Warren Ellis weighs in on his frustration with the current batch of augmented reality applications for smart phones:
Now fuck off and make something that’ll do useful work on a phone in a village, instead of something that’ll get you laid in fucking Hoxton. Make something that has meaning outside a major metropolis.
He has a point. I’m thankful that Ben Fullerton and Jenn Bove were able to talk me out going down the augmented reality angle for a proof of concept I’m working on.
One of the (many) good points they made was that I was over-thinking the solution rather than addressing the core problem. It could just as easily be stated that augmented reality is a lovely whiz-bang solution in certain contexts, but not-so-surprisingly inappropriate where the local terrain doesn’t cast a very deep shadow of data. Anyway, go through to the link; I left the two best punchlines out of the blockquote, and they’re worth the quick read.
Over at the AP blog, I put some excerpts from my interview with Adaptive Path’s good friend Matt Jones of Dopplr. Peter suggested that I use my personal blog for the “DVD extras” (as he put it), so I’m posting the entire 2 hour IM interview here. It’s long, it’s weird, and it was seriously a lot of fun. I hope you dig it.
And oh, hey, if you decide to register for MX, be sure to use FORF as your registration code (as in “Friend of Ryan Freitas”) for an additional 10% off!
Interview with Matt Jones
Ryan Freitas: Thank you for agreeing to chat prior to your appearance at MX next month.
Matt Jones: No problem! Or ‘np’ as they say on the internet.
RF: Will the talk you’re doing be similar to your IXDA presentation?
MJ: My IxDA presentation was about process and form in a way – how my way of working has been changed by new tools and new ways of developing. It was also about the nature of designing services that have a geospatial and time-based component. Hence it’s title “Designing for Spacetime.”
RF: I enjoyed the hell out of that talk.
MJ: Thanks! My MX talk will be more generally about the social component.
RF: Oh good. That’s actually part of your talk that I wanted to discuss.
MJ: But! It’s hard to get me off the spacetime subject… It’s a continuum…
RF: Of course. And we’ll get to THAT too. But I wanted to get deeper into something you mentioned in your “Spacetime” talk… because you actually did me a huge favor by mentioning Jyri Engestrom and “social objects.” Discussion of social objects actually gets us to Grant Morrison in two moves. [smile]
Did you see the Portugal v. Netherlands match? Meu Deus! Portugal advanced, and now Rachel, Mike and I will cheer on our boys against England. I must admit, I’ve enjoyed cheering on the English since Garry taught us the chants and songs in the Mad Dog years ago. My favorite? Versus the Germans, “Two World Wars and One World Cup” works pretty damn well.
Never thought I’d be forced to root against England. Damn shame.
Especially because today I finalized on tickets for the vacation we’ve been planning for a bit – we’ll be headed to London to visit friends and celebrate some birthdays (mine included). If you’ll be in town second week of August and looking to have a bite (especially at St. John), do let me know.
Meanwhile, Adam spoke at AP. We all got an opportunity to eat at Koh Samui afterwards, and discuss the implications of his “Everyware” presentation. His thoughts on the necessity of exposing the “seamfullness” of location-aware systems in the future is something that’s been on my mind of late, with regards to what both Dan and Nick Carr have been citing as the generational effect of technological development.
I’m convinced that for the first decade of development and popularization of RFID and ubicomp systems (is 2006 to be considered Year One?) the experience will be inherently seamfull – I think of it like the spread of cellular networks, with deadzones appearing on the edges and in-between every area of service, ultimately to the frustration of most users. I’m inclined to think that there will be an entire generation of people with no choice but to be aware of the change in state as they move from data-enriched environments to traditional “flat space” and back again.
If the system emerges with obvious seams, and no means or standards to even come close to ensuring a frictionless experience, will the generation that follows be inclined to reduce the perception of those seams between overlapping systems? Or will they persist as vestigial alerts on whatever interfaces they employ, like the subtle changes in provider status message my phone registers as I move from Louisville, to New York and back to SF? Food for thought.
To wrap it all up, Will Wright and Brian Eno spoke tonight at the Herbst Theater. All 900 seats sold out, and you couldn’t swing a dead cat over your head without hitting a blogger. I’m sure you can find a write-up if you look around. My own thoughts on “one pixel errors,” generative systems, and the pursuit of ultimate success probability spaces vs. local maxima will find their way into a post (maybe), once everything that was discussed has a chance to sort itself out in my brain properly.
In the meantime? Pictures from McCormack and Elaine’s wedding!
Adam Greenfield will be here at the Adaptive Path offices later today, speaking about his new book, Everyware. If you have an opportunity to attend, please do – it will be very much worth your while. Added bonus: there is the very real possibility that drinks before and afterward will lead to some kind of ubicomp-related philosophical cage match between any and all of the assembled thinkers and activists.
Because nothing is as entertaining as a geek fight outside of the House of Shields on a Tuesday night.
