Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sometimes It's Better to Be Wrong

Not all Virtualpolitik predictions are ones I want to come true. This morning's story in the Los Angeles Times, "Sex Offender Site Back Up," about the slaying of William Elliott and Joseph Gray, two who were targeted using their web listings, manifests the dangers of a disturbing trend in public information design. At the end of last year, in my posting on "Mapquest the Bad Guys," I warned that something like this could happen. Information may want to be free, but so do criminals who have served their time, and some forms of information invite vigilantee justice.

I went to the Maine Sex Offenders Registry and was unsettled to see an even more revealing user interface than the one I had explored in California months earlier. Exact street addresses are reproduced for the offender's work, home, or school, and nonviolent offenders are included in the registry alongside rapists. For example, the very first listing I saw, using the location of the university town where the National Poetry Foundation is held, was for possessing child pornography. The second was for the transmission on indecent images of minors. Perhaps university towns are more likely to foster anti-civic practices of voyeurism and other thought crimes, but I found other nonviolent offenders in other Maine cities in the registry.

In other legal/digital rhetoric news today, the LA Times also covered "Making a (Power) Point," which describes the effect that well-designed PowerPoint presentations can have on juries. On his website, Cliff Atkinson of Sociable Media describes the importance of the storyboard format, which -- according to this blog -- has also been important in other forms of digital presentation in the public sphere, such as the creation of medical simulations. Surprisingly, Atkinson describes himself as an admirer of virulent PowerPoint critic and professor of information design Edward Tuftee. Of course, the problem with such PowerPoint civics might be difficult to fit on just one slide.

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Anonymous jrlupton said...

But what's the effect of BAD powerpoint presentations (on juries, or students, or academic audiences)?

I was sorry to hear about the misuse of the registry. There is something very pre-modern about this resort to a form of community policing and shame culture.

6:07 AM  

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