Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Showing Dev Love

I've been thinking recently about how to enhance city institutions using tech skills. I'm still relatively new to really diving into it, but this represents some of my current thinking on the topic.

All I know so far is that this is a two-way street: people need to build up their institutions, and institutions need to support their communities in building them up.

The Gist...

For institutions:
  • Let your community help you.
    (Corollary: Avoid, when possible, legal agreements that restrict you from receiving help from your community)
  • Empower your community to help you.
  • Ask your community to help you.
  • Your community is you.

For developers:
  • Just do it.
  • Have patience.
  • You are your institutions.


Let your community help you. People want to help. Don't push them away (with few exceptions). I love how some of Philly's innovative schools readily accept community support (I'm thinking Science Leadership Academy and Devnuts). Though, the institutions may need to be doing something to inspire community support in the first place.

A corollary here is that institutions need to avoid legal agreements that restrict them from receiving help from their community. Sometimes you just don't know until it's too late that you're involved in such a restrictive agreement, particularly with the pace of new technologies. But at the point of realization, you should from thence treat the restrictive agreement as if it is bad for your institution, because it is.

And giving your community opportunities to express their affection is a good thing. So ask them for help, if you need it. As with any relationship, of course, don't overstep your bounds. And this only works if you have a relationship with your community in the first place. Which you should. If you're really local (not just biding time until you can expand to increasingly larger markets), you need to focus on the relationship between you and your community. For a local institution, your community is you. If your product is not as strong as your competitors', then your community will wise up. And with potentially larger, national competitors with deeper pockets, it may be difficult if not impossible to keep up in perfect step with product quality. But community love (e.g. affective bonds) will keep your patrons with you. Affection is added value.


If you have a project that you think would benefit a community institution, go for it. Shoot first, ask questions later. Times that I've taken this approach have sometimes worked out, sometimes not. But I have regretted every instance of not acting. Sometimes this may be bad advice (anyone have stories for the comments?), but if you wait for the institution to back you up, you may be waiting for a long time. Even if you act first, you may be waiting for a long time, but at least you'll have something to do while you wait. You'll have drive to keep going because you can see something happening, and you may be able to pick up supporters because they'll see something happening.

Nothing happens unless someone acts anyway. So it might as well be you. Because, when you get down to it, you are your institutions. They are yours to accept or neglect, shape or destroy.

So if you have the resources, and it doesn't hurt anyone, just get started developing. Legal worries? Worry about it later (of course, comply with any cease and desist orders; but if you get none, then keep going).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

OneWebDay Reflections: Tyranny of the Tech Elite

A few weeks ago I attended the Supernova Forum at the University of Pennsylvania. It was great — I got to hear from and talk with so-called thought leaders in business, government, education, and media on topics related to the "network age". While there, I was plagued by a feeling that there was some phenomenon absent from the conversation, but I couldn't identify what it was. Since then, I've reflected and named this phenomenon "The tyranny of the tech elite". This tyranny is a reframing of the idea of digital inclusion. It is somewhat in contrast to the idea of the internet as a democratizer. I'm still struggling with this concept, so take this as a work-in-progress.

(I was going to write this post myself, and have been agonizing over how to do it right. After some research, I found that Joshua Breitbart already wrote much of it for me four years ago. So, in summary...)

The future of us...
The Web is a pretty neat technology. With it, people can do and have done some amazing things.
Generally, we (the educated, technologically savvy, modern-day bourgeoisie...yes, probably you too!) think it's so great that we want everyone to take part in it. So, we talk about technology vis-a-vis marginalized groups like "how do we get them to where we are?" We talk about reducing digital division, and increasing digital inclusion. There are a few assumptions in this: (1) Where we are is good (nay, best, at least for now), (2) They will want/need to be where we are.

Joshua Breitbart has this to say about digital inclusion:
[The phrase "digital inclusion"] carries an implication that people who are offline are being brought into a perfect world. That’s clearly not the case.

What we see in the online world is the result of a land rush where English speaking white men had first crack at the virtual real estate. Digital inclusion is like saying poor people, people of color, and non-English speakers are allowed to shop in white neighborhoods.

