pre://d.o.mai.n: The Interview, Part 1

With his sci-fi thriller pre://do.mai.n, author Christopher Godsoe isn’t interested in painting a dystopian vision for the future — society as we know it can be ugly enough. That is, until you’re prepared to fight for it.

In this wide-ranging interview, Chris expands on the themes in the book, considers the implications of technology’s march towards augmented reality, and looks at what’s next for the planned three-book series.

pre://d.o.mai.n • By Christoper Godsoe • 395pp • Released December 2nd, 2013 

Note: This is my second in a series of three posts covering the launch of Christopher Godsoe’s new sci-fi thriller, pre://do.mai.n, available online today. Read my review of pre://d.o.mai.n, online now. Coming on Wednesday, part 2 of my interview, where we talk about Chris’ experiences writing the book and his take on the current state of publishing.

predomain_coverAlthough the book takes place 24 years in the future, two of its main themes are recognizable to anybody who pays attention in 2013: Economic inequality seems to be increasing dramatically,  and the police/surveillance state, aided by technology, is encroached in nearly all aspects of life. Tell me how you came to pick these as the central challenges Miles (the main character) must face, and how you feel they rate among the big challenges we face in this time?

I find it hard to overstate their importance. There are plenty of other challenges that might be more pressing in the short term, such as clean air, water, food and global warming, but economic equality (to the extent that it exists today) and the omnipresent surveillance/police state are slowly robbing us of what this country possessed more than anyone else, and that is creative problem solving and unshakeable optimism. Innovation is not an efficient process. It requires risks to be taken when trying out unproven ideas, and when 99% of the population is forced to make due with disproportionately less than the top 1%, then innovation halts. That 99% are forced to spend their money and time on proven processes and products because they just can’t afford to take risks. When you’re stuck worrying about paying for food every week, there is less leeway to try new cuisine and to learn new things, because you can’t afford for it to not work out as well as what you have already been doing.

Most families in this country are living week to week, if they take a risk like going back to school to better themselves and find out they can’t make it work, the financial aftermath will be so prolonged and difficult that they will probably never take another risk again. That’s not in 2037, that’s happening now. Even if you witness someone else go through something like that, it’s discouraging.

The constant surveillance of our own people goes hand in hand with that. I believe that if you treat people like criminals, eventually they will cease to see the benefit in proving you wrong. If they are already facing many of the consequences of breaking the law, the deterrents of the justice system lose their teeth. The saddest part of all of this being that there are citizens in this country that are worse off than many of the criminals. How sad is it that there are people out there that break the law just so they can get warm meals in prison?

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Author Christopher Godsoe

I think it’s common to eye new technology with skepticism. The printing press, the telephone, the internet, cell phones…..all of them at one point were seen and contributing to the downfall of society. It’s common to fear that which you don’t understand, because as you said, there is the possibility that our ability to use them will always precede our ability to use them for good. I believe that the evolution of technology will eventually bring us together more than it tears us apart. The current “growing pains” we are going through in regards to social media stem from us getting used to having more and more of our lives out there in the open.

Our thoughts spread further, our lies are more easily discovered. I see our relationship with technology much like a human being learning to speak, and only discovering the problems that saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can bring once they’ve already done it. As a species, we make mistakes. It’s what we do. It’s how we learn, it’s how we grow, and it’s how we become better. Even our muscles are designed to come back stronger from the minute tears caused by exercise. So I don’t really see technology as the downfall of civilization. We learn new lessons from each new paradigm of communication, and we carry those lessons with us. The printing press taught us that our words can outlive us, so we should choose them carefully. The telephone taught us that our words can be just as effective when we are not present as when we are. The internet taught us that the form of communication isn’t as important as what is being said, and that with anonymity, there isn’t always a burden of proof. People need to be their own judge of character, to question what they see and measure everything they’ve hear against everything they’ve heard. If the end result of social media is that we stop lying to each other so much, for fear of discovery, I will consider it useful.

