justin hall: blogging pioneer and passive multiplayer gaming evangelist

Justinhall Justin Hall is often credited as being one of the first bloggers. Justin’s Links from the Underground, started as a sort of tour of the early internet turned into an intimate diary of his life.

He stopped actively blogging because,

“Once they invented search engines, it became a problem to write about the events of the night on the night because people could find it… too much personal information to put up about my experimentation… and it’s also a lot of work… what I learned is that not everybody wants to sit down and write an essay every night. Now we have social networking sites that, instead of having to write, you just go on and change your top 8 friends.”

Nowadays, Justin uses a whole bunch of social software services that track him rather than force him to actively engage to participate. His myspace profile pulls together his twitter, plazes, last.fm, flickr and more.

Justin is at the BBC today giving a talk about Passive Multiple Player Gaming which gives people points for visiting websites and participating in particular activities. So, for example, to reach Level 5 you might visit Myspace and Boing Boing, Level 10 bloglines, del.icio.us and digg, or for Level 15 you might use all of those plus technorati…

The idea is that many people, by his own admission Justin included, don’t have time to play World of Warcraft or other intensely time consuming multiplayer games. So why not let people participate in a multiplayer game more passively.

Postermd The game profiles users and separates people into four categories: seer, hoarder, destroyer and pathmaker. Each person playing can embed bits of code into their pages, their profiles, etc so that others who visit could collect, trade and share these codes.

What’s the point? Justin says, “The World has lots of problems and games, particularly for young people, is one way we can learn to work together to solve them.”

When questioned about the privacy implications of all this tracking, Justin admits that it was only by chance he realised that he was already being tracked by lots of websites that leave cookies on his browser. We’re already being tracked, he says, but this is about being open about who is tracking and why, and ensuring that we have control over that AND that we get rewards. He continues,

“With frequent flier miles, getting a seat in business class is way more important than [worries about privacy]. You’d be an idiot not to… Now Nike has announced that they will put ipod jacks into every shoe they sell so that you can record every step you tack on your Nano and upload it when you get in… I see that as a sign of the times we live in, where everything can be tracked.”

As for the data in Justin’s prototype, his servers simply assign points to the actions and movements that it tracks then immediately deletes all sign of that tracking.

There’s a public facing prototype to play with at http://www.bud.com

Justin points out what he calls “related projects”:

  • Attent: outlook plug-in that tracks your “appropriate use of email in a corporate setting”

  • Askville: Amazon project where users are rewarded with “coins” that they can spend at “questville”, their soon to open online store, to commidify people’s
  • Itty Bitty RPG: embeds a battle into any web page
  • ethomaz on Slifeshare: It’s a mac only thing that follows you around the web and, in real time, displays what you are looking at on your mac! (Robin Note: Must try this!)
  • I must ask Justin, why people (including myself) actually choose to use all these services that track them (oddly, I refuse to use clubcards exactly because I don’t want to be tracked yet I willingly do it online)…

    Justin replied that he’d posted over 4800 hand coded html pages in the time that he was blogging and, when he met his partner and fell in love, she told him not to blog her. He stopped blogging and suddenly realised “I had a lot of time left!” Now he sticks with the easy stuff that happens more easily – a photo on flickr, automated tracking, etc. What motivates him? Well, part of it is the feedback he gets, part that all these automated things help the people he wants to keep track of him to do so.

    Matt Locke, the head of innovation for BBC Future Media and Technology made a good point in response to Justin’s reply to my question – that there are many visual queues and social touching (reminds me of A.R. Stone who I quoted extensively in my 1995 MA Thesis and who talks about “online communication are low bandwidth”) that helps people understand their place within a group or whenever they meet face to face. Perhaps things like twitter and flickr, that take so little time, are the replacement of these things.

    An interesting talk but I’m not sure that we managed to drill down to what I’m really interested in, the motivations for allowing oneself – even proactively enabling – to be tracked and documented. Will rewarding people with points really help people to understand that their data trail has value? Perhaps. Will it motivate more people to do it? I’m not sure that’s the intention given that, for now at least, Justin’s work is non-commercial.