February 25, 2007
Selfish sovereign posture artifacts.
"@ = an indicator that Twitter is stretched to its limits as an application"
"The @ tips twitter from ambient-people-nearby into a constant-thread-to-follow. i like ambient, so i have to unfollow friends who use it :( "
"Twitter ó and most any Web site ó is something of a sovereign posture application, programs that are best used full-screen, monopolizing the userís attention for long periods of time.
Twitterific, by contrast, takes the exact same functionality, and presents it in an auxiliary posture, where it occupies much less screen real estate and only partial attention."
"The electric toothbrush is a selfish object - it demands to be held the whole time it is used, and the alternative that works with regular tooth brushes - to be clasped in the mouth for those moments when you need both hands - is not an option.
How well will two-handed devices fair in what is more many people a one-handed multi-tasking world?"
Posted by fabio sergio | 3:33 PM | permalink
February 24, 2007
The product (is the system) is the culture of use.
I've been reading with increasing interest the distributed conversation around why it's essential to consider systems and not just products when what really matters in the end is the user experience.
Adam Richardson started it all by coining the mantra "The product is the system":
"For a product to feel harmonious, the system that surrounds it must be harmonious.".
Peter Merholz, picked the ball and ran with it in his "Stop Designing Products" presentation (PDF, 1.2 MB).
It was then the turn of Brandon Schauer to point out, the hidden implications of the re-design of the Target pill bottle:
"The Target pill bottle isnít a bottle, itís a system."
Adam Greenfield then put an Everyware spin on the whole thing, in his unmistakable style:
"You can no longer safely assume that your product will stand alone.
Your product needs to tell me what it can do, and what I can do with it."
Finally it was again up to Peter Merholz to do a bit of useful aggregating:
"If you want to deliver on an experience, as opposed to simply a set of features, itís becoming clear you must take a systems view."
And that's where it's at in the end: if you want to get your hands dirty with experience design you'll have to take into account the whole socio-economic context within which that experience will be situated.
Still I was left wanting for more, because the inherent implications of the very definition of the term "experience" set the bar quite high:
"The conscious events that make up an individual life.
The events that make up the conscious past of a community or nation or humankind generally.
The act or process of directly perceiving events or reality."
One word of caution before we proceed.
What follows carelessly disregards the fact that my understanding of the subject matter is superficial at best, so if you proceed expecting anything other than seat-of-the-pants reasoning please think again.
What I find myself recalling when it comes to systems and products is a conversation I had a long time ago with Anne Galloway about the chicken-and-egg relationship between human cultures and the tools they produce.
I distinctly remember resorting to, ahem, Star Trek to fuel my feeble argument.
In one of the most memorable episodes of the second season Captain James T. Kirk and his (non-red-suit-wearing) posse survive visiting a planet where a whole culture has evolved out of one artifact left on the planet by a previous careless group of human visitors: a book about "Chicago Mobs of the Twenties".
Over the course of one hundred years the influence of the book on the alien culture caused the whole civilization to become a de-facto replica of the gangster-ridden city: just think cult of an "Al Capone bible" gone planetary.
Albeit the basic assumption of the episode was clearly an over-simplified dramatization at best, it always struck me as oddly fascinating.
If you are still wondering what I am after please consider the iPod, or the aforementioned Target pill bottle.
The iPod-iTunes ecosystem is undoubtedly one of the current best examples of "the product is the system" designed right, but what we are also seeing though is the effect over time of a culture of use where existing weak signals have been amplified by tools and services shaped by that very culture.
While the key value proposition of the original iPod - "all your music, always with you" - was disruptive from day one - October 23, 2001 - it's probably safe to say that the ecosystem that evolved over time around it would have fallen on deaf ears if it had been offered in its current incarnation on that same day to the same customers.
When the Music Store module of iTunes was launched in April 2003, the iPod had already created a culture of use that had replaced the album with the song as the new atomic experiential unit.
In other words it took a couple of years to create a culture of use around the iPod that made its success and that of its ecosystem possible, and even then it took another year before sales started to show signs of what was about to happen: today's apparently unsheakable market domination.
A cause amplified in return by its effect, a cultural Larsen effect of sorts.
Similarly the new Target pill bottle is another good example of the redesign of a whole culture of use, with the artifact acting as the catalyst that speeds up the process.
The reason why I tend to prefer the term "culture" to "system" in this context is because I find it less abstract and much more closely related to us, to human beings, but I also like it better because when it comes to experience, and designing conditions for an experience to take place, what designers are ultimately after is the creation of meaning: a newfound assessment of reality, a change in value systems.
This also brings me straight to another consideration: in what way is what I am saying different from Don Norman's famous curves of adoption of innovative technologies?
