Jenn Webb

Jenn Webb is a veteran of the newspaper industry turned freelance scribe, editor, and researcher. She is a nerd with a passion for technology and cultural disruption. She currently serves as O'Reilly Radar's managing editor and helps to investigate topics in the Design, IoT+, Data, and Emerging Tech spaces.

Better currency through programming

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Vitalik Buterin on bitcoin, the blockchain, Ethereum, and the future of money.

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In this Radar Podcast, I chat with Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum and co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine. We met at our Bitcoin & the Blockchain summit in San Francisco to talk about the disruptive potential of the bitcoin and blockchain technologies. He also outlined some of the problems he’s trying to solve with Ethereum and weighed in on how the use cases of money are going to change over the next 10 to 20 years.

Buterin told me that his father initially introduced him to bitcoin in 2011, and he wasn’t immediately interested — in fact, he outright rejected it, thinking, “It looks like it has no intrinsic value, and it’s obviously not going to work.” As he kept hearing about, he decided to investigate more and came to the realization that ultimately led him to create the Ethereum platform:

I immediately recognized that the way bitcoin works is the way that money should work. It’s exactly the correct approach, where you have: here’s the address you’re supposed to send to, here’s how much you want to send, here’s the button to send it. It’s money made for the Internet, not like the credit card approach, where you just basically give everyone the details to take as much as they want from your bank account.

On a trip to Israel, Buterin encountered projects, such as Colored Coins and Mastercoin, using blockchain technology for things other than bitcoin currency. “They were trying to let people issue their own assets,” he said. “They were trying tack features on top, tack financial contracts on top.” The protocols, Buterin noted, were overly complicated and he realized there might be a better way: “You could make it much simpler just by replacing everything with a programming language, and then if you do that, then people can write as many features as they want in the programming language after the fact.”

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The 3 best experience design things we saw this week – April 3, 2015

Designing for discomfort, redesigning death, and a civic-human interface.

Our design editors curate the most notable, interesting, and important material they come across. Below you’ll find their recent selections.

Get the weekly design newsletter to see more links and tips.


Designed for discomfort

An elevator delivers you one floor below the floor you requested. A keyholder drops your bike lock key to the ground when you grab your car keys. A lampshade gradually closes unless you to touch it to retain illumination. These are not design flaws; they’re just a few examples of products designed to encourage behavior change.

elevator_Gideon_Tsang_FlickrSource: Cropped image by Gideon Tsang on Flickr

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The 3 best experience design things we saw this week – March 27, 2015

John Maeda's top 5, Josh Clark's wise words, and Tim O'Reilly on the underestimated impact of the IoT.

Our design editors curate the most notable, interesting, and important material they come across. Below you’ll find their recent selections.

Get the weekly design newsletter to see more links and tips.


John Maeda’s top 5

When former RISD president John Maeda, now design partner at VC firm Kleiner Perkins, was asked to name 5 things he can’t live without, his list didn’t include many “things.” Declaring himself a “post-possessionista,” he explains why some of his favorite things are more concept than object.

5-4-3-2-1_Neon_Countdown_Steven_Depolo_FlickrSource: Cropped image by Steven Depolo on Flickr
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How the DevOps revolution informs software architecture

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Neal Ford on the changing role of software architects and the rise of microservices.

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In this episode of the Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mac Slocum sits down with Neal Ford, a software architect and meme wrangler at ThoughtWorks, to talk about the changing role of software architects. They met up at our recent Software Architecture Conference in Boston — if you missed the event, you can sign up to be notified when the Complete Video Compilation of all sessions and talks is available.

Slocum started the conversation with the basics: what, exactly, does a software architect do. Ford noted that there’s not a straightforward answer, but that the role really is a “pastiche” of development, soft skills and negotiation, and solving business domain problems. He acknowledged that the role historically has been negatively perceived as a non-coding, post-useful, ivory tower deep thinker, but noted that has been changing over the past five to 10 years as the role has evolved into real-world problem solving, as opposed to operating in abstractions:

“One of the problems in software, I think, is that you build everything on towers of abstractions, and so it’s very easy to get to the point where all you’re doing is playing with abstractions, and you don’t reify that back to the real world, and I think that’s the danger of this kind of ivory-tower architect. When you start looking at things like continuous delivery and continuous deployment, you have to take those operational concerns into account, and I think that is making the role of architect a lot more relevant now, because they are becoming much more involved in the entire software development ecosystem, not just the front edge of it.”

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The 3 best experience design things we saw this week – March 20, 2015

UX evolution, tooting horns, and a rambunctious rant.

Our design editors curate the most notable, interesting, and important material they come across. Below you’ll find their recent selections.

Get the weekly design newsletter to see more links and tips.


The evolution of UX

From da Vinci to Dreyfuss to Disney to Donald Norman, interactions between humans and technology have marked each key milestone in the longer-than-you-think history of user experience design. Here’s how UX design’s past sheds light on its future.

Arts_and_Crafts_Follow_the_Light_US_Army_FlickrSource: Image by U.S. Army on Flickr
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Design’s return to artisan, at scale

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Matt Nish-Lapidus on design's circular evolution, and designing in the post-Industrial era.

