Grand Text Auto

March 31, 2006

Authentic Interactive Characters To Solve Violence in Games Controversy

by andrew @ 11:59 pm

[Note: I timestamped this post 11:59pm March 31, so you’d know I wasn’t joking.]

There was sometimes fascinating, sometimes frightening testimony at a U.S. Senate hearing last Wednesday on the effects of violence in games. One of the only voices suggesting that the social science data is perhaps not yet conclusive was UIUC prof Dmitri Williams, who blogs at GTxA compatriot site Terra Nova. (Interestingly Williams’ was the only testimony not available to the press as of yesterday; luckily Williams has posted his statement on his site, along with everyone else’s.)

Violence in games is not something we usually talk about on this blog; we’re more interested in the aspects of human behavior typically not represented or simulated to date in interactive entertainment (1 2 3 4 5 6 7, for example). When we do occasionally talk about violence, it might be about how it seems to seep its way into character-centric interactive entertainment experiences, how violence is such a one-note tune in contemporary game design or in media coverage of games, maybe how life can eerily imitate game violence, or meta-commentaries on violence in life vs. games, or the military’s involvement in gaming (1 2 3), or perhaps to expose the occasional violent debate between game scholars.

An axe I often grind is the need for what I’ve called “authentically interactive” characters and stories — how we need them for the medium to progress and mature, for creative, artistic and aesthetic reasons.

But couldn’t authentic characters also be the salvation for the violence in games crisis? (more…)

Beall Deadline Nears

by noah @ 9:16 pm

April 15th is the deadline (don’t believe the March 31st listed on the website) for proposals to UC Irvine’s Beall Center for Art and Technology. If you’re an artist or an independent curator, this is your chance for a show at the Beall in 2007-08. The Beall was the site of the groovy ALT+CTRL show, for which there’s now a nice website (and some hip panoramas are also online). Of course, timing is tight, but wouldn’t you have started on the proposal around now even if you’d been planning for months?

March 30, 2006

Language Goes to the Movies

by nick @ 2:10 pm

Here are two word and image gems, great verbally-playful motion pictures that the Internet provides to our home theaters…

Word Disassociation ClikClak

Word Disassociation. By Lemon Demon, a.k.a. Neil Cicerega, who has also brought us animutations and ultimate showdowns. Also on Google video. Thanks to Brian Kim Stefans for pointing this one out.

ClikClak. In French and English; click through the intro to get a choice of language for the movie itself. Thanks to Adam Cadre for the link.

March 29, 2006

E-FEST 3: Virtual, Textual Caves

by nick @ 1:33 am

In my presentation at E-FEST 2006 (official blog) I showed some ways that an early virtual cave, the interactive fiction Adventure, can - when implemented in an IF system that separates simulation from narration and uses text generation - be varied in narrative ways. But I also got yet another chance to check out the virtual, textual Cave at Brown that has been the locus for 3D literary work by Talan Memmott, John Cayley, William Gillespie, Noah, and many others, in Robert Coover’s cave writing workshops.

I got to see version 2 of William’s Word Museum, developed with David Dao. I was very impressed, even more than I’d thought I be when I saw William’s plans for the project and the documentation of it. It consists of great virtual concrete, is very visually pleasing, and uses text that is viewable, symmetrically, from many angles to show the letter-level potential of language in 3D space. I was struck with the desire to develop a low-budget, perhaps cassette-based, audio tour for the piece. While I will probably not fulfill that desire, I hope that some video documentation of the project will be made available so that the project can reach a larger audience.

I also saw the new editor that allows writers to use the 3D space in the ways that Screen did without redoing the programming. While I’m not adverse to programming and don’t like for it to be inappropriately tucked away, there is something to be said for high-level access to the Cave. It’s also very useful to have the ability to re-use work that has been done, and to have a “sketchpad” that allows existing techniques to be quickly put in place. The work that had been done using this editor was good, but I’m also looking forward to seeing of some work that begins in this system ends up being interestingly developed and augmented .

Finally, I saw Screen for the third time in the Cave, having seen video documentation of it several times, too. Getting the chance to see that again reinforced that Noah’s collaboration holds up to repeated readings. I appreciate the final moment of that piece more and more after getting to experience it several times. It certainly shows that writing in the Cave can offer more than poles in your face.