The identical component is the role that time plays in this context.
Time is an essential ingredient when it comes to a change in cultural paradigms, and thus also when designing systems and cultural stratifications of meaning.
What is different is that Don Norman's diagrams seem to assume that the enabling factor is the level of maturity of the technology, but in this context what's just as important is the level of maturity of the potential culture of use related to that technology.
As participants to the "Designing the Future workshop heard at LIFT 07, even disruptive innovations that seem to appear out of nowhere are often rooted in specific existing cultural models, or have cyclically surfaced in different incarnations without finding the appropriate substrate to grow upon.
It's not just just the maturity of a technology that counts, it's also how strong the cultural weak signals that specific new technology is going to amplify are.
Who knows, maybe even the videophone will have a chance, one of these days.
Another consideration is that many parallel cultures of use exist around the same product.
Take Digital Rights Management for example.
There was a time when DRM was actually a product, a product invented specifically to migrate a previous value system into a new socio-economic scenario that was already showing signs of a possible singularity.
The funny thing about DRM is that those who today suffer from it (us) probably shared its underlying values at the very beginning, then over time the culture of use around new tools like the iPod changed their beliefs, and today we're at the point where the CEO of the most successful online music retailer writes a (much criticized) open letter asking its partners to get rid of the same feature that is currently bundled with each and every one of many of his products, and even music industry execs admit that they actually don't believe in the effectiveness of what they officially endorse.
DRM will probably disappear, and all seems to hint it will go in the worst way, leaving a rotting carcass everyone in the ecosystem will have to climb over to move ahead, but that's the way things go when culture is involved.
Changes take time, and value systems are stratified and evolve at different speeds, and that needs to be accounted for when designing systems.
What is required is a shift in scales: from tasks and mental models to activities and cultural models.
I am almost ready to pass the ball over again to the people listed at the very beginning of this entry - who will probably show me the error of my ways first - but there's time for one final consideration.
Many of these discussions would benefit from the opinion of people active in the service design community. People like Chris Downs of Live | Work or Simona Maschi of CIID.
As Dan Saffer has recently noted there are so many distantly close design galaxies out there.
We need to get better at designing cross-disciplinary telescopes.
Posted by fabio sergio | 2:00 AM | permalink
February 22, 2007
"Contemporary culture is the interference pattern produced by intersecting standing waves in two universal solvents: money and binary."
Is it me or Adam Greenfield just writes beautifully?
Man am I enjoying his wordsmanship lately.
Posted by fabio sergio | 10:38 AM | permalink
February 15, 2007
When illustration meets (clay) sculpture.
Davide Longaretti and Mayuko Tazumi are not only among the nicest people I know, and just as talented, they are family... so I'll admittedly (and gladly) relinquish any objectivity when it comes to them and their work.
Their latest joint creative endeavor, inspired by Japanese folk tale Urashima Taro, combines Davide's minimalist illustrations with Mayuko's poetically playful clay environments, and earned them a selection at the Bologna Children Bookfair, which showcases the most innovative trends in the world of children illustration.
Davide, who runs Due mani non bastano together with two other illustrators, has also just released a set of 8 Postcards from Osaka, filled with beutifully colorful micro-narratives of his latest visit with Mayuko to her hometown (the set is also available for purchase, just email Davide).
If you happen to be one of freegorifero's long-time readers Davide's work will look familiar for a good reason, as I've been lucky enough to have his illustrations grace these pages a few times in the past.
Posted by fabio sergio | 10:39 PM | permalink
February 12, 2007
LIFT 07, the people behind the memories.
LIFT 07 has come and gone, and for the second time it left a sweet aftertaste.
The organization of the conference this year was impeccable (non-collaborative Wi-Fi notwithstanding), so much so that I was almost left with a desire for last year's slightly rougher edges.
As expected the talks took my level of interest on a roller-coaster ride, but also as expected the most cherished moments came when the bright lights and large crowds of the conference gave way to precious conversations with friends and people that's unfortunately hard to meet otherwise, because of distance and/or time.
On Wednesday a handful of bright souls braved chilling winds and the wrath of a Thai eco-terrorist restaurateur to pick up spicy conversations last enjoyed face to face under Berlin skies.
The following day dinner mixed Morrocan lemon chicken with equally delicious conversations about recent pasts and likely futures.
Lunch on Friday wonderfully showed that even if Interaction Ivrea is no more its heritage lives on, then late in the afternoon a moment of calm epiphany came while savoring the company of people I respect and admire.
It was a pleasure spending time with you. You are all missed already.
Safe travels back to New York, Amsterdam, Helsinki, Milano, Ivrea, Copenhagen, Chicago, Tokyo, Lausanne.