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In this week’s Radar Podcast episode, Jon Follett, editor of Designing for Emerging Technologies, chats with Matt Nish-Lapidus, partner and design director at Normative. Their discussion circles around the evolution of design, characteristics of post-Industrial design, and aesthetic intricacies of designing in networked systems. Also note, Nish-Lapidus will present a free webcast on these topics March 24, 2015.

Post-Industrial design relationships

Nish-Lapidus shares an interesting take on design evolution, from pre-Industrial to post-Industrial times, through the lens of eyeglasses. He uses eyeglasses as a case study, he says, because they’re a piece of technology that’s been used through a broad span of history, longer than many of the things we still use today. Nish-Lapidus walks us through the pre-Industrial era — so, Medieval times through about the 1800s — where a single craftsperson designed one product for a single individual; through the Industrial era, where mass-production took the main stage; to our modern post-Industrial era, where embedded personalization capabilities are bringing design almost full circle, back to a focus on the individual user:

“Once we move into this post-Industrial era, which we’re kind of entering now, the relationship’s starting to shift again, and glasses are a really interesting example. We go from having a single pair of glasses made for a single person, hand-made usually, to a pair of glasses designed and then mass-manufactured for a countless number of people, to having a pair of glasses that expresses a lot of different things. On one hand, you have something like Google Glass, which is still mass-produced, but the glasses actually contain embedded functionality. Then we also have, with the emergence of 3D printing and small-scale manufacturing, a return to a little bit of that artisan, one-to-one relationship, where you could get something that someone’s made just for you.

“These post-Industrial objects are more of an expression of the networked world in which we now live. We [again] have a way of building relationships with individual crafts-people. We also have objects that exist in the network themselves, as a physical instantiation of the networked environment that we live in.”

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Big data’s impact on global agriculture

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Stewart Collis talks about making precision farming accessible and affordable for all farmers.

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Stewart Collis, CTO and co-founder of AWhere, recently tweeted a link to a video by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, Big Question: Feast or Famine? The video highlights the increasing complexity of feeding our rapidly growing population, and Collis noted its relation to his work at AWhere. I recently caught up with Collis to talk about our current global agriculture situation, the impact of big data on agriculture, and the work his company is doing to help address global agriculture problems.

The challenge, explained Collis, is two-fold: our growing population — expected to increase by another 2.4 billion people by 2050, and the increasing weather variability affecting our growing seasons and farmers’ abilities to produce and scale to accommodate that population. “In the face of weather variability, climate change, and increasing temperatures … farmers no longer know when it’s going to rain,” he said, and then noted: “There’s only 34 growing seasons between now and [2050], so this is a problem we need to solve now.”

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Experience Design Links and Fodder: March 13, 2015

10 thoughts for all designers, wise words from Gemma Curtain, and open source surgery.

Each week our design editors curate the most notable, interesting, and important material they come across. Below you’ll find their recent selections. You can get these and more in our weekly design newsletter.

Top ten

“Like” is not a design word. Choose your battles. There is no perfect design. A pragmatic designer shares his memo to self with 10 thoughts that all designers should consider.

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Source: Image by woodleywonderworks on Flickr
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Experience Design Links and Fodder: March 6, 2015

Design and business, wise words, and software beyond a single device.

Each week our design editors curate the most notable, interesting, and important material they come across. Below you’ll find their recent selections. You can get these and more in our weekly design newsletter.

It’s business time

Design does not exist in a bubble. Just as business people can benefit from design thinking, designers need to think about business, especially if they plan to launch products. Here’s how business and design come together.

bubbles_Mycatkins_FlickrSource: Cropped image by SAM Nasim on Flickr
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Bridging the gap in big data silos

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: John Carnahan on holistic data analysis, engagement channels, and data science as an art form.

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In this Radar Podcast episode, I sit down with John Carnahan, executive vice president of data science at Ticketmaster. At our recent Strata + Hadoop World Conference in San Jose, CA, Carnahan presented a session on using data science and machine learning to improve ticket sales and marketing at Ticketmaster.

I took the opportunity to chat with Carnahan about Ticketmaster’s evolving approach to data analysis, the avenues of user engagement they’re investigating, and how his genetics background is informing his work in the big data space.

When Carnahan took the job at Ticketmaster about three years ago, his strategy focused on small, concrete tasks aimed at solving distinct nagging problems: how do you address large numbers of tickets not sold at an event, how do you engage and market those undersold events to fans, and how do you stem abuse of ticket sales. This strategy has evolved, Carnahan explained, to a more holistic approach aimed at bridging the data silos within the company:

“We still want those concrete things, but we want to build a bed of data science assets that’s built on top of a company that’s been around almost 40 years and has a lot of data assets. How do we build the platform that will leverage those things into the future, beyond just those small niche products that we really want to build. We’re trying to bridge the gap between a lot of those products, too. Rather than think of each of those things as a vertical or a silo that’s trying to accomplish something, it’s how do you use something that you’ve built over here, over there to make that better?”

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