Without giving too much away, two of the main characters in the book are on quests: Miles is seeking a cure for his mother’s cancer (not really a spoiler as that’s explained early); Maldovan is attempting to make up for a personal failure in his past. Though both are altruistic in their goals, they are both also willing to compromise ethically on their methods. Is the book making the case that the ends justify the means (particularly if the ‘ends’ are destructive), as long as the ends are noble to the person seeking them? Even in a society where many people feel an increasing lack of control compared to governments and corporations, is there any downside to this type of reactionary justice? 

minimomI think that we are all products of circumstance. I also think that, as stated earlier, nobility and creativity are often the first things to go during lean times. I tried very hard to avoid making distinctions between right and wrong in the book. Not because I’m not capable of doing so, but because I wanted people to decide for themselves. I find a healthy debate to be far more useful than simply handing out answers. There is an ambiguity to some of the events in the book, and intentionally so. Before I set out to write it, I wrote down three things I wanted to say/questions I wanted the reader to have to answer.

1. What would you do if you were in Miles’ situation. Would you risk prison to save someone you love?

2. Is the concept of telling right from wrong a social agreement, capable of changing/evolving, or static?

3. What is more important in someones life-Their relationship to their work or their relationships to other people? Why?

Above, I indicated that I think we are all products of circumstance. Sitting there in your livingroom or office, reading this interview, the concept of killing another person is abhorrent. At 2AM, when an intruder is preparing to shoot one of your family members inside of your own house, most people would feel differently. Sure, you could rationalize it by saying that the intruder made the choice for you by breaking into your house and threatening your family, but you still in the end made the choice that the life of your family member was more important than that of the intruder. Even if for no other reason than you were the one holding the gun, you still took it upon yourself to make a horrible decision. Most of the time, our decisions in life are not that obviously justifiable, nor are we able to judge the consequences so easily.

I think that in the end, if you can sleep at night (and you’re not a psychopath), then the ends can be seen justifying the means. In Miles instance, the government and insurance/pharmaceutical companies were an intruder threatening the life of someone he loved. Maldovan’s situation is much less dire, but he’s also not being asked to break the law to correct it. It’s all a gray area, and it’s important for us to ask questions of propriety like that, it’s the only way to refine our sense of fairness and justice.

In the book, Miles finds himself repeatedly struggling with how to feel towards some incredibly life-like, but decidedly not human, co-conspirators. In some cases he feels guilty about treating virtual people like machines; only to then feel strange when he treats them like people. This awkward inner battle will only grow more real as our technology continues to evolve — how do you think us outside the book will adapt to the continuing anthropomorphism of our technology?

Sadly, with fear. At least, initially. We have been constantly fed a diet of robots/artificial intelligences/androids as warmongers in the media. Many view the singularity, the point in the future where artificial intelligence becomes self aware, as the beginning point of the downfall of civilization. Fear sells movie tickets, it’s easy to manufacture, and it works on almost everyone. As products go, it’s pretty effective. Our government seems to mainly consist of different lobbies clamoring for the microphone, all trying to tell us what new thing we should be afraid of today. So far, they’ve been resigned to pointing the finger at other governments, different religions, chemicals and new ways of doing things. Eventually, synthetic organisms will evolve to being able to make their own choices, and small-minded people will be afraid of that. They’ve been told that the inevitable conclusion will be all out war for the planet, so they will prepare crippling legislation in an attempt to control it. The government sees themselves as the only real authority to be trusted, and even amongst themselves that’s not something they can agree on most of the time. Synthetics will likely get it from all sides, because in a sense they are free agents, not beholden to a specific country or religion. They will have no allies, outside of the corporations that gave birth to them in their original form, and that support will fade once they start making their own calls.

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A pair of augmented reality glasses worn by characters in the near-future of pre://d.o.mai.n

It’s happened before, many times over. With women. With African Americans. With Homosexuals. It takes time to prove to the powers that be that they are wrong. Eventually we get it right, but there’s always an ugly adjustment period. I take the fact that we aren’t turning fire hoses on the Gay Pride Parade as a good sign of progress, of hope that we are learning from our mistakes. The farmyard made fun of Chicken Little, but he has nothing on us humans. 

Other than the themes covered in the book, what other big challenges do you feel we’re facing that you either didn’t have room to include, or might like to cover in another book? 

Good question! In each of the books moving forward, I have specific themes I want to explore. Some of the more important ones include overpopulation, (both in the traditional sense and in regards to the prison system) the further exploration of “self”, how religion might evolve or clash against upcoming advances in technology, and how the technology introduced in this book and the ones to come will shape our lives in unexpected ways. In Maine we’re no stranger to severe weather, and it’s not until the power goes out that we realize how much technology impacts our lives. 