Posted by fabio sergio | 12:03 AM | permalink
February 10, 2007
LIFT 07, day two.
Here are my semi-rough notes from day two of LIFT 07.
Please notice: what follows is not necessarily what people literally said, but what I (think I) understood from the talks I attended.
Collective Intelligence and Collaborative Creativity : What do we need more?
Jaewoong Lee, CEO, Daum
I'll start by talking about the human brain: 100 billion neurons, each one networked with as many as 10.000 other ones, layers and layers of complexity.
When I founded the company I had this in mind, human beings as brain cells in a neural network.
On the other side you have the history of media: one to one, few to one/one to few, one to many, many to one, many to many. Now what?
There's something other than a fully Googled future, search engines are still not all-powerful, our time is limited and the quality of their results is still sub-optimal. Many of the tools similar to Google are also still too difficult to use for a lot of people.
Can the aggregating power of the collective provide a new solution?
Can people act as intelligent layers/filters and make it easier for people to find information that's relevant to them?
(Nice introduction, but not sure what the point was in the end. Collaborative filtering will save us from chaos? THE Google!)
Panel: The new economics of creation
How to make a living from creative work in the peer to peer and YouTube era?
John Buckman, Founder, Magnatune and BookMooch
Zhang Ga, Artistic Director / Curator, China International New Media Arts Exhibition 2008
Patrick Chappatte, Cartoonist/Journalist
Rodrigo Sepulveda Schulz, CEO, vpod.tv
The world has gotten smaller, because of technology, but many of the promises of hyper-connected-ness have yet to be met: think China/third world/digital divide (show fantastically funny cartoons to get his points across, the audience roars and claps mid-talk, finally!)
I run a music website called Magnatune.
How to leverage consumer anger at the music industry (CD prices, poor quality, low diversity, musicians getting ripped off, DRM)?
Magnatune sells downloads and CDs, uses Creative Commons licensing, lets people decide how much they should pay, and half of the price goes directly to the musician. Makes people feel good about themselves.
We focus on the user experience, we get people to listen to the whole album with no need for registration, and we also make it really easy to license our music for movies, podcasts etc.
Rodrigo Sepulveda Schulz
User-generated content is everywhere, and it has caused a paradigm shift: time and place and device shifting.
Is YouTube what video on the internet should be? No. Too much stuff. How do I find video content that's relevant to me? Joost is probably where we are all headed.
vpod.tv simplifies the creation of personal video channels, we help creators make their content available immediately to any and all kinds of devices.
Why is new media art so difficult to find in galleries and museums?
Blowing the web apart
Ivan Pope, Snipperoo
We need to break the web apart in bits and pieces, a "widget-ization" of pages into micro-elements that people can then re-assemble into their own collections.
This is already somewhat happening, but it needs to be taken to the next level.
(Well, er... yes.)
Understanding users, their needs and motivations
Jean-Francis Balaguer, User experience senior consultant, ELCA
Results from a study done on the website of the International Red Cross indicated that it lacked a clear focus on the needs and desires of its intended users.
We used various tools: online questionnaires, qualitative audience analysis, tested directly the quality of the interaction, analyzed the competing websites.
What did we learn? We identified four main scenarios: using the website to get quickly informed about IRC, using it for in-depth research, using it to get factoids, using it for education.
We created 5 user profiles (personas) and to structure the pages of the website we used participatory design techniques asking users to put together their "ideal page" by assembling content chunks on a wireframe (position, size etc.).
From the research we also realized that this kind of website has to seriously take into account the needs of developing countries: limited bandwidth (no video, few images), PDF not a real standard etc.
(Maybe it's because I've been hearing this stuff for years now, but takeaways from this session where limited to a few words: "floppy disks not dead yet".)
Work Environments for the Knowledge Age
Clark Elliott, Workplace Strategist
I am a socio-psychologist and architect, and I am going to bring you back to the physical world and the design of environments.
The french definition of work "travail" comes from the latin word for "torture", that's not an easy place to start.
What is "work" today? I see it simply as the intersection of people, space and technology.
Today companies are struggling to transform themselves from cultures driven by cost and control into ones driven by innovation.
The approach I take is activity-based design, and it's structured around what people do and who people do it with, with communication among people at the center: connect people and the way the exchange ideas.
Technology is freeing us to have new choices by increasing our mobility and allowing us to make the space visible, open, interactive.
Trends: people who like to work standing up, and don't need to have a desk; the ever-increasing importance given to break areas and places where people meet; opportunities for people to have privacy too (for example with indoor phone booths); re-purposeable areas that can flexibly adapt to the needs of casual occupiers (hot-desking etc.).
