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  • Designer needs understanding, badly.

Persona is an attempt to inject personality into the Firefox web browsing experience. A plug-in will visibly insert pictures and commentary into the page viewing frame.

Persona is an open plug-in, allowing users to program their commentary, annotations, links, and pictures to pop up across the web, in Persona-enabled web browsers. Download your friend's personality today! Or whenever I can get this thing to work.

4 April 2005 Status

Concept screenshots posted. Working now to specify possible plug-in architecure. Suggestions welcome!

Ranting and concepts described below:

Persona Concept

(adapted from this.)

At the Game Developer's Conference March 2005, Will Wright returned to the stage for the Game Designer's Challenge. He won last year; he seemed to want to deliberately throw the contest this year so he wouldn't return. After two other folks explained how they would make a video game based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Wright exploded Emily Dickinson into a operating system advisor, Tamagotchi meets Clippy meets Seaman. She has a will of her own, interrupting you as you write things, offering to show you her own poetry. You can chat with her, developing either a healthy relationship, unusual attachment, or driving her into despondency where she will delete herself from your computer in digital suicide.

Wright, as usual, provided a fantastic meandering through disparate disciplines in witty PowerPoint and wry geekery. To his chagrin, the audience re-elected him the winner, ensuring that more of his brilliance will be shared at successive Game Designer's Challenges.

His rueful expression afterwards seemed to betray his disinterest in the prize. His idea played like a joke, but it was brilliant - after setting up Emily Dickinson, the historic poet buddy distributed by USB keychain, Wright suggested that Karl Marx might make his way into your operating system, debating the dialectic as you were web surfing CNN. It was inspiring, a provocation - computer environments shape our minds. Why not reject the desktop and bland professional metaphors in favor of a literary or critical operating system persona?

Two science fiction stories come to mind - one, George Alec Effinger: his When Gravity Fails a 1987 cyberpunk novel explores drug-saturated Muslim-inflected post-future New Orleans. Street hustlers push two types of chips into their brains: moddies, and daddies. Daddies give you a new skill, Moddies give you a new personality. Assume the behavior and mindset of a porn star. Of a pro athelete. Of a super-spy. Fictional or historical figures were sold to people as brain implants, so they might inhabit other personalities.

In Philip K. Dick's 1964 novel Martian Time-Slip "teaching machines," robots with rich historical AIs, educate youth through dialog. Clusters of students gather around animatronic Aristotle, having a chance to pull old textual wisdom from interactive experiences.

The idea of rich, deep, artificial personalities for educational has mixed blessings for Dick. The Teaching Machines are agents of an old order perpetuating delusional myths for people who become unhealthily attached to the custom responses. At the same time, the teaching machines monitor the respondents, and normalizes them.

In spite of any misgivings in this area, Effinger's active marketplace in total entertainment persona experience rings true. The idea of packaging and distributing computational entities might seem soul-selling, but perhaps inevitable and some day, even divine.

Portable personalities will become increasingly valuable as we work to develop complex artificial intelligences. We might imagine a great character created for a video game, a character so rich in interaction or personality, they are moved from title to title. Lord British is one of the first, and most persistent, examples of this.

Will Wright's Historical-Character USB key is inspiring because the user interacts with these creations as they compute. There's not a sense of a deliberate chat window, or a chosen interaction, rather that you have this character accompanying you on your travels through cyberspace. I'd like to make a portable plug-in Justin, making myself available to accompany web surfers. And then, to leave the architecture open, so other people might insert themselves as in-frame commentators.

Some Conceptual Links:

Will Wright's USB Personality Treatment: Synthetic Cafe, WiredNews, Slashdot, GameSpot, GameDev, GameSpy

Note: If you want to add an area for user feedback to any of your pages, take a look at the notes.html template.

The persona project can be contacted through the mailing list or the member list.
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