This maybe gets to the heart of the tyranny. Access to global networks and technology is a real issue, and it's deeply distressing how closely race, class, gender, and other "traditional" forms of marginalization are correlated with access gaps. However, the digital divide these days isn't so much about people having access to global networks and technology. It's about shaping those global networks and technologies in ways relevant to one's own reality. Defining the future of technology. Some have a much larger hand in creating these definitions for themselves, their neighbors, and their children.

It brings to mind danah boyd's tweetable quote regarding privilege and publicness (at about 30:30 in the video): "...[T]he internet is not automatically a great democratizer." Certain voices get heard farther, louder, and more readily than others, and carry more weight in public discourse. When we observe and analyze how technologies are used, what affects they have, and where we (and our children) are taking them, we do so from a certain perspective, bringing in our own selective focus and our own ideas about which voices to privilege. As it happens, the cultural idea of what "the future" — of technology, of the internet, of us — will be is still left by a wide margin to those privileged voices.

Of course, technology is not novel in this regard. The prevalence of privileged perspectives are as old as hierarchical society (or at least as old as forms of mass media/communication). Marginal or alternative perspectives are always late to the popular discourse. We have to remember that the Web may alter structural inequalities, it does not remove them. This formulation of the digital divide isn't something that can be eliminated by distributing computers and high-speed internet access (though, in some way, that helps).

So...what now?
Joshua Breitbart goes on in his article:
We want to do more than just include people in the online world as it currently exists. We want that new involvement to transorm that world. This is what I hope to imply with the phrase digital expansion. It’s also what I want to imply when I talk about “open internet.”

So how do we achieve digital expansion? I'm not really sure. I half-way agree with Jeff Jarvis that time (and demand) will heal some of these wounds. However, we can't wait around and expect structural inequalities to spontaneously disappear. I have some guesses for first steps (some of these are borrowed loosely from Chicago Digital Access Alliance (CDAA)'s 10-Point Plan for Digital Excellence):
  • Make the internet universally available. This stuff should be a public utility. Or, better yet, a human right. I don't think that access (or lack thereof) to capital should be a determinant in whether one can access the internet or not (capitalism is one of the most frustratingly unacknowledged forms of sanctioned discrimination).
  • Keep (make?) the internet open/neutral. Though, as Breitbart points out, openness on its own is not enough. "Open does not mean equal, it doesn't mean that usage or usefulness is the same for everyone. Access does not equal justice, but it is necessary for justice. Therein lies our work."
  • Be aware of and concerned with social justice issues. They don't go away once you move online. In some ways, they're exacerbated.
  • Invest in people. Digital literacy and fluency are forms of human capital and require public investment. Digital proficiency must be promoted at neighborhood based locations, especially community technology centers, community based organizations and libraries, to strengthen resident understanding of new technologies. And remember that access at an early age is a key factor in raising people who don't just know technology, but are comfortable with it.
  • Build local infrastructure (social and technological). “Price points are one barrier to entry for the poorest community members' use of a network, but so are software design, literacy levels, and misinterpretation of what a community needs from a network,” says Hannah Sassaman, Program Director of the Prometheus Radio Project. Community networks need to be about more than Internet Service Provision — they need to build community-wide Local Area Networks to house information, services, and multimedia on the network itself. Emphasize being a part of a local community and building relationships within that context. Yup, create divides — but divides that are respectful of one another. These will allow diversity to flourish on the Web.

There's a lot more to this conversation (like about how in/effective legislation might be in addressing the issue), but that's a start.

OneWebDay is a global event aimed at giving all people a chance not only to celebrate the Internet, but also to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining the open-networking principles that have made it the success it is. As OneWebDay 2010 approaches, I'll be posting some of my own and other peoples reflections on One Web.

OneWebDay should be local and global simultaneously. It should highlight the ways that people use the web locally, and acknowledge in a non-trivial way that the web they use is the same web that is used the world over—one web.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

OneWebDay Reflections: The Web Ain't Dead, and So What If It Were

Talk of the death of the web has gotten a fair bit of play since the Wired article on August 17. Notwithstanding its grandiose title, there's actually a fair bit of useful content and food for thought in the article (it's actually two articles—one by Chris Anderson and one by Michael Wolff—explaining the same phenomenon from different perspectives).