In the end it all comes to understanding the nature of the activities, and remembering that work is not a place you go to, it's something you do, it's where you are.
Embracing the real world's messiness
Fabien Girardin, Researcher, Pompeu Fabra University
How can we combine existing visions of Ubiquitous Computing with the inherent messiness of our physical world?
Currently the goal of UbiComp seems to be to achieve invisibility, seamlessness and calmness (in Marc Weiser's own terms).
Many of these scenarios are based on the assumption that we will be constantly surrounded by a "cloud of connectivity", but the truth is that it is not only hard to exploit this "cloud", but its very presence is also often discontinuous.
The world is messy: infrastructures break down, heterogeneity of existing standards is amazing (even basic things like electric plugs, remote controls etc.), competing technologies co-exist, ownership of enabling technologies is fragmented, cultural biases (shows hot and cold British water faucets spread apart) and unpredictability of contexts make for uncertainty of expectations.
What can be done?
One answer is "seamful design": revealing the boundaries, the limits, the inaccuracies, thus enabling people to better adapt to them.
Another one is "design for appropriation", treating people as actors, letting them play with technology and make it adapt to their needs.
Conclusion: when it comes to UbiComp are we really repeating the same errors of Artificial Intelligence, trying to solve all problems at once? Do we really want to live in a calm world?
(Very nice talk. Design beautiful seams! Fabien deserved more time and was the only "open stager" I heard that was not there to "advertise" anything except his interesting ideas.)
Panel: Dealing with technological overload
Is too much technology good for you? What are the consequences of our increasingly over-connected lifestyle?
Stefana Broadbent, Head of User Adoption Lab, Swisscom
Fred Mast, Professor, University of Lausanne
Nada Kakabadse, Professor, Northampton Business School
Matthias Luefkens (moderator)
How to define a "digital addict"?
As in all revolutions the digital revolution has made casualties.
The curve has gone from adaptation to addiction, with addiction defined as over-adaptation at the expenses of other aspects of life.
Consequences: online behavior conflicts with offline behavior (relationships deteriorate, children get neglected etc.) and typically work tends to override private life.
Just like any addiction also ICT addiction can be fought, by taking a critical approach to certain behaviors and habits.
I completely disagree, we observe how people use technology, and we've been doing that for 3 years now.
What we are seeing is actually the contrary: the private seeping more and more into work patterns, people using connectivity to keep in touch with family and loved ones also while at work.
Even employers are starting to get accustomed to the fact that workers expect to be online all the time, keeping their IM tethers to their friends open.
The difference between addiction in the traditional sense and what we are talking about now is that in most cases over-connectedness ultimately gives a sense of happiness, a feeling of having more possibilities, not added constraints.
(At this point attendees are asked by Nada to confess if they are "addicts", and the whole thing quickly turns for a while into one huge group therapy session. Luckily Bruno Giussani puts an end to it.)
Bruno Giussani (from the floor)
I think we are just focusing on technology, but we are not addicted to that, we are addicted to people, to a desire to keep in touch with as many people as possible.
It really depends also on the nature of the communication channel (asynchronous, synchronous), and the nature of the communication itself (fully engaged vs. monosyllabic).
Fred Mast (answering another question about multi-tasking)
One thing we are seeing is that people fill empty time slots (e.g. driving home) with more and more activities.
How much are actually people "routinizing" their activities in a way that does not require them to devote all their attention to the task at hand?
Maybe what others perceive as multi-task is actually something we do without thinking.
Yes, but it also really depends on the type of task: certain ones are simple to automate through. The problem is when we apply the same auto-pilot mindset to task that do require attention, like walking or driving, this is when things can go bad, we walk into doors, we have car accidents.
For me an element that's missing here is social etiquette. How fast should you answer an email? What is considered acceptable? The point is that the real pressure comes from this cultural understanding of what is considered to be socially polite/acceptable.
How do you unplug?
I don't, that's the way I lose my social intelligence.
Why should we? What we've heard is that you can be addicted and be happy at the same time.
There is always a point where too much is too much, people saturate. We need to perceive that we control our lives.
Sorry but we are really talking about an artificial problem. Most people get 5 emails a day, and they are so happy when they do! This is a real problem only to a microscopic part of the population.
People want to communicate more, not less!
Posted by fabio sergio | 8:05 PM | permalink
February 08, 2007
LIFT 07, day one.
Here are my semi-rough notes from day one of LIFT 07.
Please notice: what follows is not necessarily what people literally said, but what I (think I) understood from the talks I attended.
Florence Devouard, Wikimedia Foundation
A few of the principles behind Wikipedia.
Nurturing a critical mind: informing rather than manipulating.
Empowering individuals ("soft-fix it" approach), make them feel they all own the final outcome.
