Sean Treadway, Programmer and partner in SUPERCHANNEL
DB/ How did you meet SUPERFLEX and when did you start working together?
ST/ I met SUPERFLEX in a social context. Signe (my girlfriend) and I went over to Jakob’s house for a house-warming dinner. I hadn’t met them before this but had heard a little bit through Signe and my flat-mates Lene and Ulrik.
Jakob had just returned from Japan and was still pretty jet-lagged. With a little small talk about, “Hey, what do you do, why were you in Japan, blah blah,” I found out that they wanted to do something on the internet with chat and video and other things. In Seattle my last job was with RealNetworks which provides tools for streaming media over the internet. I told them about using this technology and how they could possibly set stuff up to get it done (on the back of an envelope…).
A couple of weeks later they called me up and asked if I would like to work on it with them. I thought a little about it and decided that I could maybe help out. Things led to things, we spent some time hanging out together and connected socially, which ended up with us connecting professionally.
We spent a lot of time talking about what they had in mind and the purpose of the project. I felt inspired because I had worked on making the products that we were going to use. I could now get a feeling for the purpose of what I had been doing back at RealNetworks. Their social perspectives inspired me, and since I was looking for work (or rather, residency through work), it seemed they could provide that as well as purpose in the work that I would do.
So I guess we met around the end of January and started working together around the middle of February.
DB/ So, they motivated you through their project to develop something in your field?
ST/ I would say that they motivated me into exploring the potential of what was possible in my field. I knew how all the tools worked but didn’t have a good idea about what was possible with combining the tools for a purpose. What SUPERFLEX are good at is generating ideas and they had plenty of ideas for the SUPERCHANNEL.
The motivation came from that (exploring an aspect of my field), and working with some cool guys to do something valuable in a way not related to money, i.e. making a difference. Money has been the last thing on our minds when developing the concept and site.
BS/ How does your cooperation with SUPERFLEX work? Are you involved in the discussions about the use, the future of SUPERCHANNEL etc.?
ST/ I am with this cooperation. I feel like I am able to be involved to any degree. Currently we are doing some long-term planning. I don’t really think of the project as THEM and ME. More like US. The planning is and has been a joint effort.
Along the process we have had the feeling like we all want the same things for the SUPERCHANNEL and only recently we have vocalised that, confirming that we are all thinking in the same direction.
BS/ What exactly did you do at RealNetworks?
ST/ I was an intern, then contractor for the core server deve-lopment team. I did a number of projects. The two big ones are: I started developing a proxy for their old and new protocols PNA, and RTSP. A proxy takes the data from one place and moves it to another, and is very useful in situations where there are security or bandwidth issues from one place to another. It is sold as a solution for network administrators to give their users a better experience.
This is marketed as the “RealProxy”. Ironically, the RealProxy is going to be something that the SUPERCHANNEL is going to need in the near future. It will allow us to build the SUPERCHANNEL into something more accessible to more people in the world.
I also designed some plugins that interact with other media clients that mostly exist in the Unix world using the network protocol multicast, and the streaming protocol RTP (Real Time Protocol). There are a couple of different philosophies on how to stream media over the internet, especially when it comes to live events. What I did was proof-of-concept that the RealSystem G2 (the Server, Client, and programming interface) could be extended to accommodate any streaming media task.
This is marketed as “Scalable Multicast” So, to sum it up, I worked with the ‘plumbing’, everything behind the scenes, the moving of the media from one place to another. I left Real (to come to Copenhagen) before the projects were completed, but I believe they were left in good hands. I also had a great time. The place was one of the best corporate environments I have been around, and I was surrounded with some of the smartest people in the field. It takes something special to be able to survive as a computer company with Microsoft in the world. Real has done a great job at that by keeping the company feeling alive.
DB/ How did you link your experiences with SUPERFLEX’s activities?
ST/ I went to Jakob’s house-warming party and sat down with him talking about what SUPERFLEX were doing.
I mentioned what I did with Real, and over a period of time they asked me to help out with the project. The project was in the early/conceptual stages and I helped with the proof of concept and initial exhibition at Artspace 1%.