March 27, 2006

Credibility Currency

by andrew @ 8:18 pm

More GDC writeups: 21st Century Game Design co-author Chris Bateman, at his blog Only a Game, has posted a nice summary of fellow ihobo developer Ernest Adams’ GDC talk, “A New Vision for Interactive Stories“.

Ernest surveys some of the techniques and issues in developing interactive stories, including observing and reacting to Façade (as we know, he’s a fan). Based on the summary of the talk, it’s more of a broad talk than deep one, touching on the idea of limits in interactive stories (reminding me of Nick’s first GTxA post), suggesting an implicit “credibility budget”. The talk concluded by pointing towards procedurality as a road to progress.

Also on the blog, some mixed reaction to Cloud, the IGF Student Showcase winner — interesting to me because Jenova was giving us hard time at Slamdance about interface issues with Façade. ;-)

E-FEST 2: First I Saw the Surface

by nick @ 4:51 pm

At E-FEST 2006 I understood the main connection between postmodern writing and hypertext. It took being on a panel that included - along with computer scientist Lutz Hamel - George Landow, Stuart Moulthrop, and our own Scott Rettberg. This purported “Game of Fiction” panel was actually a veritable hypertext brainwashing session! I probably should have figured out this connection when I first read Landow’s classic Hypertext, just out in its third edition, or from Scott’s repeated statements of what I now seem to recall as this very point. But I think it was the comment from Robert Coover after the presenters spoke that finally made the Super Hypertext Club click.

As I’ve come to see it: When your starting point as a writer is language, and what language does as a complex and connected surface of words, it makes sense to engage the computer by using a technology that can describe a new topology of this surface. An underlying model of a simulated world, of the sort IF provides, is not the first nice capability that you’d desire.

In Coover’s 1968 The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J.Henry Waugh, Prop., the main character is a creature who writes in a way that is exactly opposite from the postmodern novelist’s engagement with language and where it leads. He begins by simulating events in a world, tossing dice and consulting charts, and then narrates these copiously. But it would be a great surprise if Waugh himself was generated by this novel’s author using dice-based storytelling schemes. Everything suggests to me that Waugh is an anti-Coover, and that his “existence” was determined along the way as he was written, not the other way around.

Now, this realization doesn’t lead me to abandon IF, but it does remind me that a pipelined process of world building followed by text generation does not model the idealized postmodern writing process, and it doesn’t model my own, for that matter. This isn’t an argument against, for instance, the abstraction of simulation and narration in IF, but it does mean that it’s important to not assume that everyone will want to build a particular “fundamental” part of an electronic literary work first.

Kane, Bree, Hal and more

by andrew @ 4:49 pm

March 26, 2006

E-FEST 1: The Literary and the Arts

by nick @ 11:01 pm

I plan to have a few short notes about this year’s E-FEST at Brown, which was a great event. (Update: Note 2, “First I Saw the Surface;” Note 3, “Virtual, Textual Caves.”) You can see some evidence of this in the photos by Brian Kim Stefans and the photos by Scott. I won’t attempt to summarize all the good points made in the panels and all the provocative and compelling e-lit that was shown during two nights of performances, but I do want to recount and rhapsodize upon a few of the many interesting things said and done at this festival.

Brian Kim Stefans - whose short post “What is Electronic Writing?” is well worth checking out - made the case at the fest for electronic literary work in which the computational work serves the text and the literary purposes of the project. Brian is the second-year electronic writing fellow in the MFA program at Brown, and organized the conference. He made some of the points he has expanded upon in ebr essay, “Privileging Language: The Text in Electronic Writing” - an essay I highly recommend.

Interestingly, Aya Karpinska, who has some some extremely good work that impresses visually and poetically, and who will start next year as the MFA fellow in electronic writing at Brown, presented a view, on the same panel, that seemed quite different in many ways. She showed four cases in which words and the literary served to enhance the other arts - visual, musical, plastic, etc. - showing how texts, or references to textuality, can add new dimensions to other works.

Now, I mention this seeming opposition not to try to line up a Karpinska vs. Stefans deathmatch - really, such an agon is not going to happen unless one of them is a narratologist and one a ludologist - but because I think both of these perspectives are valuable. Literary art certainly can be worthwhile part of other artistic ecologies, but whatever the role of the literary in a creative work, electronic writing should not be just an interface project with filler text added in. Both Aya’s discussion (about how writing can work with the other arts) and Brian’s (that there should be some writing-centered projects as well as projects that involve writing) are important for the future of electronic literature and writing on the networked computer.