Fact of the matter
The Web continues to grow. And so does the internet. The Anderson article says that the web — "largely HTML data delivered via the http protocol on port 80 — accounts for less than a quarter of the traffic on the Internet...and it’s shrinking." However, Internet traffic as a whole is growing exponentially each year (interestingly, United States traffic is only growing roughly linearly — check out Cisco's Visual Network Index forecasting tool).

So, while the Wired articles paints this picture:

It seems a lot more like this:

What is the web? (and what's a browser? and an app? ...)
So, the web isn't dead. But so what? As the Anderson article points out,
The Web is, after all, just one of many applications that exist on the Internet, which uses the IP and TCP protocols to move packets around. This architecture — not the specific applications built on top of it — is the revolution.
Not only is the web but one app built on the Internet, but each website can be thought of as an app unto itself, built on top of the Web. In this sense, the Web is very much like an app market. (There is at least one crucial difference between the Web and the App Store as application marketplaces: no one — or maybe everyone — owns the Web1. No one can tell anyone else what can and cannot be put on the Web1.)

Technologies get superseded all the time. Several social networking sites (apps?) have come and gone. A few years down the line, no one really notices. One day, the Web as we know it and access it through web browsers may fall out of favor relative to some other information creation and distribution technology. But probably not any time soon. Unlike the case of the big social networking sites, the Web is not really in competition with the App Store (or any other marketplace). The Web is an open network, benefiting and growing as much as Apple (well, maybe a little less) from the success of the App Stores millions of Internet-aware applications.

Technology, or values?
The danger posed by threats of the death of the Web is not really that we would lose the Web, but rather that whatever takes its place might not be built on the same foundational values as that which gives the Web and the Internet such promise and potential.

So what are the values behind the Internet/Web? I don't know of any comprehensive or authoritative lists, but here are a few around which there seems to be some consensus:
  • Transport Equality — As far as the Internet is concerned, all nodes and data should be equal. No prioritization based on arbitrary distinctions.
  • Collaboration and Transparency — Development proceeds under shared global ownership and is based on open standards.
  • Accessibility and Openness — Anyone should have access the content on the Web, and anyone should be able to create content on the Web.
These are ideals, of course, and there are numerous examples of when they have been violated. However, without these types of principles, the Internet and the Web would be a far cry from what they are today.

If anything right now has the ability to kill the Web, it is our lack of protection of these values. Forgive the drama, but the Web devoid of its principles is dead. This is why this net neutrality stuff is such a big deal. So far, Chile has passed a neutrality bill. Now we're just waiting for everyone else to catch up.

In the mean time, it's on us to protect, express, and spread Web values. At the 2009 Internet Governance Forum, Ian Peter proposed we write 10 Commandments of the Internet. Of course, what these are still need to be determined. His were:
  1. Independence of applications
  2. New applications can be added anytime that’s a core value
  3. Permissionless innovation
  4. Open standards
  5. Accessible and globally inclusive—anyone can use it
  6. User choice—I can choose what applications I use and where I go to with them
  7. Ease of use—I can use it in my language, I can use it in a device I’m familiar with
  8. Freedom of expression
  9. The ability to change rapidly
  10. Trustworthy and reliable is one we have to work on; it’s got to be a core value.
What are your 'net commandments?


1This is debatable. Given sufficient resources, there are few limits to what you could do, but ultimately you are beholden to whoever owns the servers your data lives on, and the wires that connect you to the Internet backbone.

OneWebDay is a global event aimed at giving all people a chance not only to celebrate the Internet, but also to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining the open-networking principles that have made it the success it is. As OneWebDay 2010 approaches, I'll be posting some of my own and other peoples reflections on One Web.

OneWebDay should be local and global simultaneously. It should highlight the ways that people use the web locally, and acknowledge in a non-trivial way that the web they use is the same web that is used the world over—one web.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

OneWebDay Reflections: The Value of the OneWebDay Brand

In April 2010, announced that it would merge with Drumbeat, "a new initiative of the Mozilla Foundation that shares all of OneWebDay's goals and values." Additionally they say that they "will retire [the OneWebDay] brand and invite all of its people to join forces with Drumbeat’s growing community."

