Four Lights: Star Trek TNG

English: Logo from the television program Star...

English: Logo from the television program Star Trek: TNG (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve always been a big fan of Star Trek The Next Generation and of Star Trek in general (science fiction in general, too!). I grew up watching Star Trek TNG and was always sensitive to the social commentary which underlies every part of the Star Trek franchise.

One episode comes to mind as perhaps the most memorable. Seen in today’s context, it is pretty revealing, and pretty scary too. The episode I have in mind is a two-parter: “Chain of Command” (sixth season).


“Captain Picard, Lt. Worf, and Dr. Crusher are assigned by Starfleet on a covert mission to destroy a Cardassian biological weapons installation on Celtris III, a Cardassian border world.”
via Wikipedia

Story short, they infiltrate the installation, find no signs of biological weapons, and discover that it was all a trap. Worf and Crusher escape and Picard is taken to Gul Madred, an interrogator who – in Part II – tortures his captive through various methods to try to gain knowledge of the Federation’s plans.

Before a resilient, uncooperative Picard, Gul Madred turns to a final tactic, which is to me, and many others, the most memorable part:

“…he shows his captive four bright lights, and demands that Picard answer that there are five, inflicting intense pain on Picard if he does not agree.”

In the end, Madred is informed that Picard must be returned, and a defiant Picard turns to Madred, shouting, “There are four lights!”

It is a dramatic scene which has since been inscribed in the collective unconscious. Considering the global geopolitical situation of the last decade, it is profoundly telling. In fact, it is said that Madred’s Four Lights test is a homage to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, with the proverbial Room 101 in which O’Brien tortures Winston Smith, forcing him to say he sees five fingers when O’Brien is really only holding up four of them.

“There are four lights!” has become a classic meme amongst Trekkers and Trekkies alike. And now, yes, you guessed it, THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT! Now when you come face-to-face with an uncooperative co-worker or a defiant teenager, you too can use the classic methods of Gul Madred! Soon when one needs an answer, it will become commonplace to touch the screen on your Android device and have Gul Madred do the dirty work for you!

There are four lights

There are four lights

Available in the Android App Store! Four Lights: Star Trek TNG


Gul Madred: What are the Federation’s defense plans for Minos Korva?
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: There are four lights!


John McTigue Speaks of Content and Its Discoverability

April: Jacques Cartier.

Image via Wikipedia

Search vs. Discovery

First, let’s dive into this apparent debate between search and discovery. The essential idea is that the increasing popularity of discovery-based sites can be attributed to our desire to involve more of our senses in our online activities. Content with both visual and audio components trumps plain text. Just look at the ever-increasing popularity of YouTube or Facebook to confirm this trend. Of course, it depends on the purpose of your online session. If you need to find hard data or quotes to defend your blog post thesis, there’s nothing better than a Google search. On the other hand, if you’re not really sure what you’re seeking – if you’re just browsing the headlines or looking to amuse yourself for a few minutes, what could be better than Flickr, Tumblr, or even Google+. Clearly, we humans have a need for both types of content and both ways of finding it. What we may not be thinking about is how to make our content more “discoverable” on the browsable sites.

via Top 3 Ways to Make Your Content More Discoverable

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Romain Goday: On The Rise of Engines of (Content) Discovery

Graph, created in Neato

Image via Wikipedia


Search and discovery are two very different approaches to information consumption. Search has boomed in the last decade, more than 130 billion searches were conducted during 2010. Information overload is driving a new approach to consuming Web information. Search provides an answer. “Discovery” provides awareness. While still at an early stage a new breed of tools, content discovery engines, is gaining traction to complement search engines.

Search vs Discovery: Advantages of Internet Content Discovery Tools

Content discovery tools offer a new approach to information consumption that brings a series of advantages over search engines:

– Awareness instead of specific answers: Discovery engines aggregate content related to a particular area of interest.

– Provide ongoing content: Staying aware means monitoring topics of interest over time. The Internet content discovery process continues as long as the user maintains interest in that specific topic.

– Focus on fresh content: The time-frame varies depending on the specific tool, but the common trait of discovery engines is their emphasis in newly published information.