March 25, 2006

Another GTxA girl

by michael @ 11:00 pm

NatalyWhile we don’t normally write personal blog entries on GTxA, I’ll follow Andrew’s lead and make an exception.

After months of waiting, three weeks ago we finally got to bring our little girl home from Guatemala! Nataly is almost 8 months old. We spent 8 days with her over Christmas; it’s amazing how much she’s already changed since then. She’s doing wonderfully; happy, healthy, already comfortable in her new home. We love being parents…

With my new daughter just home, I skipped GDC this year. Ian gave our joint talk. While I missed catching up with folk at GDC, I loved the week I spent with my daughter.

Hmm, two GTxA babies in two months. Who knows who’ll be next among the GTxA crew :).

Processing recent Visits

by mary @ 9:44 pm

Daniel Shiffman has been making a series of visits to the Integrated Media Arts MFA program at Hunter College. His screen-based interactive art installations have been exhibited at The New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Directors Club of New York, Galapogos Art Space, the Savannah College of Art & Design, and Tisch School for the Arts. He is also a producing director of Page Seventy-Three Productions, a non-for-profit theater company dedicated to producing and developing the works of emerging playwrights.

Shiffman’s work is extensive, and includes the interactive video installation “Swarm,” which uses video to draw with Craig Reynold’s “Boids”model. I’ve seen work like this before, but Shiffman’s is quite a wonderful use of the model.

At Hunter, Shiffman is giving lectures and workshops related to the API Processing, which many of we GTxAers are using for teaching and experiments. Shiffman teaches an incredible class at NYU called “The Nature of Code” and is a gifted teacher to boot. On the site you will find many examples of his processing know how. On other related Processing news, Friends of Ed is publishing Ira Greenberg’s Foundation Processing in April.

March 24, 2006

GDC 2006: “We Own the Future and It’s Ours Not to F*** Up”

by andrew @ 3:51 pm

Articles covering the still-ongoing Game Developers Conference are flowing in: The Birth And Growth Of Independent Game Studios, Zimmerman on Self-Published Games, What’s Next? panel, reactions to Will Wright’s astro-flying lecture (1 2) (who’s on the cover of Wired this month), You Can (Not) Be Serious, What’s Wrong With Serious Games? (written by a fellow PAGDIG member), Peace-oriented Game Design Challenge, GDC: Write Club — as well familiar material from presentations by Juul, Isbister. Update: Chaim Gingold and Chris Hecker talking about prototyping Spore.

Like last year, perhaps the most interesting GDC reportage to comment on is the now-annual IGDA rant session (proficiently transcribed again by Alice at Wonderland), organized by Gamelab’s Eric Zimmerman and this year starring ex-Gamelab now area/code developer Frank Lantz, experimental gameplay workshop organizer Jon Blow, ex-XBox evangelist now CAA Seamus Blackley, resident curmudgeon Chris Crawford, and special appearances by Robin Hunicke, Jane Pinckard, Chris Hecker and Jason della Rocca. Reactions below: (more…)

Brown E-Fest 2006

by scott @ 1:14 pm

I’ve posted a set of photos from the E-Fest. Highlights of the fest included some beautiful interfaces by current Brown e-writing fellow Daniel Howe and next year’s fellow Aya Karapinska, new work by Stuart Moulthrop, an excellent 10 minute presentation on Perec and Beckett by Gale Nelson, a short paper on Memory and Real Time by Wendy Chun, Jim Capenter’s three-laptop poetry generation performance (video clip), and Brian Kim-Stefans’ absurdist sense of humor.

March 23, 2006

Seriously Great

by mary @ 10:41 am

I’ve just returned from the Serious Games Summit 2006 at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose. Larger than ever, the Summit’s rooms were packed with a diverse crowd of indie and educational game developer folks (as well as some GTxA community! great to meet you!). The GDC had two full days of serious gaming and to their credit, Suzanne Seggerman and Ben Stokes encouraged the community to grow, grow, grow. They held a “birds of a feather” group on “Games for Change” and I was pleased to make new friends in this arena from places as near and far as the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht, the University of Denver, RIT, The Art Institute of California-San Diego, among others–all of which have developed gaming curriculua (in fact the latest count shows well over 15 US schools with game-related bachelors and/or masters’ degrees, and growing).

