The Glass Engine

JRP Reflecting

Reflection – written June 24, 2002

The Glass Engine represents a very interesting new approach to searching and interacting with information. (Note: unfortunately it requires Microsoft Internet Explorer). I suspect you will be as impressed as I was when you see this remarkable technology prototype. It was developed by Mark Podlaseck at IBM’s Hawthorne, New York Research Laboratory. The project started when Philip Glass, the composer, asked what his catalog of music might look like online. Mark thought the music should be an integral part of the navigation experience, like it is when “surfing” the radio or television. He wanted to be immersed in the sound of it, making micro-decisions about whether he liked something or not as opposed to making arbitrary, uninformed decisions about whether he wanted to hear chamber music or film soundtracks, or Symphony #1, #2, #3, #4, or #5. 
Mark, explains that “radio and TV arrange their content along not very useful spectrums”. What would be a meaningful spectrum for us to use; title? date? mood? At some point, we could end up using all the attributes we can think of as what Mark calls “interconnected spectra”. This makes the catalog extremely porous, enabling you to insert yourself into the catalog just about anywhere and to express and explore the many characteristics of the content.
As a result of IBM’s early studies, it became evident that would-be power users wanted to interactively refine or personalize their view of the catalog and as a result they made the endpoints of each attribute adjustable. This makes very complex queries possible.
The potential of this technology goes beyond music. Potential applications and collaborations for the Glass Engine being considered include:

  • Using the glass engine to navigate artifacts in IBM’s egyptian culture project
  • Developing a prototype navigator with the CIA for their World Factbook
  • Same thing with Frans Lanting, the National Geographic photographer and about 2000 of his photographs

Some early feedback about the Glass Engine . . .

Some are saying that the Glass Engine is nothing short of genius. It clearly could be the missing link in content management as currently applied in the world today. There is a lot of good technology around but the point at which it inevitably breaks down is se arch_and_browse. According to David Walske, Information Architect, Glass Engine answers this problem with simple elegance of design and function that allows the user to interact with the content – not the UI – in a way that is so natural to the human thought process that the se arch_browse tool seems to disappear, gracefully acquiescing to the content itself.
Your Web site ( was selected as a Hot Site in today’s edition of a free and highly popular news service on the World Wide Web.
“This is the best site I ever saw.”
“I have just visited The Glass Engine website, and I have to say it is one of the most innovative sites I have ever seen. I hope you will use this site to promote other artists.”
“The results are very impressive! Beautiful presentation! Awesome!”

. . . and from Yahoo! Picks

March 15, 2002
IBM Glass Engine
Minimalist composer Philip Glass inspired the brilliant minds at IBM to create this labor of love. The beautifully designed Glass Engine allows users to immerse themselves in the composer’s work. Use an innovative Java application to select music by title, year, type of work, or length. If that doesn’t grab you, sort tunes based on subjective emotions such as joy and sorrow. Lighting the way is an elegant system of sliding bars.
Navigation can be a little tricky — we recommend reading the instructions. Once you’ve mastered the controls, a full sonic exploration awaits. (in Music)
IBM Glass Engine (Yahoo) – enables deep navigation of the music of Philip Glass. Personal interests, associations, and impulses guide the listener through an expanding selection of over sixty Glass works. (featured in Mar 2002)
“What a brilliant idea! As someone who is at a computer all day – every day and as someone who enjoys music while working and playing, I appreciate this site.”
“Ever since the demise of Napster I’ve been searching for a site that stores music, and provides it for the listening audience. I don’t care so much about downloading or “bootlegging” music as much as I do finding something worth listening too over a long period of time. I usually spend 10-12 hours a day at a terminal working and playing and studying so having a site that runs independent of swapping CD’s is wonderful.
Whenever I found a song on Napster I liked I usually tracked down the CD at my local music store so downloading isn’t a big thing for me.”
“This is certainly interesting, and I’d like to see more sites with this option. Again, thank you for making this site available. ”
“The Glass Engine is a remarkable site”
“I honestly think that the Glass Engine is THE best thing on the web.”

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