– Facilitate content selection by the user: With content discovery tools, the user plays a larger role in the selection process.

– Provide unexpected information: In discovery mode, users do not have a specific result they are looking for.

via Search vs Discovery (Or A New Approach to Information Consumption)

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Amber Naslund Writes About The Need For Friction

Deutsch: White Noise

Image via Wikipedia

Curation And Noise

Being a “curator” is all the rage. But it’s become a practice – and a term – that’s completely diluted and distorted through an online lens.

To me – and by definition – curation requires conscious thought with the purpose of adding value, context, or perspective to a collection of things. It’sdeliberate work, gathering things together for a reason and lending a keen editing eye to those assets, whether it be pieces of art or pieces of writing. There’s also an element of curation that involves preserving things, which is a more challenging proposition when you’re talking about the fleeting nature of the digital world.

Turning your Twitter feed into a clockwork-scheduled stream of all the stuff you find in your RSS feed is not curation, it’s distribution. And since collecting and redistributing content is arguably easier than creating it, everyone does it. Which serves to create a great deal of noise, and as we’ve lamented for some time now, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff and home in on information resources that are consistently valuable, and favor mindful selection and sharing over optimizing a feed to populate a bunch of links and drive traffic or gain fans and followers.

Can curation be accomplished online? I think so. But it’s rarely what we actually see happening when we immerse ourselves in social networks, and it’s not what we’re doing when we click the “share” button over and over again.

via Curation Saturation, and Why We Might Need Information Friction After All

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Fred Wilson On Websites And How We Consume Information

London Gazette Pun VC Original
Image via Wikipedia

We all scan headlines, whether it’s the printed newspaper, Techmeme, Huffington Post, Hacker News, Seeking Alpha, Google Reader, Google search results, or Twitter. That’s the way we consume information. For any given set of headlines, we might click on one link and read a full story. That’s the way I’ve been reading the newspaper since I was a teenager.

So it should not be surprising to anyone that the same is true online. Arnon Mishkin, a partner at Mitchell Madison Group, has a post on Paid Content where he asserts that:

We did a study of traffic on several sites that aggregate purely a menu of news stories. In all cases, there was at least twice as much traffic on the home page as there were clicks going to the stories that were on it.

What that says to me is one out of every two visitors found nothing they wanted to dig deeper on when visiting one of these link pages. And that may well be true.

But it does not mean that the other 50%, who did click on a link and go visit a story, are not valuable.

via A VC: Scanning Headlines.

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Jay Yarow Speaks About The Shortcomings of Facebook Commerce

Cherry peddler in Bucharest, around 1869.
Image via Wikipedia

Facebook is reportedly looking for a $100 billion valuation when it IPOs. But, its current business doesn’t support that valuation. If you believe it’s going to be worth $100 billion, and eventually much more, you have to believe it’s going to make money from more than just ads.

The theory is that companies will come to depend on Facebook’s huge
user base, then Facebook will figure out how to “tax”, or make money off
those companies. Zynga,
for instance, built a huge business, and then one day Facebook said,
give us 30%. In theory, F-commerce, or Facebook Commerce was going to be
another taxable business. It isn’t.

Why is f-commerce a flop? Chris Dixon, CEO of Hunch, explains it pretty succinctly on Twitter: “Facebook is like Starbucks where everyone hangs out but no one ever buys anything.”

via Facebook Commerce Has Been A Big Flop.

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Martin Bryant Speaks of John Naughton’s Beef with Graphic Designers

English: WWW's "historical" logo, cr...
Image via Wikipedia


Design isn’t just about bells and whistles


As the Open University’s Professor of the Public Understanding of
Technology, and with two books about the Internet under his belt, John
Naughton should know better than to argue that graphic design on
websites is just about aesthetics – the Web isn’t the “Library of
Alexandria on steroids” he suggests it is, it’s grown into a multimedia
canvas for human expression.


Through video content, audio clips, tastefully implemented HTML5,
heck – even with the much-maligned Flash, we can create Web pages that
do far more than offer written content – they can stir our emotions in
ways that simply weren’t possible a few years ago. Graphic design is a
valid and important part of the overall content.


via No, Graphic Design Isn’t Ruining the Web.


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