Several panels were not to be missed. Katie Salen, Suzanne Seggerman, Carl Goodman, and Connie Yowell’s panel on Mass Audience Issues for Serious Games was excellent in its pursuit of copycat and new models of indie games development. Fellow bloggers Andrew Stern and Michael Mateas also had a significant presence on several panels/presentations.

I organized a panel of folks doing educational game-environments, and primarily consisted of those making programming projects for middle schoolers. “Serious Play: At The Edge of Education Gaming” featured speakers from the Alice project at Carnegie Mellon, the Scratch project at MIT, and the Rapunsel project at Hunter College’s Tiltfactor lab/NYU. It’s the first time these projects have been presented together and provided an opportunity for comparison among approaches to teaching CS principles. Ian Bogost wrapped up the panel with a brief examination of procedural literacy and how each of our projects addressses the challenge.

There was a great deal of interests in the Values in Game Design research I’m working on with Helen Nissenbaum as well– we’re developing a new web site for this and will announce shortly on GTxA.

News from E-Fest: Noah Just Turned in a Complete Draft of His Dissertation

by scott @ 8:36 am

Though Mr. Wardrip-Fruin will not defend the monster until May, word on the street here at the Brown E-Fest is that the days we’ll be able to speak of Master Wardrip-Fruin are numbered. It’s soon be Doc. One member of Noah’s committee described reading the new media wunderkind’s tome as “the most exciting thing that’s been going on in my life . . . lately.”

March 21, 2006

New From Norway

by scott @ 2:34 pm

Last week I was in Norway, where I had the pleasure of speaking at the University of Bergen to Jill Walker and Elin Sjursen’s students in the Web Design and Aesthetics course. Talan Memmott was also there to give a talk. Talan showed some interesting new e-lit work I hadn’t seen before, including some work that is not yet on the web. Memmott showed work from two different streams of his creative practice, “network phenomonology” works such as his well-known Lexia to Perplexia, and a different “history of art” stream that includes new media interpretations of the lives and works of artists such as René Magritte. Talan’s been working in particular lately in a combinatory vein, and many of his works include both combinatory text and music. Of the newer work he showed, my favorite was “The Hugo Ball,” a recombination of a nonsense poem of 78 unique words by the Dadaist poet. As you mouse over the face of the Hugo Ball, it recombines and speaks the 78 words to you as they flash on the screen and the face “speaks” the words in layers of visemes. It’s a fun, and vaguely creepy, piece. While he was there, Talan was also interviewed for Bergen Student Television. The interview is available online for your viewing pleasure.

Take the F TrainAlso new from Norway, by way of New York City, is Hanna-Lovise Skartveit’s Take the F-Train, a fun and innovative online documentary about the F-Train in NYC, and by extension, about the population of the great melting pot itself. The piece includes a mixture of drawn characters, video of the train’s interior, and interviews with riders of the F-Train, many of whom are immigrants living in New York. The documentary captures the cosmopolitan nature of America’s largest city. The project is part of a larger Digital Storytelling project funded by Norwegian Radio/TV NRK.

ETC Hits the Web!

by nick @ 12:55 am

Jim Carpenter’s poetry generation project has surfaced here and there, for instance, at a Slought foundation exhibit and event and at the recent MACHINE series reading at Penn, where Jim read with Loss Pequeño Glazier. But the project has remained rather enigmatic, so those without access to Philadelphia (or to this week’s E-FEST 2006 at Brown, where Jim will be presenting) haven’t gotten to even read much about this poetry generation system.

Now, the Electronic Text Composition project, and its focalizing persona, Erica T. Carter, have a site that describes the project, provides some publication credits (poems generated with the system have been printed in literary magazines), shows off some of the source code, and offers interactive access to the system. Enjoy!

March 20, 2006

Adventure Lauded by Commercial Developers

by nick @ 1:06 pm

At the current GDC, the First Penguin Award (which is not the first award of this sort and doesn’t have anything to do with Linux) goes to Will Crowther and Don Woods, says the press release.