I think the merging with Mozilla Drumbeat is a good thing. It is useful and important to have avenues for people who are willing to get more involved. However, does it justify dissolution of the One Web Day brand? Institutionalized celebratory events can play a useful societal role. Nathanial James, former executive director of OneWebDay, says:
I’ve spent most of my time with OneWebDay listening to as many of you as I can reach. Here’s the number one thing I hear from you: “Our OneWebDay was amazing! Let’s do more! What’s next?
James presents this as a reason for merging with Drumbeat, but how many of those people asking "what's next" would not have gotten involved at all without One Web Day? If anything, I think this is an excellent reason to continue to support and build the One Web Day brand. As the event spreads, more and more people will be exposed to the ideals underlying the open web. Some of those people will choose to become more involved, and others, though not organizing directly, will take values learned and spread them. Spreading the meme of the open web is as important as active organization.

Of course, it is preferable to have the values of one web be celebrated and practiced every day. As James writes, "Unlike OneWebDay, [Drumbeat projects happen] every single day and with some powerful infrastructure behind [them]." This is a great thing. In order for these projects to achieve their maximum impact, though, open web values need to be integrated into the cultural fabric. They need to be presented in a sticky way and embraced by people outside of the circles of the technology elite. That should be the place of events like One Web Day.

OneWebDay is a global event aimed at giving all people a chance not only to celebrate the Internet, but also to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining the open-networking principles that have made it the success it is. As OneWebDay 2010 approaches, I'll be posting some of my own and other peoples reflections on One Web.

OneWebDay should be local and global simultaneously. It should highlight the ways that people use the web locally, and acknowledge in a non-trivial way that the web they use is the same web that is used the world over—one web.

Friday, August 27, 2010

OneWebDay Reflections: Worldwide affordability

Last OneWebDay, Sanjay Patel shared some surprising data comparing "what it costs [him] on a montly basis to get cable speed internet here in the United States along with 3 different quotes [they have] received for installing internet connectivity to a school that is a stone’s throw away from one of Tanzania’s largest cities."

Check out the full post here: OneWebDay | The Epic Change Blog

OneWebDay is a global event aimed at giving all people a chance not only to celebrate the Internet, but also to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining the open-networking principles that have made it the success it is. As OneWebDay 2010 approaches, I'll be posting some of my own and other peoples reflections on One Web.

OneWebDay should be local and global simultaneously. It should highlight the ways that people use the web locally, and acknowledge in a non-trivial way that the web they use is the same web that is used the world over—one web.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Philadelphia Public Computer Centers Survey

I'm designing a survey to administer at recreation centers and libraries to get a sense of what people get out of the city's public computing infrastructure, what people seek to get that isn't available, and what they assume isn't available but would like to see. I would expect the survey to be filled out when a user is done with their session on the computer, so that they'll have a sense of whether they had achieved what they came to achieve on the computers.

I'd probably be violating all sorts of human subject research rules by just going in and asking people to take the survey, but if I can't get explicit permission, that's what'll happen.

The survey is at It is still evolving at this point. Most importantly, I have to get people to look over it so that I can get it into some more normal language.

Update: So, I've gotten a couple of pretty good pieces of feedback since I posted this yesterday. First, from @digitallogic. Noting the fact that people are often unaware of the realities of various available technologies and so are unable to determine certian changes that would provide them with a meaningful impact, he says:
The ideal approach would be to follow someone through their whole usage and observe where improvements could be made, though this may be a better in a business environment due to the nature of tasks be performed and obvious privacy issues.

Barring that, hopefully these might go more in that direction:
  • Is there anything you would have liked to do on the computer today which you were unable to?
  • Other than your primary goal (check email, do homework, read websites etc), what did you spend most of your time on? (wording on this is weird, trying to see if there's some major hurdle that could be over come, ie - 5 mins to check email but 15 mins to log in)

The next bit is from @beingpurposeful. She recommends that I stay away from negative questions, as value biases are more easily built into these. To ask something and not its inverse paints that thing as notable (i.e., abnormal). Sure, I have my own value biases, but I'd do well to protect the survey from these as much as I can.

So, I have to build these suggestions into the survey. Thanks!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Geniuses in Community Computer Centers

I was at the Apple store the other night, and it dawned on me that Philadelphia's computer centers should employ Apple Geniuses. They should be intimate with the inns and outs of the machines in the centers. They should have a thorough knowledge of the city's technology infrastructure, what you can do with it, and how it can solve your problems. At each center the geniuses should report to the community they serve, as well as to the Division of Technology, maybe on alternating weeks.

