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Digital Desire

Mrs. Librarian (who keeps me Playful) alerted me to this entry at [BB-Blog], which in turn points to this post at Everyone Forever about desire paths. Desire path is a term used by landscape architects to describe those informal dirt walkways worn into lawns or fields by people finding the shortest distance between two points. This is such a wonderful phrase and like most wonderful phrases could be appropriated meaningfully into other contexts—like, for instance, information science, which counts among its primary mandates information pathfinding.

The notion of the desire path reminded me of a new tool brought to my attention earlier this week called ShiftSpace. This open source API that plugs into Firefox builds a metalayer above any Web site, allowing its user to manipulate that page with a suite of tools without changing the site's code at its source—and without the user having to know how to script.

I'll let them introduce the API themselves:

Imagine the possibilities. With such utilitarian tools as Highlights and Notes, librarians could mark up various sites for information literacy sessions or as digital pathfinders. Teachers could annotate sites for lessons on digital resource assessment, then help their students map their own Internet research annotations into Trails, which would facilitate collaborative research among students. With such interventionist tools as ImageSwap and SourceShift, artists could rearrange a corporation's Web pages to create protest or parody pieces. And because the changes are stored locally through the API, rather than through the source code held on proprietary servers, the librarian, teacher, and artist need not wait for access or permission to make their changes.

ShiftSpace is currently only at version 0.10, so it's early days yet for the tool. All Shifts are stored locally, unless designated as Public, in which case they're aggregated on If the user visits a publicly modified page, the API alerts them of it through the browser, so they can activate the console. According to the site, they plan to build social functionality and P2P networking capabilities into future iterations of the tool.

Though it's often described as a public space, the Internet is not one really. All data is stored on servers, and all servers are owned by someone. ShiftSpace promises to enable us to capture that data and do with it as we please. If ShiftSpace succeeds, particularly in their social and P2P plans, they'll manage to subvert the entire proprietary nature of the Internet and create the first truly public digital space—one in which we can create our own desire paths.


Anonymous said...

This is the kind of thing that makes me think it's not just a one-note pun of mine that librarians should be drawing as much from the "architecture" half as the "information."

If nothing else, when architects go off the wall with theory, they do it a lot better than librarians do...

librarian@play said...

One caveat: be prepared for some grade-A vitriol if you ever use the phrase information architecture in front of an architect. They hate the term. As in HATE. Good thing no one put them in charge of language.

Anonymous said...

Richard Saul Wurman doesn't...

And they both meet at Deleuze & Guatarri.

I agree it's a bit of a stretch, (a stretch of a pun, no less; surely the worst kind... ) but Network(ed) Architecture and the Networked City, etc., feels like another fertile area between the two.