Open Doors
  Who Is Who  

Amsterdam - 14, 15, 16 November 2002

Keep the funk juice flowing

Michael Schmidt & Toke Nygaard

Michael: Hello. It really sucks to have to come on after Bruce Sterling, I must say. It’s not very nice.

Toke: We have quite a lot of stuff to talk about today, we hope that we can squeeze it all in. I’m Toke Nygaard, and this is Michael Schmidt. We do k10k. Another application that we do for fun is called Moodstats. We’ve been doing this for a while, and we’d like to talk about what kind of pleasure this has given us. We’ve chosen to call our little speech here today, ‘Keeping The Funk Juice Flowing: The Excitement of Carefully Moderated Use of Participation.’

Michael: Firstly, we started the website k10k in 1998, basically as a way for us to show off our own things, and because there wasn’t that much design stuff on the web at that point, at least not something that would help us from getting burned out in our normal jobs, so we started our design portal, which was basically based around two things. First was an issue, which was like a magazine experiment, or whatever, and the second was news about the time in general.

Toke: The whole goal of this thing was to inspire and be inspired by other people, but to start with it merely functioned as a self-promotional vehicle, to showcase our own graphic design skills on the Internet - that was our first approach.

Michael: The problem with that was, as soon as we started building the website and putting our energy into that, we discovered that we didn’t actually have any time to do any of our own things, so we quickly started getting stuff from other people and showcasing that on the site itself.

Toke: So that became one of the cornerstones of the site as it grew. Having a weekly issue, an updated special feature that was made by some celebrity/superstar designer of that time.

Michael: Let me try to show you an issue, so you can see the kind of stuff we showcased on the website.

Toke: We got quite a few people on the site doing different things and we slowly realised that this was an excellent way of not having to do so much work. We actually ended up not putting any of our own stuff up online. Another innovation that we put up was the news, where we invited people from all time zones, in lots of different countries, to contribute. We now have 25 different news authors inputting news at any given time of the day, so there’s a constant stream of news on the site.

Michael: This is an example of some of the stuff that we feature on the website. We basically don’t put up any restrictions or anything like that. (Oh dammit! That’s the problem with having only 20 minutes, I can’t go back, you just have to imagine lots of really nice things and sounds.

Toke: Lots of electronic sounds. We started adding more stuff eventually, and as the site grew, more and more people came and gave us feedback on what they really wanted to see on the site. Seeing that there was a big user base, we were encouraged to add more stuff, so then we introduced the idea of ‘On Display’ which is a –

Michael: It’s over here on the left, the Internet connection is not super-fast here. Basically, ‘On Display’ was a gallery exhibition of people’s computer desktops, not just desktop wallpapers and computer images, but actual screen shots of what people were looking at when they turned on their computers. That’s been going on for quite a while, and I think we have more than 3,000 different desktops in there. New ones show up all the time. That was our first foray into giving users access to the site, and having them influence what we’re doing, instead of just coming in, and sitting there, and reading, and looking at the things that we selected.

Toke: This turned out to be a big success. We got bucket-loads of submissions and it was not overly super-exciting, other people’s desktops, but it gave us an idea of a voyeuristic insight into what other people were doing. You had a degree of access to weird stuff, like what people were hiding under their desktops, all sorts of secret projects they were working on, and so on. We were encouraged to keep doing that sort of thing, and this year we did a redesign and introduced a lot more user-participation features such as ‘Matchmaker’, which is an online matchmaking facility that helps people to find other people to work with online.

Michael: That’s one of the problems with doing design on the web: it’s very easy to get your things out there and have other people see them, but it’s not very easy to get other people to collaborate with, or do things with other people, so we built the Matchmaker System, which is basically just a free service we have on the website, where you can go in and submit a project and say, ‘I need these kinds of people;’ and then other people can respond to it and say, ‘Well I’d love to be a part of that!’ And that’s quite big, we get tons of people doing all kinds of weird projects in there. We still moderate it and we have to approve every single project, we don’t want porn for instance, we don’t want job listings, or anything like that, that would be kind of dull.

Toke: Also, the k10k site is non-profit, so it’s a fine line with all sorts of things that have to do with money and income, and we want to avoid anything that has to do with selling your services online, getting jobs, and so on. Later, we introduced the idea of an Events Calendar, which is a basic calendar where people can submit their stuff, they could say ‘We have this party happening, invite your friends, come over!’ or big events such as Ars Electronica. This is also user moderated, but we tend to keep it dead flexible.

Michael: We have a huge administration system and backend running behind the site. This allows us to change pretty much anything and go in there and approve the different things relatively fast. For us, the key to creating user interaction on a website is that it shouldn’t mean more work for us. We don’t have that much time. I mean, running the website is bad enough; we really don’t have time to sit there and siphon through a ton of things, if we weren’t forced to do it.

Toke: A large portion of the website is actually the backend that no one can see, the VIP administration system, where all our news authors can go in and type in their news. We can go in and update all the different sections on the site, but we try to make it as little work for ourselves as possible, which is also one of the reasons why the website is still ongoing.

Michael: One thing that’s really cool about k10k is the news. We get tons of people submitting stuff, and basically they can go in and dump whatever website and write a little description about it and it goes straight into our admin system, which I’d like to show you if I can do that without crashing the computer. And then all the people who write news for us, the 25 people, including ourselves, have access to a small box inside a news-writing tool where they can actually see all these links that people have submitted and see their descriptions and go, ‘Oh, this looks great, I’ll think I’ll feature that and use that link,’ or ‘Oh this looks like shit, I’ll just delete it and never say anything more about it.’