DB/ And what differences do you see between your work at Real Networks and your work now for SUPERCHANNEL.
ST/ That’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges. At RealNetworks, I was a worker, doing things for other people. The thing that made Real great was that, as a worker, I felt that I could make a difference. I was given tasks to perform, but could be creative in how I solved them. They depended on me for a schedule – rather than imposing a schedule upon me – and I could keep my own hours. With SUPERFLEX, I feel less like the decisions I make shape the company/projects. Rather, I feel like the discussions and communication lead the company/projects in a particular direction. Working with SUPERFLEX is organic and unmanaged. The dynamic we share as people translates into our ‘professional’ relationship, meaning that we relate around business much like people relate around personal issues.
If something is on my mind, I bring it up with SUPERFLEX, initiating what would be called a ‘meeting’ in the traditional workplace.
Communication is the key to the success of my experiences with Real and SUPERFLEX. For both, I feel like I can approach the people I have issues with. When working with SUPERFLEX, the issues feel more personal and at Real the issues mostly had to do with skills and limitations.
DB/ You said in the first email interview that SUPERFLEX have motivated you to explore the potential of what was possible in your field. Could you tell us a bit more about the potential of SUPERCHANNEL?
ST/ When I was working at Real, I had a narrow view.
I worked on very specific solutions to very specific problems. These problems didn’t really require knowledge of how my solution would fit with others’ solutions. So I knew of this component and that component, but never put them together, they were all solutions to problems that other people had. When I had to put them together to build the SUPERCHANNEL, I soon discovered that ‘people’ used these things, and these things affected ‘people’. This is the potential I wish to explore and where SUPERFLEX come in.
I knew enough about the RealSystem and how streaming media worked to make it technically possible to fulfil the ideas that SUPERFLEX already had. So I initially approached the situation similarly to how I did at Real: they had a problem and I came up with a solution. Soon I discovered that we began to work in a much different way. When we would work together the division of problem and solution became much more hazy. It was more like idea and motivation. So, the more they learned about the system, the more ideas they came up with, and the more I learned about the art world, the more ideas I came up with. The ideas that excited us the most motivated us to pursue the realisation of them, rather than approach them as a problem that needed to be solved.
The way we worked together in the development of the SUPERCHANNEL is the potential of the SUPERCHANNEL. The SUPERCHANNEL is turning into a framework to do the same kind of ‘mindsharing’ that came naturally for me dealing with SUPERFLEX.
I hadn’t realised the parallels until now … So, part of the potential of the SUPERCHANNEL is providing a medium to exchange ideas.
BS/ In the interview with Erik Lange from The Factory
he mentioned that the SUPERCHANNEL could be commercially interesting for the future. This would also fit with the economic interests of SUPERFLEX. Have you talked about that with your cooperation partners? What do you propose: When should the question of money be involved?
ST/ We have talked with The Factory about this and we’ve come up with an agreement. The process was very difficult because we have to value what we make and they have to value what they give. Given that we are in the same ‘business’ the overlaps of what we make and what they give could cause competition.
We and The Factory agree that competition in this area is healthy. The more attention to streaming media, the more customers we will both get. We have decided to not cooperate on the business aspect with The Factory; however, they still provide a hosting service for the SUPERCHANNEL as it is today. Erik started to feel like he needed to see something in return for hosting the SUPERCHANNEL, so we agreed to pay for what they thought it was worth. It was funny that it came down to money, maybe that is the common tongue of business. . .
So the issue of money has come up between The Factory and us, and has been resolved.
DB/ Do you also work for other companies in Denmark?
ST/ I’m currently working on an internet project with a company called iSolve. I’m writing a small programme that will synchronise address books to and from email pro-grammes. This has been a great experience because I have met some like minds in the country, plus there is hope for a partnership around the technology developed from the SUPERCHANNEL.
DB/ Are you planning to go back to the States one day concerning your professional career?