A-priori trust as the basis of the whole architecture.
Sampo Karjalainen, Habbo
Most users called Habbo a game but it's not, it's an open environment.
Average age is 14, target is 16-18, with a balanced male/female presence.
People mainly come to meet others and chat.
There are places designed by us and others designed and built by users.
What is that keeps users come back? The answer can be found in user-created rooms, which are then filled with virtual goods (payed with real money).
Certain items are rare, we sell them only for a short time, so people collect them and sometimes even store them in special storage rooms, or they sell them at a premium later on.
There are kissing rooms, armies, mafias: users decide rules for simple games and people can join them.
There are activities that are fully unsupported but people still do them (for example they pretend to be horses and other people feed them, crazy stuff!).
People can also create their own "page" via Habbo-provided tools, and write on it about themselves etc.
Why do people come to Habbo?
We think that the force at work here is play, an opportunity for teen-agers who are not kids anymore to keep doing things that might be considered to be childish (and this obviously applies also to adults).
This "open space" fosters people's own desires and inclinations.
How to create such a space?
First you need to provide something to play with, simple components that can be easily combined.
Second you need intuitive, easy-reach interaction: simple ways to get things done, a user interface that does not alter the flow of play.
Third set-up a mood for play, a feeling of being allowed to experiment and not being judged.
Fourth allow users to set their own goals for what they want to do and how.
Fifth define and test certain uses case, things you expect to see.
(In other words "create just enough structure to get people engaged, then free them up to do what they want")
In the distant past everything built was referred to man and his relationship to the cosmos.
Today's (western) culture has been distancing itself from the universe in which mankind lives.
Today's architecture is "ex-dimensional", in the sense that it reflects culture and not physical space, for example in the way digital spaces are increasingly influencing what we build and vice versa (shows images of Second Life, Dubai, indoor skiing slopes etc.).
Le Corbusier famous saying about "architecture being the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light" is now questioned in terms of the nature of that very light: what light are we talking about today? Not even necessarily the light we can physiologically see.
Towards a society of cyborgs?
Daniela Cerqui, University of Lausanne
Interested in technology implants and working on it for the last 12 years, applying an "anthropological" approach to studying people who have been experimenting with implants, like Kevin Warwick (shows photos from the operation to implant the chip into Warwick's arm - gah!).
Warwick over time developed an ability to interpret the signals coming from his median nerve and use them to move things or "feel" them using technological peripherals, for example he was able to control a robotic hand using only signals from his brain.
We think this is "weird" but technology itself is considered a value today, and our sense of what is "normal" is constantly shifting these days.
Human beings are flexible, we get used to anything, thus also the definition of humankind is dynamic. To what extent? Not sure.
People want to establish boundaries between medical applications and those that challenge the nature of humankind, but that line is simply impossible to draw.
Warwick's implants are just one more step on the way to the information society, and whether we like it or not we are all on the same (his) path: being normal today is being "connected".
What we are fighting against is our human nature itself.
Literacy, communication and design
Jan Chipchase, Nokia
This is about the more exploratory research work we've been doing at Nokia.
A few years ago we were asked: what would it take to design a phone for illiterate people?
Assumption: pretty much anyone can appreciate the ability to transcend space and time in a personal and convenient manner.
Assumption: it's better to solve the root of a problem (illiteracy) than the manifestation of that problem.
You can also think about illiteracy simply as "not speaking" the local language.
The term "illiteracy" usually only defines the lack of "structured learning" (the stuff you learn in school), but there's so much more about knowledge than textual literacy, for example knowing someone who can help me solve a problem.
The easy fix for mobile phones: an iconic interface - but icons still need to be learned, and to do that on your own you probably need text (to explain), so this is not THE solution.
Let's look for a smarter question: is textual illiteracy a real barrier to device competency?
Armed with these questions Nokia set out to run ethnographic research to find possible answers in India, China, Nepal, Uganda...
How do people in these countries approach phonebooks? How do they learn to use other high-tech objects like TVs? How do they keep track of your friends' phone numbers? How do they know if you've been payed enough if you can't read numbers?
People actually do this everyday, so how to research this in a way that respects people's cultures and ethics?
What did we learn?
Anything is possible, it just takes a lot longer (filling a form can take a full day - to get somebody's help) and it's not "practical".
Learning is difficult in many of these environments, where experiences are inconsistent and trial and error can be dangerous to somebody's social stature (minor personal shame) or even imply higher risks (money, or even life-threatening consequences).
How to encourage exploration by allowing people to easily recover from errors?
Another aspect that's key is delegation, what are things and tasks that we can delegate to technology rather than to people?
Illiterate users are actually smarter than most when it comes to delegate, because it's part of their social support system(s).
