Category Archives: DigiRhet

Battelle, J. (2005). The birth of Google. Wired, 13.08. Retrieved from

Google was the brainchild of Sanford graduate students Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who named the software googol, the name for the number one followed by 100 zeroes.

Unlike search engines that ranked results by keyword, Page and Brin’s system ranked results by the amount of links at each site. This mechanism privileged sites with more links, making them more “important” in search. The students cobbled equipment together in their dorm rooms and offices to service Stanford with PageRank, which regularly brought down Stanford’s internet connection in the fall of 1996.

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Barlow, J.P. (1996, February 8). A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace. Retrieved from

John Perry Barlow was a libertarian who helped write lyrics for the Grateful Dead and who was involved in shaping the political identity of cyberspace in the early 90s. He published an essay titled “The Economy of Ideas” in a 1994 issue of Wired magazine and his declaration of independence in 1996. The Declaration, which was widely distributed after its publication and was both celebrated and strongly critiqued, is described about a decade later as Barlow’s “Thomas Jefferson moment” in a 2004 interview with Brian Doherty of Reason Magazine.

In this interview, he explains that his political philosophy was one of passivity; that his beliefs centered around the idea that taking care of oneself and raising consciousness was better than confronting authority directly. He changed his mind at the beginning of the 2000s, saying in this interview that civil liberties were in grave danger. He joined the Democratic party in hopes of confronting what he saw as issues very damaging to intellectual property and a free society.

Copyright and intellectual property are the most important issues now. If you don’t have something that assures fair use, then you don’t have a free society.

If all ideas have to be bought, then you have an intellectually regressive system that will ensure you have a highly knowledgable elite and an ignorant mass.

In explaining his comments on how Microsoft was operating an information monopoly, he said,

Anytime you engage with information, the reality that you extract from that information is shaped bu the tools that deliver it.”

This statement supports what I am trying to demonstrate and articulate in these exams.

Barlow’s Declaration was hailed by many triumphantly, but it was also called “hogwash” by critics who viewed Barlow with skepticism as an idealogical hippie who was out of touch with the economic and political realities of the internet. His lifelong fight for the freedom of information online, however, has played an important role in helping define (and relax) boundaries around the free exchange of knowledge on the internet.

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Ding, W., & Lin, X. (2010). Information Architecture: The Design and Integration of Information Spaces. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers.

Wei Ding and Xia Lin’s book was borne out of the content of their graduate classes on Information Architecture, and is “conveniently divided” into ten chapters for use during the ten weeks of an academic quarter. It offers a broad, basic introduction to the fledgling field of Information Architecture (IA), User Centered Design (UCD), and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).

The term Information Architecture was coined by Richard Wurman in the early 1970s – he saw it as gathering, organizing, and presenting information. According to Ding and Lin, the main goals of IA are to simplify info; design and integrate information spaces; and create ways for people to find and interact with informational content. Primarily, they claim, IA’s primary aim is to help people understand and manage information and “make right decisions.”

The authors emphasize that balance must be sought between user control and design, and that meeting user needs should always be the ultimate goal. They are careful to point out that even though the user is the center of focus, this does not mean ignoring business goals and market opportunities.

A successful Information Architect is able to align business goals with user needs.

The most useful parts of this book focused on user behavior online, citing several important theories which explain how and why users behave the ways they do on the web. Zipf’s Law, which essentially explains that users will always take the path of least resistance, is foundational in UCD online, as it helps to tailor the ways IAs organize content. Fitts’ Law teaches IAs to make buttons large and to keep them near in proximity to other, related buttons and icons to maximize the potential for users maximum benefit.

The 80/20 rule is brought up here – the authors mention that 20% of the sources can generally be counted upon to provide 80% of the info. This ties right in with Barabasi’s Linked, and offers an explanation for the rich-get-richer phenomenon discussed in that text.

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Bolter, J. D., & Gromala, D. (2003). Windows and Mirrors: Interaction Design, Digital Art, and the Myth of Transparency. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

The main argument of Windows and Mirrors: Interaction Design, Digital Art, and the Myth of Transparency by Jay Bolter and Diane Gromala seems to be that the computer is important as a medium in and of itself, and that we don’t want it to be an “invisible information appliance,” as Donald Norman (The Design of Everyday Things, the Invisible Computer) argues. They explain how digital art is created through an intimate connection with the machine that is creating it, and that this medium (the computer and the art itself) is important to study because it reflects the cultural implications of digitization.

They set the book up in their Introduction by recounting the war between Structuralists and Designers; the battle between “pragmatism” and “art.” They are obviously on the side of the designers, but they caution that they aren’t trying to say the pragmatic structuralists are wrong, just that they are missing a big part of the picture. They then take us through several exhibits at the SIGGRAPH 2000, each of which embody three points:

1. The computer has become a new medium
2. To design a digital artifact is to design an experience
3. Digital design should not try to be invisible

They consistently assert that “Good digital design, like digital art, can reshape its contexts as well as respond to them. In fact, it reshapes contexts by responding to them” (140). One example comes in the form of how “killer apps” redefine communication contexts and so create new communities of users, with different goals, desires, and understandings of the technology.

They bring in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where Plato believes that most people spend their lives chained within the cave, believing in the reality of the shadows, and that the philosopher’s place in life is to enlighten the “prisoners” with a description of the reality behind the shadows (i.e., to know and share the the Forms or Ideas). Their point is that Platonic design eliminates context – it renders the machine invisible because it posits that human life is a mimicry of ideal Forms. This Platonic reversal was echoed by Descartes in the 17th century, cementing it into Western thinking until the 20th century.

Because computer designers so often assume that the interface should be a window, digital art insists that the interface can also be a mirror, reflecting what the user is inclined to believe. That is, instead of a window that gives the user a clear picture of what is occurring, the interface shows the user what she believes is happening. One tragic example of this was the Three Mile Island disaster – operators relied on the myth of transparency when interpreting what the interface was telling them. The interface failed, but this possibility did not occur to them. They trusted the interface to be a window, and in this case, it acted as a deadly mirror.

There are connections here to Simulation and Its Discontents; in terms of how the black boxing of the interface discourages users from questioning whether it could be wrong, and so making serious mistakes as a result. One major question I had with this book is why they didn’t cite McLuhan, as their assertion that the medium of the computer is essential to keep present in mind seems to go hand in hand with his dictum that the medium is the message.




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