I’m making the book sound like it’s all about grand societal challenges even though it’s also pretty crude and funny at times. There are a number of few funny moments; my favorites are when Miles interacts with others. How do you decide when to balance the crude and/or funny with the high stakes that the characters are facing? Do those parts write themselves as you get to know the character, or do you make sure to place them throughout to lighten up the tone?

I wanted all of the characters to be realistic, and realistic people are often crude. We like to think we’ve progressed past vulgarity and crude jokes, but the reason they are still around is that they’re still funny. It’s useful to remember that we’re all just people, not the titles our professions give us or the expectations placed on us by others. People don’t always react to every situation appropriately, and I for one hope we never do. It’s been said that variety is the spice of life, but I think it’s vulgarity. Comedians that swear as a part of their act generally do better, and videogames with graphic content outsell everything else. I think for all of our posturing as a society, we enjoy vulgarity and crudeness more than we like to admit. There will always be people that get offended, that think that the vulgarity is itself the problem, but I think that accepting the part of ourselves that laughs at it is more progressive than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. 

Miles seems to be incredibly self-aware of his own discomfort with people, yet remains kind and optimistic throughout, and tenaciously so (thinking of when he returns to visit an ex-girlfriend even after awkward encounters). Is Miles’ self-awareness and willingness to be comfortable with himself a major factor in his coping with his mother’s illness and the challenges it brings?

He has spent much of the past year working internally to overcome the feelings of his mothers illness, and it’s something that has changed who he is as a person on a fundamental level. There are only brief references to how he took things for granted before her diagnosis, but he mostly sees past all the negative parts of his personality now, because of how we tend to remember only the parts we want to. His introspection is a product of that, and in a sense he doesn’t yet have a chance to turn it off. He doesn’t have anything in his life to fill that gap, so when he runs into his ex girlfriend he’s reluctant to push her away. He knows it’s probably a bad idea to try to reconnect with her, but he’s lonely and on a subconscious level very lost emotionally. He feels hollowed out, empty, and thinks that whatever new human interaction he can get has to be better than sitting in his room wishing there was more he could do. He’s also in his way preparing for the possibility of his mothers death by making new connections that can survive her.

Maine readers will recognize familiar street names and places — including Bangor — though in the pre://d.o.mai.n future, Bangor has grown into a metropolitan area with large businesses, an FBI field office, and its own major league baseball team (and yes — spoiler alert — we beat the Yankees). Since it seems unlikely based on current trends that we’ll be that big in 20 years, are you subtly suggesting some kind of population explosion and/or economic expansion in near-future America? Or is Bangor’s appearance as a city a matter of using the familiar but also wanting a metro area for the plot of the book?

I wanted something familiar, but I also think that as areas such as Boston and New York are nearing critical mass as far as population density. When that happens, those with the means to do so will leave, to seek out places with less population density (and the crime that tends to come with it). Their egos will make them want to live in a place that is better to raise children in, less congested, friendlier. The only problem being that a lot of people think like that, and none of them would likely care that they are just transplanting the same issues into a new location. Global warming will push people North as well, assuming everything continues on a trajectory similar to what we’ve been experiencing. Twenty years isn’t enough time to convert Bangor into a metropolis on the order of New York City, but I think that it could easily surpass where Portland, Oregon or Seattle are now in that timeframe, and both of those cities have/had professional sports franchises.

One of the things I think you do really well in the book is show how the technology we use today might evolve just two decades from now (the book takes place in 2037). Rather than the unlimited opportunities for flying cars and superhuman powers that the distant future offers, the tech in pre://d.o.mai.n feels for the most part like a natural evolution of what we’ve got in our pockets right now. With this in mind, could you make the case that PD isn’t even sci-fi in the traditional sense? Is it more of a present-day quest story, and/or a love story, enabled by technology that may be even closer to reality than you portray in the book?