(Great talk but a bit short on conclusions. Not enough time!)
Fast, cheap and out of control
Nathan Eagle, MIT
I live in Kenia, and Africa is the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world (more than 7 mil mobile phone subscribers).
The idea of the mobile phone itself though it's different: you can get one soldered up for you on the street for 15 USD (out of pieces of older ones).
People use mobile phones to decide where they can sell their goods (i.e. milk) at a higher price, and seeing this we decided to start EPROM - Entrepreneurial Programming and Research on Mobiles.
EPROM has various components.
First is education: helping kids and students to build mobile-based services (e.g. SMS-based services)
Second is entrepreneurship: teach how to develop mobile applications.
Third is research: predict what its user is going to do next by continually learning about its location, communication, and context.
Being in these kinds of contexts lets you see what incredible opportunities mobile phones open in developing countries, they totally replace what computers tend to do in the western world.
To get a sense for these opportunities you have to be where the action is, they won't come if you're sitting somewhere in Switzerland.
Sensor Networks: from the lab to the supermarket?
Jacques Panchard, EPFL
We are entering an age of pervasive computing, with sensors embedded into all and every object.
Networks of these sensors could be used to transmit aggregated information about environmental conditions and be used to detect floods, earthquakes etc.
Scenarios described today for wireless sensor networks are very optimistic (low cost, ease of installation, reliability etc.) but the reality is still quite different (size of sensors still quite large, cost quite high, lots of problems with interferences etc.).
Current applications mostly around monitoring (industrial, private, environmental), home automation and automated meter reading.
Future applications: vehicular communication, body-area networks (medical, fashion, sports), arts/entertainment.
Still missing: a real mass-market application.
Who are the actors? OEMs, system integrators, application providers.
When 1st Life meets 2nd Life
Julian Bleecker, University of Southern California
We know 1st and 2nd life are different, but how?
First of all material contingencies: every single bit of digital matter implies physical matter to support it.
Secondly our expectations for 2nd life come from our 1st one, that is indeed situated in a physical context.
This implies a debt, a debt of human resources, a debt of expended energy (the infamous calculation that one avatar consumes almost as much energy as a real human being), a debt to the sedentary body sitting in front of a computer screen.
In 1st life you can't reboot the computer when it crashes, in 1st life there's only one body, in 1st life there's only one world to inhabit, and that world has innumerable crisis.
So now what? Does it make sense to find bridges and try to merge the best characteristics of both worlds? Is there a way to shape 2nd life worlds taking the material contingencies of 1st life into account?
That answer might be play.
Start by creating legible, playful reminders of the materiality of 1st life in 2nd life: motion, time, distance.
Are there examples of this already available?
The first one is the Wii, which brings motion to an unprecedented level of tangibility.
The second one is Animal Crossing, which works in real time.
The third one is Teku Teku Angel, which basically combines a tamagotchy with a pedometer, with your walking becoming a structural part of the gaming experience.
The Luminous Bath: our new volumetric medium
I will be taking a journey into abstraction here.
What does it mean to be in a world of pervasive computing?
We have been living in a world of meaning over-imposed on top of objects ever since humans beings and their cultures have been around.
The first metaphor that comes to mind is the spilling out of information onto physical space, and I refer to this as "the luminous path".
Fluidity of attention is the result of this spill of attention-demanding technology increasingly surrounding us, and suspension of belief will be partially required to embrace this change.
As we start to be surrounded by shards of experiences captured by others, there's also a process of self-organization at work ("memotaxis", from chemistry's "chemotaxis") enabled by metadata.
These aggregate morphologies (mash-ups) give sense and shape to data-sets, and make them intelligible.
Aggregate morphologies attach themselves to places and objects, to people, just as coral growing on existing rocks, in a process of accretion.
What happens to people immersed in the luminous path?
People start to have passive opportunities to signal status and position to the collective.
Another characteristic of the luminous path is bioluminescence: the idea that the path in the fluid, the trace of perception, has a history that's visible, a way to map and visualize the information over time.
What to do with the luminous path?
One opportunity is decanting, distilling information into something less fluid and thus more "actionable". Another is crystallization, freezing the state of a system for the time that is useful and then letting it become fluid again. A third one is acculturation, cultural practices emerging from being immersed in the fluid.
(Ben's talk was so wonderfully meta I just could not digest it while taking notes at the same time. That's probably the reason why all of the above probably does not reflect at all what he actually said.)
Everyware: Further down the rabbit hole
We've heard a lot about ubiquitous computing today, but what does that actually mean to all of us today, and in the future?
