Designing the Invisible Public Way – Food for Thought and Conversation


It’s not that the world is flat.  It’s just that we are now devising a whole different aspect of the world, what we might call MediaSpace, that is, at the outset, empty of shape.  We’re shaping it by our creation and inhabitation of it.


Already MediaSpace has considerable complexity, a topography we are creating that is invisible unless one has the connections to the new broadband nervous system and the new technology sense organs that let us see the content that surrounds us.


These are places we choose to go, just as we might choose to take a walk in the park of an afternoon or go to a museum or a performance.   

We might go the the same mediaSpace via a variety of mediums - print, wireless radio, internet, broadcast TV, in person at media outlets branded-in-place.  Many organizations have created a consistent aesthetic and way-finding system across media.  

These places exist in a landscape with gateways and byways, with landmarks and navigational aids, with places we head for and other places we find - and spend time in.  

We can go there, travel within mediaspace, work there, play there, have sex there, create new beings there.  We can store objects there, trade them, and arrange for them to pop up on our door steps.

MediaSpace is an extension of the places we can inhabit without the access and the tools required for MediaSpace.  And now we are also creating places in the "real world" that are extensions of places we have first created in MediaSpace.  

How can we design continuity and broad accessibility between the prior world and this new one we are devising?


    What’s to Design?

The digital infrastructure able to drive Community, Culture & Commerce.

    •        Inclusion of Broadband Infrastructure and Digital Resources in Urban & Rural Master Planning.
    •      Expectation of symmetrical capabilities to support spontaneous development of community, cultural and economic activity.

The Places where mediaspace resources can:

·         Be developed

·         Be discovered

·         Be shared

The Places where the public can:

·         Explore the potential of MediaSpace

·         Develop Skills in its creation and use.

·         Pursue Community, Cultural & Commercial Development

      •        Free standing Community Technology & Media Centers
      •        Technology & Media capabilities to leverage existing institutions, businesses and governments.
      •        Economic & Cultural Development Incubators
      •        Digital Media Cities




    The Urban Design Metaphor -

In the urban metaphor we have public infrastructure (the public way itself) and places where community, culture & commerce happen, enabled by that infrastructure (enabled     places).


Both elements must be understood in order to design the infrastructure – the needs of the places drive the whole system.  So, what needs exist or are arising that might shape how the web is designed:


   Design Issues:
Many issues exist around the invisible public way itself:

        1.    Control

a.    For the most part this infrastructure is being built on the “toll road” model.  The private entities initiating the system determine the business model for the resource within their own occulted councils, and ask the public for the right to the public space they need for that resource.

b.    In limited locations municipalities have created publicly owned broadband infrastructures.

c.    In any event, the tools, expertise and lexicon which might support an informed public discussion of these essential systems are largely lacking.  Only highly specialized individuals, typically with strong commercial or personal interests in the outcome, are willing or able to inform themselves and participate in the design process.

d.    Since the lexicon & design tools used  are so arcane and are almost exclusively expressed in a high tech frame of reference, and since so much of this information is developed within private entities with commercial interests in limiting access to this information, the larger public is virtually excluded from envisioning and shaping this aspect of our public domain.

        2.    Placement

a.    21st century development will be constrained by access to the invisible public way just as 18th & 19th century development went where rivers provided nourishment, transport and power.

b.    Currently these resources are installed to serve existing users, favoring those user clusters with the highest identified revenues.

c.    Just as towns bypassed by the railroad or the interstate withered and were less likely to be the location of new cultural and economic development so places and individuals without access to the broadband public way will be at an economic disadvantage.

d.    The river/rail/road metaphor fails in one significant regard - the shape of the web is not constrained by geography- we get to shape it by our biases and intentions.

        3.    Cost

a.    The cost models for accessing and using tele-information systems markets originated in entertainment and telephony markets.  

b.    Existing cost models, and market structures are already calcified around this anachronistic assumption.

c.    Increasingly tele-information systems are essential systems conveying largely data used for myriad purposes.  They are fundamental enabling resources – Where they aren’t, one can’t.

d.    What energy is required to break this inertia and devise more appropriate contemporary costing and market models?

e.    Is this a public or a private effort?

        4.    One way or two way (Symmetricality)

a.    The existing system is largely based on a one way economic model – external entities wanting access to consumer markets. 

b.    This approach specifically fails to support new sources arising whose economy depends on being able to originate and distribute.

c.    Current public policy doesn’t seem to demand that those building the way install capacity and technology that can adequately encourage economic development and the creative economy.

d.    How can we shape the emerging federal, state and local policies in this regard?

e.    How can we devise the design tools and graphics that will allow for a more integrated public shaping of these essential resources?

        5.    Capacity

a.    The installed shape of the broadband public way amounts to a fait accompli that limits potential symmetrical commerce.  If the model assumes that incoming volume will be 4 times outgoing, and if they install fiber on that premise, then, should public policy mandate something different, they can shrug and say “maybe next time we build”. 

b.    The dialectic that might suggest other criteria for capacity, cost and capability of this system is impoverished in the absence of a larger vision shaping this “nervous system” by which the contemporary community, culture & commerce are conveyed