All of the technology in pre://d.o.mai.n exists in some form today. Most of it is in labs, only functional under very tightly controlled environments, but it works. I wanted to bridge the gap between the traditional “Space Opera/Star Trek” level of technology with today, because I don’t think enough time has been spent in literature exploring that period. I wanted the technology to still be recognizable, similar enough to what we have today for people that don’t commonly read science fiction to be able to relate to it, but I also wanted to see if I could combine what we have now in new and interesting ways.  We are just now starting to see the beginnings of that with products like Google Glass, Microsoft Kinect, and the like. In many ways, we are living in the golden age of technology, when many things we only dreamed about as kids are becoming real products you can pick up at your local big box store. That gap I spoke about leaves a lot of room to work between our inevitable space-faring future and now, and it’s those stories that I have always found most interesting. Space Operas are great, but they almost seem like Fantasy because the rules can be made up as you go along. Want to tell a story about people able to fly by flapping wings attached to their arms? Just drop them off on a world with a dense atmosphere and low specific gravity. It feels disconnected from what we have in front of us today, and while they can often be a blast to read, I wanted to do something different. I would be incredibly happy if a healthy debate arises around this book as how best to classify it. It would mean that I’ve succeeded in creating something new, something searching for an open niche, and ultimately something that gets people talking. I consider pre://d.o.mai.n to be science fiction, cataloged somewhere between post-cyberpunk and speculative fiction.

You mention this being “Book 1” of the d.o.mai.n series. Can you talk about where you are in the writing process for a book 2, and what might be in store for these characters? 

I am near the beginning of book two, which will be titled “darknet.” In book two, Miles will not be the main character, though he will certainly be involved and have plenty to keep himself busy. His relationships with the other characters will evolve, and he will have to make a tough decision before the end of book two. The current draft centers around Theo Atkins, who is only briefly mentioned in this book. We learn more about ATLAS, as he takes a more central role in the narrative as well. Leading off, the d.o.mai.n system is nearing it’s launch, and while working out bugs and beta testing it they discover someone has been using it for illegal activities. All indications point to Theo, as it’s a new system and the number of people who would know it well enough to exploit it are few. Theo will have to partner with ATLAS (who he has known a lot longer than Miles has) in order to clear his name. The remaining books in the series are all slightly different varieties of science fiction, but fit within the larger meta arc of the characters nicely. 

Coming on Wednesday, December 4th: Part 2 of this interview, covering Chris’ experiences writing the book.

In a pre://d.o.mai.n world, like our own, “Dreams Are Born From Experience”

With his sci-fi thriller pre://do.mai.n, author Christopher Godsoe isn’t interested in painting a dystopian vision for the future — society as we know it can be ugly enough. That is, until you’re prepared to fight for it.

pre://d.o.mai.n • By Christoper Godsoe • 395pp • Released December 2nd, 2013 

Note: This is my first in a series of three posts covering the launch of pre://do.mai.n, available online today. Up next: a wide-ranging, in-depth interview with Chris on the book and the story behind his writing process.

Over nearly 400 pages, pre://do.mai.n is a conflicted, sometimes cynical, but nevertheless fun and fast-paced story that artfully jousts with the shared optimism and skepticism we have for our near future.

predomain_coverWhen the book opens, we learn that a cure for cancer exists, suggesting one of our collective great hopes; we quickly learn it’s only available to the wealthy, nodding to the ever-present debate about income inequality in a country where unemployment remains frustratingly high and even our fix for a costly healthcare system is broken.

It gets more complicated from there: In the near future of pre://do.mai.n our smartphones can display alternate realities, our eyes can record and receive information, and self-driving cars have arrived, though all manner of advancements are endlessly exploited in equal turns by both criminals and corporations, each one fighting to use the tools for what they deem as justified causes, each one willing to ignore or event accept the destructive consequences of their own selfish quests.

In the middle of it all is Miles Torvalds, a 21-year-old Maine resident and technophile whose mother is dying from the now-curable “big C”. Because Miles and his parents are roughly middle class — the book does a subtle job of showing the real middle class, not the mansion-owning, BMW-driving middle class of TV sitcoms — they’re unable to afford the cure, leaving the increasingly cynical Miles with a choice: Should he use an expensive and powerful gift from his cousin (and best friend) to try and save his Mom, and by extension his broken family? Can he bend the technology — and the people and organizations that control it — to his simple goal — through pure determination.

These are heavy themes, though to its credit, pre://do.mai.n doesn’t make the answers easy or quick, and nobody’s a convenient “roll your eyes” hero in the process. That said, it’s also a fun ride, with shots of black and crude humor throughout. There’s even true love and friendship, in a surprising amount of forms — between fathers and sons, cousins; even cyborgs and things beyond human are human enough to feel.

