The Digital Village

Richard Harris

Research Director

Research Director: Someone who does the wild-eyed, arm-waving visionary bit, then clears off and leaves everyone else to pick up the pieces and make it happen.

Flavour of the moment: h2g2.OnTheMove: the Hitchhiker's Guide made real.
Planning the services, functionality and interaction models that are extending h2g2 to the wireless world, and ultimately to becoming a ubiquitous guide to life, the universe and everything. At a WAP phone near you, now.

As TDV's Research Director, I'm responsible for co-ordinating the future roadmap for h2g2 –  its philosophy and principles, strategy, architecture and technologies. My time is spent working with our teams to map out what we can, might and should be doing and then starting to building the technical and commercial partnerships that will make it happen.

To make h2g2 an effective and compelling service, it's umportant that we understand the relationships between its content, the communities of common interest that emerge around it and the processes we use to deliver it. We need to evolve and continuously refine our understanding of how those relationships work for each delivery mechanism we use, by creating a dialogue between the creative process and the capabilities and limitations of the devices and channels. We also need to understand and support the complexity and dynamics of the emergent communities that build around our content. And how to make money out of it. Useful, that.

My primary research interest is the development of information ecologies — extensible, dynamic virtual information spaces in which people, their agents and their avatars can interact with content and with each other. I've a touching (and probably naive) belief in the applicability of biological models and processes to the evolution of functional systems and have thereby found myself involved with A-Life, in particular with the proto-discipline of Cyberbiology and recently helped organise the 1998 Biota II Cyberbiology conference in Cambridge, England.

All of the above lead to an abiding interest in the potential and actual impact of communications technology on society and the environment, so, following Alan Kay's maxim that the best way to predict the future is to invent it (and then apply for the research funds to make it happen), I advise the EU Fifth Framework programme on the definition and/or review of several initiatives, including the Information Ecosystems and the Disappearing Computer (computing as the fabric of society) programmes and the AMUSEMENT (Emotional computing) project.

I also provide a degree of strategic and technology support to various friends, including particularly The Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund and Comic Relief.

By way of background, I'm an evolutionary biologist /ecologist with a side order of computer science and games writing, which qualify me to do anything in general and nothing in particular. in whimsical moments, I'll describe myself as a Chaos Architect – an oxymoron which expresses the contradictions inherent in a role that's all about how TDV develops and supports its services in the complex and Chaotic (that's C, not c) environment of the Internet.

Before becoming one of the founders of TDV, I was managing director of The Internet People, an early strategic web consultancy. I was the founder of the Surrey Web, an on-line community service that sought to integrate the virtual and physical worlds of the public, private and community sectors. Before that, I spent many years as a consultant with Hyperion, the e-commerce and convergence consultancy. My formative years were spent as a commercial developer and consultant, a research developer with SERC, a nature conservation systems developer and strategist and a museum wildlife education gallery designer. All that was after reluctantly deciding that being a ski bum probably wasn't going to be the most challenging of post-University careers. A pity - it was a good way of avoiding gainful employment.

I've been an Internet user and developer intermittently since 1979 - I sadly still number amongst my possessions a printout of every machine address on the networks from about that period - it runs to about 30 pages...

I write fantasy role-playing games; am an enthusiastic but very amateur Egyptologist and an enthusiastic but very bad singer. Other pastimes & obsessions include ski-ing, walking, cycling, motorcycling, acting and theatrical set design, photography and Maine Coon cats. In realspace, you'll find me hanging around London's Covent Garden, various bars and restaurants in San Francisco and the depths of rural Surrey.


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(c) 1998 The Digital Village