The elderly, children, prisoners and pets.
Besides being the first choice of populations who will be "beneficiaries" of ubiquitous technology (according to its proponents), what else do these groups have in common?
[Hint: they can't say "no"]
The longer I am in the world, the smaller it seems to get.
My friend Cary works at frog design, on the other side of South Park from the Adaptive Path office. A friend of his had come into town for the Where 2.0 conference this week; Cary had asked him to speak to his colleagues about his work on Big Games, and was kind enough to invite me along to participate as well. Turns out the friend is none other than Kevin Slavin, a friend of Adam's, and someone whose work and ideas I find both interesting and inspiring.
Some background: Kevin started up area/code with Frank Lantz last year to pursue the development of Big Games, which they define as "large-scale, real-world games." With examples like PacManhattan and CONQWEST in their portfolio, they are evolving that meaning and demonstrating what this type of play can mean in pretty amazing ways.
Kevin's manner of presentation is friendly, open and unassuming – you can be lured into a comfortable rhythm by the way he speaks, and not realize the things he's saying are truly stunning. The work area/code is pioneering hinges on concepts that forge interfaces between datascapes and physical environments; they're working out means for incorporating these into single experiences, entirely oriented around play. And they're succeeding in novel and compelling ways.
In the matter of an hour, Kevin was able to weave all the following together: what semacodes are good for [and what they are decidedly not], "read/write urbanism", sign code conspiracies, public secrets, a reference to They Live, advice on how to prototype something that takes place on 20 city blocks square, and recontextualizing what we're "supposed to do" with the devices we work with every day.
That would have been more than enough, but he also gave us a sneak peak into a game still in development, and where area/code looks for game concepts. The thing I already love about Kevin and Frank's brains is that they find a certain wacked-out inspiration in the same things I do: Jazz funerals' "second line", Mardi Gras krewe histories, even the Vodun loa Baron Samedi. area/code have set their sights very high, tapping rich veins of material, and building engaging and novel experiences out of them.
After the presentation, I was delighted we got a chance to talk a little bit more over a couple rounds of bourbon at Nova. I asked what role ubiquitous computing elements might eventually play in Big Games, and Kevin wound up making probably the most salient point I've heard about ubi comp since SXSW: when the time comes to familiarize people to (and make them comfortable with) the ubiquitous technology embedded in their physical environments, games will prove invaluable. Why? Because it stands to reason that if adoption of these systems is to be widespread and without unnecessary friction, the means of their introduction might need to be voluntary and oriented around play.
Kevin will be addressing the Where2.0 conference on Thursday at 1:30pm. If you're there, be sure to check out what he's got to say – I gaurantee you he'll leave you with quite a bit to think about.
For me, time off usually implies reading. In anticipation of Steven Johnson's presence at our UX Week conference later this summer, I brought along a copy of Emergence. No, I have no idea why I hadn't read it yet, either.
About 100 pages in, the book starts addressing the concept of cities as self-organizing data storage devices – which reminded me of a link Matt Jones sent along about cities as geomagnetic harddrives. As fantastical as that all is, what Johnson is talking about is as easy to witness as taking a walk on any street in almost any city, from Kapabashi-dori to the Bowery:
Cities store and transmit useful new ideas to the wide population, ensuring that powerful new technologies don't disappear once they've been invented. But the self-organizing clusters of neighborhoods also serve to make cities more intelligible to the individuals who inhabit them… The specialization of the city makes it smarter, more useful for it inhabitants. And the extraordinary thing again is that this learning emerges without anyone even being aware of it. Information management – subduing the complexity of a large-scale human settlement – is the latent purpose of a city, because when cities come into being, their inhabitants are driven by other motives, such as safety or trade. No one founds a city with the explicit intent of storing information more effeciently, or making its social organization more palatable for the limited bandwidth of the human mind. That data management happens later, as a kind of collective afterthough: yet another macrobehavior that can't be predicted from micromotives. Cities may function like libraries and interfaces, but they are not built with that explicit aim.
What about when they are, though? As Adam Greenfield points out in Everyware, the South Korean "ubiquitous city" New Songdo is being "designed, literally from the ground up, as a test bed for the fullest possible evocation of ubiquitous technology in everyday life." As New Songdo is completed and populated, we'll get to see what happens when the "explicit aim" of a city's design incorporates the data management and specialization that ubiquitous technology can make possible.
Thinking about both of these texts at the same time, I'm trying to figure out what impact ubiquitous tech might have on the way cities self-organize. Will we see tighter patterns of organization, or even more rapid emergence of sustainable "neighborhoods" of aggregated intent? Will interactions between individuals and the city become facilitated to the extent that traditional motivations are abandoned and replaced? To be honest, I have my fears that an everyware-mediated urban environment might completely inhibit the types of behavior patterns Steven Johnson describes.