In his first full-length novel, Godsoe skillfully paints a picture of near-future technologies, while drawing from hot topics in today’s news to challenge his characters to overcome adversity, relax their own strangleholds on the past, question their current reality, and maybe, just maybe, find a cure without losing themselves in the process. Through all the cynicism over the corruption and ignorance of government and technology, it’s a pretty optimistic future if our human — and even our non-human — selves can reflect, regret, revise, and still dream.

I had a chance to interview Chris to coincide with the launch of pre://do.mai.n in bookstores and online today. I broke my interview up into two parts: Part 1 covers the book and is online today; Part 2 covers Chris’ experiences writing the book and appears here on Wednesday.

New: Zoom Shots focuses in on makers, their work, and their process

zoom-shots-booksWhen my friend, author Chris Godsoe, offered up review copies of his new book pre://d.o.mai.n (available on Amazon.com and BN.com today!), I jumped at the chance to get an advance peek at the book and support an author.

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Christopher Godsoe, author of the new sci-fi thriller pre://d.o.mai.n

At the same time, I figured it might be a good chance to tweak my always-in-progress site, so with the launch of Chris’ book today, I’m happy to announce a new feature on my site: Zoom Shots, an occasional, ongoing series taking an in-depth look at both makers (writers, designers, filmmakers, musicians, web developers, etc.), as well as the product of their craft. I’ll be doing long-form interviews, reviews, and other content designed to give artists and their work a close, and occasionally skeptical, look.

First up is Christopher Godsoe, author of the new sci-fi thriller pre://d.o.mai.n: Check out my review of the book, and part one of my interview with Chris. Coming Wednesday, part 2 of my interview covers Chris’ experiences writing the book and his thoughts on what’s next for publishing in an age of Kindles and tablets.

Zoom Shots are intentionally long reads, and they look great on mobile, so grab a seat and let me know what you think! And if you know of somebody would would make a great subject, send them my way!

Changes

misc_workerLast Friday was a bittersweet day for me, as I walked out of RainStorm world headquarters for the final time after 8 years of working/playing there. If you haven’t heard of them, it’s a group of people that does great work with some willing clients. For my part, I often didn’t log my time under anything besides “Misc.” (see the helpful post it note attached by my former co-worker Evan), but I did learn a lot from my co-workers and the projects we undertook, and I had a great time in the process. Some highlights include building a network of adult education websites for Maine, designing and evolving systems for sales and project management, and the many, many shenanigans (like this) that were had over the years.

The happy news is that I’ve now joined 10up as a Senior Web Strategist, helping the team of 40+ designers, engineers and project managers build some crazy awesome websites and applications on WordPress, the world’s best publishing platform. A week into my time at 10up, and I’m already learning from many of the great people here. I’m looking forward to continuing to create and promote ideas on the web, taking the best memories along with me, and making more ahead.

Apple’s software problems are worse than flat vs. glossy

Leading up to the expected release of iOS7, there’s been much speculation online about whether or not Apple will adopt a more “flat” design aesthetic for its aging mobile operating system. The company’s skeumorphic, or natural, designs have come under fire from fans and foes alike, who charge it’s overkill now that users are aware of how to use touch interfaces and competitors are rolling out fresher designs.

Screenshot of i0S icons

It will be interesting to see how iOS7 addresses these challenges (if it does), but I think Apple has a bigger problem on its hands: The company’s mobile software apps themselves are stagnant– not only in design, but more importantly, in functionality and interoperability.

Take a look at the image: It’s a screenshot of my iPhone’s final screen, which contains only two folders: The “Newstand” folder which sits perpetually empty, but Apple won’t let me delete, and then an entire folder titled “Unused”.

Why would I need a folder labeled “Unused”, if I can simply delete apps I no longer want or need? It’s because I can’t delete them – all of the apps (eight total) in my “Unused” folder are there because they’re stock apps provided by Apple as part of i0S6. Forget the fact that it’s spammy to force me to keep apps I don’t want – the real problem is why those apps sit unused in the first place. Quite simply, it’s because they’re outdone by better, faster, and/or more integrated apps provided by third-parties- many of them Apple’s competitors.

