that and put him in that slot accordingly. (Cast of characters here).

[details below the fold]

Continue reading

Inventing the Future: shared persistence

The real-time collaboration in Croquet is cool. It provides a very different way of structuring applications that will allow things that nothing else can. The croquet team is working hard on this aspect. But we’re just begining to consider the implications of shared persistence. I think this is just as radical in itself, and will inspire truly extroadinary software when combined with Croquet’s other aspects.

Continue reading