The Week in Review

An annotated list of the things I’ve been reading, writing, thinking, and talking about.

Future Perfect

The latest book from Steven Johnson, Future Perfect makes the case for a new political ideology, one he terms “peer progressivism.” Johnson takes Hayek’s most important insight (namely, that markets often have better information than any group of central planners could ever hope to access) and combines it with the best of progressivism (namely, a genuine concern for the poor and the disenfranchised) to yield something unique. Johnson advocates for distributed solutions to political problems. His suggestions for crowdsourcing decisions about local infrastructure spending are particularly intriguing. Side note: huge thanks to my brother, Josh, for passing this one along.

Modular Web Content

I’m slightly late to the party on this January blog post from Chris Butler. If you’re at all interested in the future of online publishing, it’s well worth checking out. Butler discusses the inherent tension between the type of gorgeous (but typically bespoke) digital longform piece and the limitations of CMS templating systems. Butler suggests moving to modular templates–ones that allow authors to arrange different blocks of content inside a single template.

The Book Metaphor

Interface design often relies on metaphors. Indeed, pretty much everything about the graphical user interface rests of some sort of metaphor, from information storage and retrieval (files and folders) to spreadsheets (ledger books) to, yes, ebooks (think iBooks and its page flips). This piece from UX Magazine reminds us that, however useful books have proven over the past millennium, they do have some inherent UX limitations, one that we might do well to avoid in our design of ebooks and ebook readers.

Death to the PDF

The World Bank released a new study (in PDF, natch) showing that no one downloads its PDF reports. Music to my ears! The Washington Post’s Wonkblog weighed in with the provocative suggestion that, “The solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads.” The Guardian, meanwhile, asks “Is the PDF Hurting Democracy?.” That may be too strong. But it’s certainly true that PDFs are an inceasingly-terrible way to present research reports.