  • If I want the weather, I use Yahoo or Weather.com’s fantastic apps, which are both much better in terms of the data they provide and the design they wrap it in.
  • My default iOS calendar is replaced by Sunrise, a largely unknown startup that has nevertheless succeeded in producing a much more useful and integrated calendar than Apple has been able to in the six years since iOS debuted.
  • For Maps, I use Google’s outstanding Google Maps app, which is (subjectively) nicer, but more importantly, significantly more accurate and data-rich.
  • Finally, there’s the browser- arguably the second or third-most-important app on a smartphone after the Twitter or texting apps. Here, Apple’s stock Safari browser app is beaten by Google Chrome, which despite being slower than Safari, still gets the call for me based on having full integration with my bookmarks and browser history on my desktop version of Chrome. Typing URLs is one of the biggest pains on a phone, and Chrome makes that problem virtually non-existent by syncing my history across devices.
  • The list goes on: That list doesn’t even address Compass, Notepad, and Voice Memos, which I’ve used two or three times ever. While Passbook may become interesting in the future, right now it’s a an app that serves no purpose due to its limited options. It’s sad that I can’t just remove it until it becomes interesting to me.

So what can Apple do to ensure that its mobile OS stays the world’s most popular – or at least most-loved?

  • Allow non-standard apps to be set as defaults. This is the #1 must-have feature of any next version of iOS.
  • Allow non-standard apps to be deleted, or at least hidden in some meaningful way. This move would give Apple more insight into how users feel about their native apps; it also provides a clear interface
  • Improve and modernize not just the UI of their OS, but the functionality of the apps as well.

These long-overdue changes don’t signal the “Android-ification” of Apple’s mobile OS- rather, they show that the company slowly losing its lead to Samsung, Google, and whoever’s next should make some obvious enhancements that will make users far happier than any aesthetic trend.

The ending of The Great Gatsby (audio recording)

I never read The Great Gatsby in school, so with the movie coming out, I decided now would be a good time to catch up. I’m glad I did, because I absolutely loved the book – it’s an instant classic for me thanks to the poetry of Fitzgerald’s prose.

Before I returned the book to the library, I recorded a brief snippet of the absolutely fantastic, beautiful, and heartbreaking ending. If you haven’t read the book, I recommend you read it first – if you have, it’s almost definitely worth reading again. In the meantime, here’s the ending:

10 years of blogging at jasonclarke.org

Today marks 10 years since the first blog post on this site. I’ve owned the domain name for about 2 years prior to that – Archive.org lists October 2001 as the first recorded date– but used it mostly as a testing ground until 2003.

When I started this site, it was built on my own homemade content management system, which ran until 2005, when I finally switched over to WordPress. Over 500+ posts, here are a few of my favorites:

In 2003, I recommended people check out ESPN’s up and coming sportswriter Bill Simmons. In 2004, I announced the launch of my book. In 2006, I covered a Maine-centric blogging/media scandal; in 2007, I declared Twitter to be a “fad”. Later in 2007, I got press credentials for a presidential debate.

I’ve covered my home state of Maine’s media and politics, followed the evolution of blogging, and made a lot of lists! Finally, here’s a category that collects my favorite writing over the last 10 years.

Thank you for visting my site these past ten years – I hope you’ll stay tuned for the next 10!

 

The new news cycle

If you saw an interesting story on network or cable news yesterday…

…It was on Facebook yesterday;

…It was on Twitter a few days ago;

…But it was on Reddit at least a week ago.

Trying out a public revision process

"revision/procrastination" by Flickr user wenday

“revision/procrastination” by Flickr user wenday

With the launch of this latest version of my site (roughly my fifth iteration since 2006), I’m experimenting with two new features I’d love to see on other blogs: a changelog and a roadmap.

Yes, it might seem strange to have these two software and/or enterprise-oriented features on a tiny personal site, but why not? If a changelog can show users the progress of software, why not a website? And the same with a roadmap: It might not matter what’s ahead for this particular blog, but what if bigger sites like ESPN or Zeldman.com published public roadmaps, giving visitors a peek into their plans and their processes?

As a developer, and as a reader, I’d love to see more of these types of transparent peeks into the past and future of websites – both large and small.

Update: Nice! The Verge publishes a Version History.