This wouldn't just be of service to the technically challenged community members, but would also help the DoT keep a pulse on how city residents are trying to use the centers—what they're doing and what they'd like to do that they're not currently able to.

Now, I'm not just saying that you should put tech-savvy people in the centers. I have no idea how Apple trains and prepares their Geniuses, but the patience, warmth, and passion about the technology they're showcasing is what makes Apple's Geniuses work. Good customer service. That's probably the hard part, but it's also the most important. I'd take a passionnate and compassionnate person over an actual tech genius who was cold and impatient any day. Though, of course, I'd prefer a passionate and compassionate bona fide tech genius. Maybe it's something you have to select for in the interview process.

Todo: Do some research into how the city's computer centers are currently staffed/supported.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Tension between User-centered Design and E-government Services

Here's an excellent talk by Nalini Kitamraju, assistant professor at the University of Twente in the Netherlands, for Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society on the tension in creating e-government services using user-centered design principles.

This one's highly recommended for anyone interested in how governments can better interact with citizens in the digital age. To be honest, the lessons from the talk are not limited to e-government; they can be applied to government in general. However, as we're fumbling through figuring out how to best use the tools we've developed over the last half-century or so, the video provides some great food for thought.
Nalini Kotamraju on the Tension between User-centered Design and E-government Services

Individuals and institutions are slower to adopt e-government services due to a lack of user centricity in design and development. Work with PortNL, an integrated e-government service for expatriates in the Netherlands, suggests the core of governments' difficulty in creating user-centered services lies in a fundamental tension between the needs of users and those of governments. In this talk, Nalini Kotamraju — an Assistant Professor at the University of Twente in the Netherlands — explains how the purposes of e-government services can be met through a user-centered design approach, and how site builders can put the needs of users ahead of the ideas of governmental clients.

Through most of the talk, Kitamraju is focussed on government (remember: government is just a group of citizens) as a service provider. One of the points that she brought up during Q&A is that participatory democracy is relatively low on citizens' lists of e-government concerns. Granted she was doing her research in the Netherlands, but I would venture that much of it is relatable to the United States and other Western countries, at least most of the time. The popularity of democratic participation ebbs and flows in this country. Many people are looking for ways to use tech to help drive popular participation, and it will really be no small feat to do so. We're not in a situation where the masses are perpetually pounding at the doors of city hall.

At the same time, though, there are novel uses of modern social media and technology for driving engagement. At the Supernova forum this past week, I learned about ThinkUp, an app from Gina Trapani & Co. at Expert Labs. It provides an exceedingly simple way to poll for anecdotal answers to arbitrary questions using Twitter. It's not a government app per se, but certainly one that they could use. Perhaps it's not that citizens aren't interested in talking with the government. Perhaps citizens just feel that it's not worth the effort—government doesn't listen anyway. Perhaps if there were better, more engaging, less bureaucratic ways to communicate with government, people would be more interested in doing so.

In other words, maybe citizens' standards are just lower than what they should/could be. If there are no worthwhile communication channels with government, then no one expects there to be. However, if there were worthwhile channels, then people may raise a fit if you to take them away. This brings to mind Tim O'Rielly's conception of government as a platform (a good definition of a platform, via Scott Heiferman, is something that enables people to empower other people). For now, government is like an IBM/360; you can build on it (well, some people can), but it's cumbersome, expensive, and often over-centralized. When will we get to Django or Ruby on Rails? And what cultural shifts will be necessary?

But I digress.
Watch the video (in one of several formats) here.

(via Putting People First)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Gigabit Bid

Okay, I'm submitting my Gigabit bid. If you like it, vote for it on the Gigabit Genius Award Google moderator page. It should be one of the most recent ones. This was adapted from a post a few days ago. For more information on the grant, go here.

Set up a system where residents could access their desktop and files over the internet, from any computer. Offer a service that rents out netbooks that come configured to connect to the system. For visitors, it would serve as their portable guide to the city. For residents, it would serve as their city dashboard. And for students, it would enhance their classroom materials.