Everyware is "information processing invested in the objects and surfaces of the everyday", a notion derived from Mark Weiser's own: "Computing invisible, but in the woodwork everywhere around us" - embedded, wireless, imperceptible, multiple, post-GUI.
Today information processing shows up in new places and takes on new tasks (shows iPhone, Nike+ pedometer, NFC-enabled Nokia mobile phone).
The people developing the emergent "internet of things" don't seem to be aware of the impact of the decisions they are taking.
Who controls the innumerable data streams produced by this class of systems, one that tends to colonize everyday life? The risk is finding ourselves in Panopticon-like scenarios. This is the dark side of everyware.
Luckily there are positive sides too, one being the opportunity for technology to dissolve into behavior, becoming transparent to our needs and their physical manifestations.
Where do we stand in all of this?
First of all in the last year or so many of the concepts and prototypes I had been showing have started to become products, standards (like iPV6) and infrastructure are already in place, and adoption of embryonal everyware also appears to be unproblematic. This is all pointing to the fact that we are already effectively living in an incarnation of Weiser's vision.
We have to take these aspects into serious consideration, identifying principles for designing these systems and the nature of our interactions with them in a way that is respectful of people's values and beliefs.
It's time to take everyware seriously.
(Adam was hands-down the speaker who best mastered the stage today. Great delivery and confidence.)
Posted by fabio sergio | 11:45 PM | permalink
February 02, 2007
Putting play in video playback.
On a recent business trip I put the latest version of Skype and its video capabilities to the test.
The missing enabler, a webcam, had been previously missing from my standard package of techno-geekery paraphernalia, but this time I found it conveniently embedded in the upper frame of my MacBook Pro screen.
Imagine the context.
A nondescript hotel room as the backdrop, a camera lens with a field of view just large enough to show my unattractive face and, well, a typical husband-wife conversation about the way the day went.
I'll quickly come to the crux of the matter: after a (short) bit the video channel lost its initial appeal.
Sure, Valeria could see me from across the globe, and that alone was something that initially felt almost magic, but I soon found my fingers itchy for the text-based channel.
I realized I was missing, brace yourself, silly emoticons.
Yes, those cute-ish smiling/crying/winking/puking icons that populate chat sessions and add a sense of emotional engagement to the often semi-monosyllabic conversations typical of the medium.
Valeria and I have over time developed somewhat of a lexicon based on the silly things, and I find myself looking forward to the ways in which she'll creatively combine a handful of them in funny ways to get me to smile.
I can tell her mood in a few seconds by the way she peppers the conversation with teddy bears or angry little faces... come to think about it I could probably tell if it is really her, even if she did not write a single word.
You could arguably say that the inherent limitations and the very nature of the medium have pushed us to look for "other" ways to convey our feelings, and that the secondary channel has become as appealing as the supposedly primary one.
Emoticons have over time become for us the fun and emotional side of the word-exchanging experience.
Back to video and to my unattractive face.
Where was the opportunity here to make the experience just as enjoyable?
Well, for starters I quickly found myself playing the human smiley: I made funny faces. Then objects around me became excuses to liven things up a bit, with tea cups and hotel pens all playing a starring role in the conversation.
Even the hardly-ever-noticed hotel stationary ended up enabling impromptu funny comments to appear, silent movie style.
If all of this sounds a tad silly, well, it should, because that's often the way conversations with loved ones go: it's not (just) the hard facts that matter, it's the warmth and affection conveyed that do.
It's the feeling that the other party is not just "checking in", but it's enjoying the exchange, putting all of him/herself into it and adding a bit of creativity to the mix.
So here's a hint to Skype and to the rest of the IP-based audio-video-communication developing community: go beyond the purely utilitarian needs of your customer base.
What you are doing right now works to get communication efficiently from screen to screen, but leaves unexplored paths that lead straight to your customers' creativity (and ultimately to their hearts).
And no, I'm not just talking about 3D talking heads avatars, ringtones and that kind of path, that's the wide and easy path.
I am talking about the narrow one.
All of the above takes me straight to considerations around current media production-consumption paradigms (and continuums).
If you've been living on this planet in the last few months and you happen to be one of Time's persons of the year 2006 you will have probably heard about a video-sharing service called YouTube.
Someone calls the mostly crazy assemblage of crappy greatness found on it "user generated content", and everyone is keen these days to understand how to turn the madness into a business model, with Goggle actually having bet quite a bit of money on that fact that it will indeed solve the riddle.
YouTube is a disruptive service in the sense that it enables anyone with a video-capturing device and something to say (or not) to reach an audience previously accessible only by multi-national broadcasters.
Witness the rise to fame of virtual Aidorus like Lonelygirl15.
What YouTube has not changed yet though is the relationship between the human being watching a video snippet and that snippet itself.
