Thursday, May 20, 2010

Artist-Friendly JavaScript

Much has been said recently about the "death match" between Flash and JavaScript (which, come to think of it, must make Silverlight feel awfully lonely). As far as I'm concerned, we should all just get along; diversity is good. That said, I'm definitely a JavaScript guy.

It's wonderful how far JavaScript has come in recent years in terms of being able to run graphically rich experiences, but there's one crucial area that everyone seems to be ignoring: there are no artist-friendly tools for creating such experiences. One of Flash's major strengths has nothing to do with technology, per se: it's the fact that the Flash authoring environment originated as an animation studio for artists. Over the years, they've added all sorts of programmer-friendly features, but its heart and soul is still artistic creative expression.

On the other hand, JavaScript, for all its strengths, is still a programmers-only club. You can make amazing things with it, but only if you can sling the code. This locks out the very people who are going to elevate it to an art form. It's time for this to change. Someone needs to make an authoring environment for creating graphically rich, interactive, animated experiences that run in JavaScript.

That's a big task, especially if your goal is to end up with something as deep as the Flash authoring environment, but it needs to happen, and it's not going to get any easier the longer we wait. The good news is that, unlike the singular entity that is the Flash studio, these JavaScript tools can be distributed; different teams can work on different parts of the problem, integrating with common protocols that emerge. In fact, developing an open format for describing such creations would allow a variety of tools, written by any number of groups, to all interoperate.

So, what's a good chunk to bite off first? How about a simple, user-friendly web app for doing animations?


Monday, May 17, 2010

iPad as Social Computer

We (Christina, Caitlyn and I) love our iPad, which is good, since we've been waiting for it since at least 2006. Much has been said about how, you know, revolutionary and magical it is; I'd like to focus on one specific aspect.

The iPad is remarkable for being the first widely available, general-purpose social computer. When we think of "social computing" these days, we think of things like Facebook and Twitter, but really, even though those sites are about people, you're still physically alone at your computer. No, by "social computer", I mean more than one person together interacting with the same device. The iPad makes this a joy: easy to hold in a way that both parties can see, accepting simultaneous input all over the screen, easy to pass back and forth, etc.

Of course more than one person can sit in front of a desktop computer, but you're still limited to a single input stream; you can't hook up two mice and have two cursors, for instance. Laptops are easier to pass back and forth, but they still have the same "one user" bias. The iPhone, with its multi-touch, theoretically supports multiple people, but the screen is so small it's not really practical. Game machines have supported multiple simultaneous users for a long time, and recent developments like the Wii and Rock Band have broadened the audience for this kind of experience, but those machines have yet to stray far outside the domain of games. The device that's come the closest to the iPad, in terms of social computing, is the Microsoft Surface, which predated it by several years, but while impressive, it's far from widely available and lacks the breadth of applications the iPad already has.

Another key point about most of those devices, from desktop computers to game machines to the Surface, is that they're rooted in one location, difficult to move to new contexts. While this certainly isn't necessary for a social experience, I think the fact that the iPad can follow you and your friends wherever you want to go gives it a leg up on becoming woven into your social life, rather than being a special thing you have to plan for.

What does all this lead to? I have no idea, but I'm enjoying the process of finding out, as the three of us use this new computer together in a wide variety of settings and ways.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Caitlyn Says Your Body is Trying to Kill You

At dinner this evening, Caitlyn calmly announced, "My body is trying to kill me."

Our response was, of course, "Say what?!"

She went on to explain that every day her body was working on making her bigger and more mature, and that someday it will have turned her into a grown-up, and then a grandma, and then she would die, with her body always pushing her to the next step, regardless of what she wanted.

Well, um, when you put it that way, I suppose your body does have it in for you.