ST/ It’s tempting because of the amount of money in the States, but right now I need to develop personally, and find that easier and much more rewarding here in Europe/Copenhagen. The biggest thing I miss about the States is the wild.
This interview was conducted by Doris Berger and Barbara Steiner.
Update November 2001:
ST/ I’m still working with SUPERFLEX, but our work relationship has become better defined now. Specifically,
I am working primarily with the SUPERCHANNEL project that we started together. We have 4 people working on this project, mostly on their own.
I have become a bit tired of working with SUPERFLEX over these two years. It’s a combination of my own personality, a misunderstanding of the roles in what we are doing, and a confused sense of authority. Being an entity and 3 individuals, it is frequently difficult to maintain accountability for actions. During the start of working together, we worked closely together. When I communicated something to one person, a couple of days later I would hear the same thing from another. This gave me the impression that I could treat any of the individuals as the whole. As time progressed, I gained a better understanding of the individuals’ strengths within SUPERFLEX and would go directly to those people if I had a wish that I needed fulfilled by SUPERFLEX. But frequently those wishes weren’t fulfilled. Kind of like trying to call them, and never getting an answer. :–)
The intent of the SUPERCHANNEL project was to initiate an experimental space for broadcasting media. The way that we applied for the grants to get the pro-ject off the ground included a plan to bring the project into the commercial sector after a year. It has been over 2 years since the project started and we are struggling to keep the project going without the grant. I accept partial responsibility for starting late on the transition from an art project/experiment but even though we all agreed that steps needed to be taken, a concrete plan on how we would achieve our goals never made it onto paper.
SUPERFLEX are great to brainstorm with but when it comes down to setting long term goals and working towards them, I find it difficult to work with them.
We have found a good leader to head the SUPERCHANNEL project, Signe Koefoed. She is a strong motivator with a clear and communicable vision that is rooted in reality. Describing the project, she keeps her tone in the present, describing what we have, not what we are aiming towards. This is critical in dealing with business partners, and I feel that SUPERFLEX tend to focus on the possibilities of the project rather than what it actually provides. I don’t know how it’s received by the people we present the project to, but if I believed what SUPERFLEX said when they presented the pro-ject, and later looked at it myself, I would be greatly disappointed by their description. Sure, the possibilities are there, but it’s difficult to work in the business world with things that don’t exist.
The work we have done together has come out of a very natural progression. We let the ideas run uninterrupted and are open to other interpretations of the use of our work. Much like the way concept-car designers create cars to meet a mix of needs, wants, and desires, SUPERFLEX's projects do the same for work that brings people together. The concept-cars rarely make it to the factory but they have a strong impact on the industry they are created for.
I believe that SUPERFLEX may not be as successful as they could be in the art world because of a resistance to modify the financial model the art world depends on. As I understand it, the art world is making a transition from a product-based economy (selling physical objects, commissioning the creation of physical pieces), to a service-based economy (selling the promise of self-enlightenment, world understanding, a sense of ‘awe’, ‘aesthetic’, ‘design’, ‘innovation’). This takes time, and I think the art producers are outpacing the art consumers, while the curators are stuck in the middle.
I believe the projects are moderately successful, only because they focus on the potential of the idea and not the implementation. Measuring the success in a commercial perspective, most of the projects are failures, but measuring the success from a cultural or social view, they are quite successful because they push the boundaries of what is permitted, understood, and assumed. SUPERFLEX do a good job on focusing on these aspects of their projects, representing the initiative behind the implementation.
I feel like I could have been more successful. A mix of personal issues, particularly with moving to a foreign land, leaving my peer group of programmers, accepting a new way of working and finding a living in a different economic climate has taken its toll. In hindsight, I feel like I could have done much better if I had taken more initiative on the SUPERCHANNEL project, set my pre-judices of valuable technology behind me, stuck to a more focused vision of the project, and demanded more compensation for my involvement.
Right now I’m not doing much else other than SUPERCHANNEL. I’ve been doing other work for money, but mostly dry business stuff. I taught a couple of courses in streaming media and offer other services around my expertises.