In other words there's a lot for people to do before and after watching crazy people risking their lives playing human yo-yo across a field, but hardly anything that can be done during video playback.
And here lies the catch.
On YouTube the content and the substrate that "holds" and controls the content share the same nature, that substrate currently being Adobe Flash (I know deep down the real substrate is actually bits, but I'm talking phenotype, not genotype here).
This is a subtle but potentially intriguing aspect to focus on.
Historically fruition of video content has always implied the presence of a container, usually a hardware peripheral, playing the intermediary role between the viewer and the "black-boxed" video.
This mental model of sorts still stands today: there's always a frame around the video with controls to make it play, pause, stop rewind. Content and container.
We stick to this paradigm because it's one we know very well, but just like all paradigms it also somewhat prevents us from questioning limitations that are no longer really there.
On YouTube the frame around the video is made of the same stuff of the video, it's just made to look differently.
You could simplify things a bit and sum them up by stating that what you are watching on YouTube feels like the good ol' video content we're all so used to, but it is not really.
It's a potentially malleable medium in itself.
The content and the substrate share the same nature, and this could in the future open ample opportunities for interactivity with the video stream itself, even as it's been streamed.
In other words there's nothing that conceptually prevents (technically it's still a different matter) someone from pausing a Flash-based video, and then record over it a voice note only his/her friends will be able to hear.
If this sounds strangely familiar it's because it's conceptually identical to what you can already do today when leaving comments on somedbody's photos on Flickr.
Flash magic at work again.
Still with me? Good.
Because I'd like to take you where I really wanted to go in the first place: video production/fruition and networked mobile devices.
The reason why is quite simple.
It is often said that mobile phones and the like are first and foremost communication tools, and that any feature that finds its way into these devices should take that strongly into account.
When 3G and its broadband-like wireless pipe enabled videos to be exchanged across the ether the immediate consequence was video-calling.
The reasons why video-calling tanked on the market are many, and if you ask me kindly I could even write about it a bit.
Suffice to say for the time being that in the end the problem has been confusing video-enhanced communication with video-calling.
Why couldn't video be a substrate for communication, and not just something to look at when bored for a few minutes?
What lies beyond the "record/watch this then share/send it" current paradigm?
Seeing things from this angle opens interesting opportunities.
Why couldn't you video-call someone and show something else rather than your face, or your surroundings?
Again I am not talking about avatars and the like, I am talking about bits that might be stored in the memory of your device of choice: photos, videos, music.
De-coupling video and audio to provide you with an instant soundtrack, or talking over a slide-show of your own photos, or letting movie snippets enhance the conversation.
Say it again Sam.
Using video communication not just to get a message across, but as as a vehicle for self-expression, to play with the medium and have fun.
Needless to say this scenario also opens new paths to explore in terms of interaction.
I am sure you got there already by now, but not only video content and its container share the same nature, also the conceptual separation between the container and its own container, the OS, is somewhat artificial, with many handsets on the market today already supporting Adobe Flash as a presentation layer for various areas of the embedded user interface.
Add extensive use of metadata to the mix and these blurring boundaries could mean using media as a structural constituent of the interaction paradigm.
Take a look at this video of my friends.
It's my new phonebook.
Posted by fabio sergio | 10:00 PM | permalink
February 01, 2007
Competition: interaction with virtual assistants.
Leandro Agrò, the mind behind Idearium and Frontiers of Interaction, has kindly invited me to be one of the judges for a competition aimed at improving interactions with virtual assistants.
The competition is sponsored by Kallideas, and you can dowload all the necessary details here (PDF, 120 KB).
"Nowadays Virtual Assistants offer online users entertaining, yet competent professional services.
Natural language interaction, online translation, 3D-avatar technology and artificial intelligence create a powerful instrument to enable innovative services that are likely to find a wide acceptance among users.
However the simplicity of interaction, the possibility of seamless integration into existing platforms and workflows, the very human-like nature of the avatar, as well as the use of natural language to navigate within the application is an extremely remarkable challenge.
The development of intelligent persona systems using innovative application designs often leads to new technological problems. The more the advisor looks and behaves human-like, the more users will expect in terms of flexibility, knowledge and intelligence.
Increasing the intelligence of a system usually involves adding knowledge sources and processes to handle them. The result is another challenge: ways to improve the filtering, indexing, retrieval and presentation of relevant external knowledge, for example documents from websites, as a natural continuation of the dialogue.
The goal of this design competition is to select a human-like interaction concept that better address the challenges mentioned above.
The winning design will be presented at Frontiers of Interaction III (Milan, 28 June 2007) and at CHI Italy (Padua, 30 June 2007)."
Posted by fabio sergio | 8:00 PM | permalink
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