The two “are credited with pioneering the videogame genre of Role Playing Games (RPGs),” which is one line of descent you could trace, I suppose: via Rogue, via tile-based graphical RPGs of the Ultima sort, etc. Adventure had a more fluent interface that was able to speak in something like English back in 1975, but it lacked many important RPG elements, such as a detailed combat system and the ability to control multiple characters or characters with different abilities. But, presumably the RPG genre still exists, while the same can’t be said for other genres and forms that more obviously grow from Adventure - say, interactive fiction, or “adventure” games more generally, or even action-adventures in fantastic environments.

The press release’s more amusing lines include “Over the years, Woods gave away over a hundred copies.” You can see the wheels of the merchant-brain spinning without purchase as they attempt to process what recreational code from the 1970s was like, how the distribution of software was free, and how this might be conceptualized as being like some shrinkwrapped snowboarding game that one can generously hand out to one’s buddies.

In the past, industry has noticed Crowther and Woods by just claiming their work and selling it. It is, certainly, good for these two to get some recognition from the industry they helped to create thirty years ago, when they showed some of the potential for fun that computers had. Still, the RPG, and even commercial videogaming overall, are only a few of the treasures from Adventure.

March 18, 2006

Roll One d10: “Ten-Sided”

by nick @ 4:12 pm

Francis Hwang was seeking writers for a collaboration back in January: Now, the project has launched. It comes pre-primed with writing, but invites you to stop back and read further as the blog rolls fictionally on.

“Ten-sided” is by Francis Hwang, with Johannes Görannson, Jess Kilby, Tao Lin, Brendon Lloyd, Jessica Penrose, Glenis Stott, John Woods, Taren McCallan-Moore, and why the lucky stiff. The project is a Turbulence commission; the email from Turbulence explains:

“Ten-sided” is a textual performance in which ten authors collaboratively improvise on a single online narrative. For three months, each author will blog as a fictional character. All ten characters must somehow be connected, and all ten authors are responsible for ensuring that this connection is explored through the course of the story. However, authors are forbidden from coordinating the story beforehand. Instead, they can only take their cues from one another’s public entries. The resulting improvisation resembles a jazz performance or a session of exquisite corpse, but in a new form of creative practice that comments on and employs the multi-vocal nature of blogging communities.

March 17, 2006

Robots, Rendering and More

by andrew @ 5:02 am

March 16, 2006

Science, Math, Engineering Equity

by mary @ 4:31 pm

At the National Science Foundation Joint Annual Meeting (NSF JAM 2006) , 900 scholars at this moment are meeting to discuss national and research efforts in diversifying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This morning, Sara Martinez Tucker”, head of the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, gave an inspiring talk looking at the growth of private funding for disadvantaged students. Martinez Tucker noted that 29% of Americans are receiving a college education, while 63% of new jobs require at least some college education. Numbers in particular science and engineering programs at the University level (such as computer science) are continuing to drop overall, and a drop in terms of the percentages of diverse students is also reported. The scholars presenting today point to the challenges of specific scenarios in equity; indeed, across the board the scholars, scientists, and even Congress people warn that the US is facing in leadership, innovation, and expertise in the coming years as US test scores in these areas also fall. Part of the challenge, noted Martinez Tucker, is context: familial/counseling, financial limitations, and places where diverse students can study in a comfortable environment are all key factors.

E-FEST 2006 at Brown

by nick @ 3:05 pm

E-FEST 2006

A Celebration of New Literary Hypermedia

Brown University, March 22 - March 24, More info at the official blog

Aya Karpinska * Braxton Soderman * Brian Kim Stefans * Daniel Howe * Edrex Fontanilla * Gale Nelson * George Landow * Ilya Kreymer * Jim Carpenter * Judd Morrissey * Lutz Hamel * Michael Stewart * Mike Magee * Nick Montfort * Nick Musurca * Noah Wardrip-Fruin * Polly Hall * Robert Coover * Robert Kendall * Scott Rettberg * Stuart Moulthrop * Wendy Chun

March 14, 2006

Overly Escapist

by andrew @ 4:01 pm

The Escapist has a new article by journalist and editor Mark Wallace, “The Play’s the Thing“, informing readers about the existence of the academic ludology/narratology debate — that it appears most game scholars are ready to move on from. Members of the IT-Copenhagen gang (Aarseth, Juul, Frasca) are quoted (Espen in fact referring to himself as a narratologist ;-) plus ex-developer Mark Barrett. Wallace (who has commented here at GTxA, skeptical of interactive stories) concludes that it’s “the wrong debate”; regarding game and narrative in interactive entertainment, “one doesn’t exist without the other”.

