Sep 28 2005 Kelly Norton

After a few sleepless nights and what must’ve been several gallons of very harsh Media Lab coffee, the PLW managed to scramble up a debut for OPENSTUDIO at the 2005 AIGA Design Conference. Initially we had planned for a full on release, but the scheduling proved a little too tight to pull that one off. Plus, it never helps when prior commitments left us only about four days to really focus on the AIGA portion of the program. So now the real release date is set for sometime in October and will most likely be limited to those people who stopped by the Media Lab booth at the conference and picked up a postcard worth 100 Buraks of seed funding. Very soon after that, the system will be open to the general public either by invitation or general mayhem. That’s one of the many things still under discussion.

A photo of an OPENSTUDIO postcard, worth 100 Buraks


The OPENSTUDIO project, which is the child of two previous PLW initiatives (OpenAtelier and Treehouse Studio), aims to be an experiment in creativity, collaboration and capitalism. What does all that mean? Well, I’m still not completely sure. Here’s what I know:

one – There will be a collection of creative tools; including a vector drawing application, a photo-like editing tool, possibly a simple spreadsheet program, and a exaggerated pixel icon editor. There are others in the queue to be upgraded, so they'll follow sometime after the release date.

two – There will be a web interface an architecture tying it all together. It will include various URL based schemas that are able to reference various versions of documents and collections of documents. Much of that will not be turned on in the October release as it requires more UI design than we're ready to take on right now, but it will follow in later releases. The first part of this will be present in the utility for creating galleries. All of the images shown in the interface will be rendered by the distributed document renderer I wrote a few months back. There is currently a lot of AJAX style UI that will probably get taken out before release because it causes too many stability problems in browsers right now. It looks now like the primary factor is rails’ prototype library, but we can’t be sure until we have time to do some isolated debugging.

three – The experimental economy will be based on an artificial currency called Buraks (or it's sometimes called Burak Dollars by John). Burak, unless you missed it, is the name of one of PLW's beloved graduate students. As I mentioned, those who picked up a postcard at the conference will start life in the community with 100 Buraks. They'll be able to buy artwork for their galleries on the release day, and other buying scenarios will follow.

And that's pretty much it. All I know at this point, or at least all I know I know at this point. If I had to wager a bet on the release date, I would put my chips on the week of October 18th since that coincides with the Media Lab's sponsor days. We are committed to show the sponsors something at that point and it will make our life infinitely easier if that something is a live version of OPENSTUDIO.

AIGA Design Conference 2005

Those who stopped by the Media Lab booth at the Conference were able to at least get a sneak peek at some of the features along with their 100 Burak postcards. And those who made it upstairs to the talk we gave, were able to hear me make silly assertions about Electrical Engineers driving electric trains. I’ve found that audiences generally like jokes about engineers, both types. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy as much of the conference as I would have liked as I was falling fast into some exhaustion-induced illness. Sadly, my complimentary pass to the living room area went to waste when I slept away most of the next day.

Scenes from the MIT Media Lab demo booth

On Friday, after we finished our talk, I was able to walk around the vendor area. It was at least 90% paper vendors. The AIGA conference has come under some criticism in recent years for its non-relevance to all but print designers and the vendor area seemed to carry out the tradition. The program, though, did feature a more balanced diet of topics including a session on blogging that featured Jason Kottke, who was also covering the conference on Sadly I missed that session as well. It appeared to be happening at the same time as our talk, but I think I saw Kottke in the back of the room so I must’ve misread the schedule. For a mostly print oriented crowd, they certainly took a liking to the Media Lab demonstrations area. It was uncomfortably packed with people for the entire cocktail hour. I was fortunate enough to have been excused from that portion; I don’t think I could have held out with my mild claustrophobia and a dizzying sinus headache. In fact, I hung in there just long enough to cash my drink coupon in on a tasty Guinness before setting out in the rain for the dreaded green line.