Friday, June 25, 2010

My Take on Gigabit City Ideas

The deadline for submission of ideas to the Gigabit Genius Grant is nearly here (it was extended, at some point, to June 30). I've looked through the submissions (all 158 of them, so far) and there are a few that I like.

Some are good ideas but very vague, some of the ideas are very science fiction, and some have very little to do with high-speed communications at all, but all's good in the name of generating initial ideas.

One thing I notice is that so few of the ideas link to any place where they provide more information, which is a shame; I'd like to see more depth to some of them. So, for some of the ones I liked that didn't have much further explanation, here's my take.

Philly Software for Citizens Brainstorming Meeting - Thoughts

So, before I forget what happened, over the next couple of days I have to record my thoughts on the brainstorming session that took place tonight at IndyHall.  I'd normally post this kind of stuff on a more personal blog, but this was, after all, a public meeting.  Forgive me if the thoughts are a little stream-of-consciousness.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Philly Software for Citizens Brainstorming Meeting

I'd like to see a community in Philadelphia that is concerned with the effective creation and distribution of software that allows city residents/citizens to better use and affect their city.  This partly came out of a report that I put together for a class that I took in the Spring.  The report was called "Phillyware: Taking Philadelphia into the 21st Century through Software Developer Civic Involvement".

Anyway, I'd like to get more people in on generating ideas for what this should look like.  So, I'm planning a brainstorming session.

The flyer:

The invitation:
Event Page:

Please come and join Philadelphia software developers, designers, and technology advocates in discussion about creating a place for developers to innovate around software tools that can better enable residents to use and affect their city.  Let's brainstorm what this could look like, some potential roadblocks, logistical considerations, etc.

Consider three aspects: community engagement + developer innovation + political advocacy = Software for Citizens*.

What: Philly Software for Citizens Brainstorming Session

Where: Independents Hall, 20 North 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA

When: June 24th, 6:30 PM

  • To keep local government and authorities accountable in the data they release and in how they release data
  • To allow Philadelphians to think ahead of the curve about what their city can be
  • Because we ARE citizens
  • Because it'd be fun (you know it would!)

Some possibilities for discussion:
  • Periodic [un]conferences around those three areas
  • A community around a project repository (like, but around, for example)
  • Meetings with Philadelphia community groups
  • Camps/Hackathons (like in Ottawa:
  • Bring your own ideas...

* "Citizens" in this case isn't political; it just refers to participating members of society. See the Facebook group ( for more information.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"The Data-Driven Life"

I enjoyed reading this article[1] about increasing instances of using computers to help analyze ones own personal life. This is the kind of world I envision eventually, and that I'd hope to help create. Sometimes I wonder what I'm getting myself into.

While I count myself among those the author describes as data-driven, I don't agree with his portrayl. It seems like he's saying, in the data-driven life people let their data explain them -- praise or condem them. If you gain a pound, if you jump around through tasks, if you have too many drinks, the data is all there to prove it. But really, the data does nothing on its own. I would venture to think that few "data-driven" people think of their data (let alone the machines/tools that they use to record it) as separate from themselves. The details are just more of you exposed, and machines put it within easier reach. The tools and the data simply are you formulating ideas about yourself in different ways. They are an extension of you.

At the end of the article the author notes that his own personal tracking experience was only useful to him as a "source of critical perspective." My point exactly.

[1] The Data-Driven Life

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cities Selected for "Code For America"

So, it turns out[1] that five cities have finally been selected to participate in the Code For America[2] program for 2011: Boston, Boulder, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Seattle. Each of these cities will identify the need for some city government project that can leverage modern web technologies, be assigned a group of five developers[3], and will work with them to develop that project over 11 months, starting in January.

I am on pins and needles to see what comes out of this. I'm also curious how the city governments plan to pick the projects.

[1] "Five Cities Get Free Civic Apps Through Code for America". Digital Philadelphia.

[2] "About". Code For America.

[3] Developers apply for the opportunity. The application will be available June 1, and the deadline is August 1. "For Developers". Code For America.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Augmented (Hyper)Reality

Over on, there's a video posted that demonstrates Keiichi Matsuda's conception of what augmented reality might look like. As we've seen in some previous posts, this type of reality may not be [as] far off [as some would like].