I doubt anyone here is interested in re-igniting this debate that we’ve followed and fed over the years (1 2 3 4 5). This post is not a salvo, just a comment: at a minimum, from a design and technology standpoint, it’s a cop-out to suggest that the relationship between gameplay and narrative is a non-issue. It’s a very real issue, as we most recently attempt to point out in our DiGRA paper from last June (be sure to read at least as far as “A Stalled Debate”). In fact, we believe this issue lies at the heart of what’s preventing interactive entertainment from appealing to more of the mass-market non-gamers out there.

Uh oh, am I one of those people “with vested interests [who] have succeeded in putting forward a masturbatory, ego-driven, politically-motivated debate that is never going to help anyone make a better interactive product” ? No doubt about it, Façade is a direct concrete attempt to make progress towards this issue, so you could argue it’s in our interest to keep the debate alive.

But could it be that there are real challenges to be addressed and researched here, highly relevant to both industry and academia, that won’t go away just because it’s a hard problem?

It’d be one thing to say, “game-stories where you have rich gameplay combined with deep, real effects on a non-linear story haven’t been built yet, but we don’t care — we’re having plenty of fun with games in their current form!” But to give up, blow it off or pretend the issue doesn’t exist seems irresponsible and incorrect.

IF Awards and Articles

by nick @ 3:54 pm

Congratulations to Jason Devlin, whose IF-Comp-winning Vespers brought him the Best Game XYZZY award and three others, and congratulations to the other XYZZY winners. See the full list of winners; there’s also a transcript of Sunday’s online ceremony.

Lara Crigger’s article on IF is out (in print only) in the April 2006 Computer Games. Yes, as pointed out on the newsgroups, the piece does tend to follow, to some extent, the formula Jeremy Douglass laid out for how to write a popular press article about IF. But despite that and the emphasis on Infocom’s decline, it manages to give a sense of the history of IF, unusual aspects like feelies, and the fact that there is still innovation going in, all in the fairly short space alloted. And hey, nice plug for Grand Text Auto, too. Stephen Granade posted the full text of the interviewes Lara did with Andrew Plotkin and Emily Short, which are good reading - much more interesting than what said when speaking to Lara. I suppose there may be a reason, related to interview quality, why other people are sometimes sore about not getting quoted extensively and I don’t tend to be.

Finally, I was really pleased to see a thoughtful and positive review of Twisty Little Passages recently appear in a literary magazine, Gambara. Adding to that delight, the reviewer and the editor (as I learned) also played Book and Volume. I’m glad for all sorts of interactors to engage with Book and Volume, but as I’ve long worked to create IF that has the power and rings with the resonances of contemporary literature, this was particularly heartening to hear.

March 12, 2006

Second Person Preview

by noah @ 5:11 pm

To celebrate the availability of the First Person paperback, I’m happy to share the table of contents for the sequel that Pat Harrigan and I have edited. The new book, Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media, is currently in the MIT Press production process (and will hopefully appear on shelves this fall). We’re very pleased with how the new book has come together. It includes leading game designers, innovative computer scientists, writers and artists engaging the playful potential of digital media, and scholars who take games and other “playable” media seriously along computational, representational, performance, and ludic dimensions. Plus three appendixes include alternative RPGs from John Tynes, Greg Costikyan, and James Wallis! (more…)

March 11, 2006

Directory Fever

by nick @ 1:23 am
Yahoo in 1996 Yahoo in 2006
The Yahoo! home page in 1996 and 2006. The inverted region on the right shows the space occupied by the Web Directory, once the sole feature of Yahoo!

Paging through a few of the many archived versions of the Yahoo! home page on the Internet Archive shows that the Yahoo Web Directory’s rate of disappearance has been pretty steady over time: Feb 1998Jan 2001Jan 2003Jan 2005.

Part of this encrustation of advertising, services, customization, news, and so on around the core function of a site is a general phenomenon I call “portalitis,” one which has afflicted many a page. Portalitis is not always irreversible. Flipping through the archived home pages of Altavista ( through 1998; switched to by the beginning of 1999) shows a different progression, toward a busy mess that is trying to provide one-stop shopping for everyone and then back to the Google-like minimalism of the current Altavista page. Whether this improvement in interface led anyone back to search using Altavista is another matter, of course. (more…)

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