From a More Civilized Age
Friday, October 10 2008

Last post, I discussed the set of projects I had to accomplish this semester/year. Since that time, in between my mother coming to visit, various installments of homework, and needless drama with JHUMagic, I’ve managed to get some major work done on one of them: Mnikr.

As I mentioned, Mnikr (pronounced “Moniker,” which, as it turns out, some people don’t know how to pronounce either; it’s mawn-ih-ker, like “Fawn Is Curled”) is the overarching name for the work I’m doing for my Master’s thesis this year. It is also, however, a set of useful tools I hope to build to solve a variety of issues that have been annoying me. The first component of Mnikr that I’ve built is Mnikr Cards, at

Mnikr Cards is a pretty simple, and yet (I hope) elegant, solution to a problem of the modern era. When I want to give someone contact information, I don’t really have a great way to make that happen. If I’m carrying them (and I try to), I have a set of Moo MiniCards that I can give out; they’ve got my stylized picture on the front, and a bit of contact information on the back (just a name, email address, website, and GPG key). This is fine, and I like having them– but that’s all they do. Also, a surprising number of people are put off in some way by their small form factor; while I think it’s unique and different, people seem to want to make sure that their stacks of cards can all align neatly, and my cards prevent that.

So style is one problem, and obviously, I could solve that by just printing the same information on a full-sized business card. That would not, however, solve the next problem: a printed card does only one thing. Once I’ve sent them to the printing presses, that’s it; they’re finalized, and no matter how much I want them to transform to a particular need– say, if I have someone to whom I want to give a different email address, or who I’d like to send straight to a resume, blog entry, or LOLcat– they won’t change.

The third problem, although not one often thought about either by me or my disreputable Web 2.x friends, is simply elegance; my MiniCards, while “cute,” aren’t really elegant. They aren’t appropriate, say, for an extravagant soiree. (Do I ever go to these? No. But it’s the principle of the thing.) They’re too business-y for many things, I can’t use them to convey other sorts of messages, they’re too wordy (even with their stated minimalism), etc.

To solve this last problem, we can turn to a previous age; social cards used to be the accepted norm for gentlemen (and ladies) to carry for precisely this reason. A whole system of mannerisms and codes grew around them; that link is to a good article on all of it. This doesn’t solve the problem of static content, however; even though they’re now the right size, and more elegant, they’re still printed on bits of dead tree.

Mnikr Cards, then, steps in to provide the full solution. It’s a web service that generates unique URLs for users; each can be individually customized to provide a unique message to whoever accesses that particular URL. Each URL can be tracked by its user (to see if it’s been accessed), reassigned, or destroyed at any time, and the URLs are random, to prevent people from finding them merely through snooping (as is possible, say, with TinyURL). The coup de gras, however, is that it’s tied to the Moo API, allowing users to send a batch of cards (up to 50) to Moo to be printed. The style is very understated by default– just a name and URL, as you can see here– but people can add additional things to the flip side of the card. (Eventually, I’ll add in more customization options to the application; at the moment, however, nothing stops someone from using it for URLs and making their own tokens.) The URLs themselves can contain a note of any length, a URL, or both, allowing for a wide range of possibilities for their use. There’s also no indication on the URLs of the username (or even actual name) of the person responsible– so they can be used in many situations in which disclosure of a variety of contact information is undesirable. (Do you really want to give your work email address to any person you meet?)

The whole thing, of course, is also OpenID-enabled, so it can just fit neatly into your corner of the social web; no need for yet another username and password for a site you might not use every day.

Hopefully some people will find it useful, or at least interesting; I’ve already started to use these cards for a few things, which I find quite enjoyable. For my part, it’s now time for me to move onto the first “thesis-y” stage of Mnikr; hopefully I’ll post something fun about that soon, and post something else entirely sooner.

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