When I joined MAYA in November of 1997, I was excited by the ideas of new challenges, working on all types of user interfaces. I had found myself in previous jobs building user interfaces (a voice response application, an interface to compile large mainframe applications and run regression tests). During my first week I had a meeting with Peter Lucas, one of the founders of MAYA, to gain some insight into what MAYA is and what they were doing with Visage and Interstacks. After a couple of hours of Pete diagramming things on a whiteboard, talking in what seemed like a foreign language (it sounded like English, but with a bunch of odd words like “uforms,” “repositories,” “transducers,” etc.), I went home that night and wondered if I was in over my head.
It takes a little while to comprehend the larger vision of what MAYA is trying to accomplish: designing devices and user interfaces for the age of information liquidity and pervasive computing. During my first three years at MAYA, I was immersed in our VisageLink research project. The goals included experimenting with direct manipulation of data elements (cells in a table, items on a map, etc.) and the ability for two human beings to collaborate by sharing their views of the information in whatever way they each wanted to present it. We also experimented with a visual programming paradigm that made the code segments that could be easily reused and recomposed to perform different functions. We then experimented with taking the PC and breaking it into functional parts: a repository (something that stores information), an executor (something that processes that information), and transducers (something that allows the user to interact with the information). These projects, when taken separately, seem totally unrelated. But if you have the time to talk to Pete about his grand vision, you will soon understand (or at least nod your head and pretend that you understand for a while) that they are all little forays into the various aspects of the pervasive computing arena. And they focus on the challenges that will be present in this new world where computers are all around.
Now I’m in my 9th year of working for MAYA. There are still some things that I don’t fully understand and some things with which I don’t fully agree. There’s a lot of it that make perfect sense, and I can’t understand why people continue using tools that place so many constraints on their ability to visualize and analyze information. Things like uforms, infotrons, and transducers all make perfect sense now. Working at MAYA has affected the way I think about problems and how I attempt to solve them. The principles and ideas are infectious to all who work at MAYA—especially those of us who have been around for more than a few years. The problem is, it’s not easy. This is why we tackle a little bit at a time, drilling down on a particular problem, hoping to find an answer, and typically ending up with a few more questions.
A few months back, Pete gave a general overview of how the research that MAYA has done for the last 17 years is bearing fruit in various ways, and why MAYA will continue to do research and experiment in the future. The entire content of the talk is now up here on the Foundry, and it is much easier to understand than that first meeting I had with him. It reminded me of all the things that I had forgotten that I didn’t know or believed before I came to MAYA. For me, this was a nostalgic glimpse back at my early days at MAYA. It caused me to remember how much I wondered about what MAYA was trying to do, and I realized again how important it is to continue making progress on our research agendas, regardless of the challenges from the business perspective. We hope this is only the first of many such talks that we will be sharing with you.