But what's with all the ads? Adds a touch of realism, I suppose.

Augmented (hyper)Reality: Domestic Robocop from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo.

What Augmented Reality Could Actually Look Like

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Recognizr: An Augmented ID Concept

A few posts ago[1], I referenced the Sixth Sense TED presentation. Here's[2] another technology along the same lines. It's a prototype video for an Android app that retrieves information on a person using facial recognition. They call it Recognizr, an "augmented ID" concept.

Also, for those eye-tracking augmented reality glasses that I mentioned in the other post...the eye-tracker just seems like a slight modification of this[3].

And make sure to check out the WSJ video:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Computers shouldn't make people feel like idiots

For those of us surrounded by the minutiae of computers all day, it’s easy to forget there’s a world of people out there who just don’t get it. And it’s not their fault. It’s ours.

Interesting article over on the 37 Signals design and usability blog. Some meta-analysis regarding the iPad. I really like this quote from Fraser Speirs:
The Real Work is not formatting the margins, installing the printer driver, uploading the document, finishing the PowerPoint slides, running the software update or reinstalling the OS.

The Real Work is teaching the child, healing the patient, selling the house, logging the road defects, fixing the car at the roadside, capturing the table’s order, designing the house and organising the party.
Fraser Speirs, Future Shock [2]

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

[Socially] Situating Personal Information Management

PIM practices become easier if [an] organization provides some infrastructure to alleviate the difficulty of these activities. But a larger value is that the organization can leverage these personal practices to improve the effectiveness of others and to capture that elusive corporate knowledge in an easy way.

Thought provoking. Give the video a watch.

[1] Situating Personal Information Management -

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

OOPSLA is changing. OOPSLA is becoming SPLASH.

The conference for Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications (OOPSLA) has a new name and overall mission. It's now Systems, Programming, Languages, and Applications: Software for Humanity (SPLASH). I'm liking the name.

Seems like they're attempting to reconcile the inclusion of the Onward! track of the OOPSLA conference. I approve.
In 2002, Onward! was created as a special track within OOPSLA to be a venue for bigger ideas than normally are accepted by mainstream computer science conferences, but within the scope of OOPSLA’s focus. "Bigger ideas" included new approaches to programming, software, and software development; new paradigms; and even new ways to present ideas.

Beginning in 2003, Onward! papers were included in the OOPSLA proceedings, and in 2005, Essays and films were added to Onward!. As the track grew, it became clear that there was a need for Onward! in a larger context than object-oriented programming, and in 2009, Onward! spun off from OOPSLA to become a stand-alone conference focusing more broadly on software and programming in all their manifestations, and including not just the pure technology but also processes, methods, and philosophy.

From 2010, we plan that Onward! will be co-located with SPLASH (the evolution of OOPSLA), but in the future, the sky’s the limit.

- Onward! History

For important dates and information, see:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"SixthSense" from MIT Media Lab

Pattie Maes and one of her students, Pranav Mistry, demonstrated a system they've been working on to "augment" a user's experience of the world by delivering relevant information about certain objects, as well as allowing the user to interact with that information.

Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry demo SixthSense

I've imagined something similar in the form of glasses that record your eye movements and cross-reference that data with recorded images of what's in front of you with to determine points of focus. Then, theoretically, they could display information about whatever you're focusing on onto the glass of the spectacles. Pattie Maes takes it in a slightly different direction when, at around 08:30 in the video, she says, "who knows, maybe in another 10 years we'll be here with the ultimate 6th sense brain implant."

Regardless of the interface (fingers, eyes, brain, etc.), is this something that would be good for humans?

Friday, January 22, 2010


I thought this was pretty awesome and on-point; check it out:

An apropos re-imagining of the way that interaction with the desktop computer should work. At first I thought, while watching, "if you're gonna suggest a change for desktop interaction interfaces, why not just go all out and promote eye trackers or cerebral interfaces." But I realized that Miller's way is a significantly different approach than the one we have now, while still possible in the relatively near future.

I mean, we already have multi-touch; hardware for the input device could be developed cheaper than a multi-touch display (since it doesn't have to display as well). Then it's a matter of writing drivers (easy enough) and adapting software (maybe a little harder). Integration with Gnome 3.0 would be awesome.