Toke: This is how we’ve tried to get the flow of content to be as a fluid as possible. We go through it, moderate it, OK it, write a news story, submit it, and so it goes on and on. It’s a cool way for us to avoid having too much work and also for people to get their stuff out there quite quickly.

Michael: So, the basis behind our k10k website is that we have a constant stream of funk juice dripping in, and we’re actually the filter. We have the tree that represents k10k at the bottom, we get all the stuff from our users and the things that we come up with ourselves, that all goes in there, and we have a filter that says, ‘OK, this is shit, this is good,’ and everything dribbles onto the tree. Then we prune the tree, that’s why I’m eating the leaves over there, just to make sure there’s always something new happening.

Toke: The website has ended up being a massive success, we have quite a lot of users on there and also lots of traffic, which means that we have to have lots of sponsorship and so forth, but we keep doing it, and it’s all because of user participation, and the encouragement and feedback that we get. Having done k10k , we were gagging to do something more arty-farty, with more content and more data to work with, so we brought out an old idea.

When I was 16, I was writing my diary and I having all this teen angst, I was keeping track of how I was feeling every day on a scale of 1 to 10 and I was plotting it in my diary, so I could write graphs over the course of the year to see how horrible my life was, and how little sex I was getting. We took the idea, and basically wanted to do a quick little thing that could basically serve the same purpose - just inputs and data and draw a graph. It’s a basic idea, but it ended up taking us two years to build.

Michael: There’s no such thing as a quick little thing when you’re talking about data or participation or anything like that. But the key to the Moodstats programme was that we didn’t want to moderate it, anyway, we wanted basically to give users access to this instrument and not have to worry about what they actually did with it. So the premise of the programme is really simple. You basically have six categories. Three are fixed: mood, creativity and stress. The remaining three are completely customisable, you can choose for yourself what they should be.

Then for each day, you go into the program and you rate that day by using the handy sliders, by going ‘Thus was a really creative day,’ or, ‘This was a really shitty day,’ and stuff like that. And you can write little notes that explain what you did that day to make it so bad, and what the program then does is it actually generates graphs and curves based on those values that you’ve entered, then you can mouse over the - oops! Probably don’t want to mouse over that one, seeing as it’s so high, it’s probably something that sucks . . .
Toke: That’s Michael’s personal data.

Michael: Yes it is. So you can mouse over there and see the data. But what’s really cool about this is (I have to be really careful here, my girlfriend’s in the audience), is that you can see patterns over time. For instance, it’s pretty interesting to go back a year and see what you were actually doing, and you can turn categories off and on, so I only want to see my mood curve. Woa! I don’t know what I was thinking over here, but I wasn’t feeling very good. And nowadays it’s going a lot better. And you can actually go in and you can do comparisons with other people.

So, you can say, I want to compare with my good friend Mike. I’ll know whether he’s updated his stat in a while. His curve is the yellow one, mine is the blue one, and you can switch on here and say I want to compare our creativity. You can see he’s not been very creative, which is kind of bad, because he’s our business partner, so he’s not been working enough! He’s not being very stressed either. I can see some sort of pattern here, and I don’t like that!

You can compare it with a bunch of people at the same time, so you can have a whole circle of friends that you compare yourself with, and you can also compare yourself against the global average, which is kind of interesting in a more sober, serious way. For instance, for September 11th you can see that the curves just drop completely, everybody’s stress value went through the roof, and everybody’s mood values went through the floor. It’s pretty interesting.

Toke: When we started the application, we basically had no clue what we wanted to do with it. We basically wanted to do this little mood thing, but when we started introducing different categories and user-defined categories, we learned that it’s insane how people have weird usage of this program. We got lots of feedback about this program from the medical industry, which wanted to do therapeutic graphs of clients, to keep track of how they were doing with their alcohol problems or sex addictions. Or you could keep track of your origami skills or your kung fu classes. There’s no limit to what people can do with it, and I think that’s the beauty of this whole thing: it’s really easy to expand on, and it has no limits.

Michael: We’ve started to play around with the data as well. We’ve been developing this program for about two years, and we’ve had a ton of people using it and data testing it, so there’s an enormous amount of data in the program, and we’ve discovered that we can actually do really cool and interesting things with the data.

For instance, we did this magazine cover for a Korean design magazine. The flowers are actually Moodstats data, and the height, colour, and location of each flower is based on the values that people have entered into the program. This is only a small amount of the data in the program, from only about 100 people. And it was dynamically generated. Basically, we did a flash algorithm that took all the data and drew flowers with it. We also built one version that actually updated itself every 20 seconds. That was really interesting, because you just saw this organic flower growing and changing places, depending on what kind of information people were putting into the program.

We don’t have much time left, so I think we’ll try to wrap things up here.
What we are really trying to do, in k10k, Moodstats, and other applications that we have planned for the future, is to build bridges between people. We’re really interested in building instruments that people can go out and use in different ways. We’re not so much into building a finalised end product; we think that’s kind of dull. It’s much more interesting for us to throw stuff out there, see what happens, and see how people actually use it. And that’s what we’ve done. It’s shaping Moodstats. We’re working on a new version right now, and it’s completely shaped by what kind of feedback we’ve had from the users, and what they want to see.

Toke: So, what we’ve mainly learned is to keep things organic, never be too certain what direction to take, and keep our eyes open for changes and new directions – while keeping our ears open for user feedback and that sort of thing.



k10k: www.k10k.net

Moodstats: www.moodstats.com/

Cuban Council: www.cubancouncil.com/main_nof.php

updated Monday 31 March 2003
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