January 2006 Archives

Yesterday I was explaining what I do to a friend and started getting caught up in the usual tangle of terminology, so I came up with a structure for the different terms related to the fragmentation of information processing into everyday objects. As I see it, the different terms--pervasive computing, ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence and physical computing--come from different historical contexts that are based on geography: PARC coined "ubiquitous computing," so it's big on the West Coast; IBM likes "pervasive," they get the East; Philips was responsible for "ambient intelligence," so that's what it's called in Europe. In reality, it's just a blind men and elephant problem. They're all describing the same idea, but alliances and territoriality create clusters of terminology. So here's how I described it to my friend:

Term Interrogative Note
Ubiquitous computing How Embedded information processing and network communication will change the world by continuously providing services and support.
Physical computing What This will require them to be embedded in physical objects.
Pervasive computing Where The embedding will need to be if they're to provide the support continuously.
Ambient intelligence Why And the goal of the project is to create an environment that supports our goals through distributed reasoning.

"Who" is, of course, left as a a big question, but that's why there are so many anthropologists involved now, I suspect.

The definitions aren't totally separate, but it's an interesting exercise to see the focus of the groups who fly a particular flag. I still think it's all the same elephant and that maybe it needs an even yet different term. There's great value in creating a good term that encapsulates a set of ideas, but it has to accurately capture the essense of an idea as it is perceived by others to take off. Which means it needs to be externally-focused, and not about the process. I feel that none of these terms is sufficiently strong in that department, though I'm going to use "ubiquitous computing" and "ubicomp" for now, since I'm from the west coast and Weiser deserves mad props for having seen it first.

[1-31-06 update: Anne has written a typically thoughtful and insightful commentary to this note, to which I've replied. Thank you, Anne!]

[2-5-06 update: Doh! Peter tells me that if I had been paying attention, I would have noticed that my alma mater, Wired, is also on the disambiguation tip. More general than my take, but still. Peter generously said "must be in the air."]

Back in December I mentioned that I have been writing a chapter for Andrew Sears and Julie Jacko's Human Computer Interaction Handbook. This is a pretty monumental volume and it's an honor to write for it. They gave me a pretty broad mandate for the chapter: they asked me to write about the relationship between HCI and the customer experience. Before I could write that, I decided to unpack what "the customer experience" meant, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what I wanted to do was to more precisely define what "user experience" means. Now I know this is folly--as a term in wide use, user experience has about 1000 different definitions--but I wanted to have one of my own, at least for the duration of this chapter. The definition I came up with is that, in a nutshell, the user experience of a product is everything that's not human-computer interaction. It's everything that affects how someone interacts with a tool--whether it's software, hardware, a service, or whatever. To me, this meant that I had to deal with all of the squishy, abstract things that good cognitive psychology and computer science-trained designers like me try not to deal with: business goals, emotions, relationships, branding, etc.

This is a big problem, and one where I'm only beginning to put the pieces together, but I decided to write down everything I had been thinking and see what happened. Well, what happened is that I wrote the most wide-ranging book chapter I think I've ever produced. That may or may not be good, but I do try to cover everything from familiar territory about focus groups and Jesse's elements diagram to identifying organizational goals, talking about the rise of field oberservation (whether you want to call it "ethnography" or something else), to emotion and brand...all the way to managing with agile user experience development. It's either a jambalaya or a patchwork. I can't tell and Andrew and Julie have been gracious enough to let the chapter stand as it is.

It's probably the closest I'm going to come to writing a sequel to my book for a while and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to have explored these ideas.

I've put a draft (550K PDF) of it up. This is not the final draft, as I'd like to encourage people to buy the book when it comes out, but I wanted to share it because I'd like to get some feedback and because, well, because I'm excited to have done it.

Car companies in the 1950s figured out that the hotrod culture was essentially a low-cost R&D lab and marketing research division, and that popular modifications could be mass produced and sold to a broader public. Similarly, it looks like maybe computer component companies are catching the same wave made by the casemod folks.

Western Digital has just released (as covered by Slashdot a hard drive with a transparent window, so that you can see the parts moving inside. This is of course the same phenomenon as revealing a hotrod's engine, except mapped to computers:

Various peripheral component manufacturers (of boards, fans, etc), have known about this for a long time, but I'm glad to see the industrial designers at the major component manufacturers figuring it out.

In the last couple of months Liz and I have become friends with Jason and Di-Ann in Portland. They have a new startup called Platial. Platial is one of the sites in the cluster of social geographic bookmarking sites which are appearing (Tagzania and Plazes are two others, I think there are probably at least 6 more in the field). Its aim is to let you create a personal geography of interesting points. For example, I put in my childhood home and added a couple of tags. However, it's the only point I've put in, and I started to wonder why. For me, it's because none of these systems support one of the primary ways I think about personal geographies, which is in terms of regions.

For example, in addition to locating the specific place where Powell's books is located in NW Portland (where we live), I'd like to be able to identify regions of the place.

With this idea, people could add multiple tags to the same region...

Or different people could use the same tag with multiple regions, so that, like with other kinds of folksonomies, there wouldn't necessarily have to be agreement in the meaning of a term, but the variation would be informational in itself.

The general idea is that I think in terms of regions of activity, rather than clusters of points, when I'm thinking of personal geographies. If you look at the Google/Flickr memory maps you will notice this, too. Occasionally there are points or things that can be defined as points, but for the most part, it's areas.

[NB: "bohopolis" is my term for the fragmented bohemian city that I live in; whether it's the Mission District of San Francisco, Friedrichshain in Berlin, the Alberta Arts District in Portland, Corktown in Detroit, the East Village...it's all the same city, just unevenly distributed]

I recently got a list of magazines pirated by what I believe to be a group of Chinese media pirates. As far as I can tell, most of the magazines they get digitally from some subscription service, though some appear to be hand-scanned. It makes for an interesting profile of the pirates. They're interested in computers, of course, but also motor sports, home decor, luxury goods, horror movies, and business. Politics is noticeably (and nor surprisingly) absent from the list (or maybe it's just because I can't read Chinese and this list is primarily in English).

Anyway, here's your free market research on the interests of today's Chinese magazine pirate:

AAAS Science
Active Home
Alternative Medicine
Animal Wellness
Architectural Record
Beijing Review
Briefing China Business
Business Weekly
Car and Driver
Cat News
Central Ohio Youth Sports
Chemical Week
CHIP - Digital TV (German)
Cine live
Circuit Cellar
Citizen Culture
Computer Active
Computer Fraud and Security
Computer Graphics World
Computer Law and Security Report
Computer Power User
Computer Shopper
Computing UK
Consumer Electronics Lifestyles
Country Living
Courrier International
Cruising World
Cycle World
Defence Technology International
Desktop Engineering
Destination Weddings and Honeymoons
Digital Camera
Dog News
Dr Dobbs Journal
Dynamic Graphics
Electronic Gaming Monthly
Envus Ethnic Mens
EPE (Everyday Practical Electronics)
Fly Fishing in Salt Waters
Focus Titel
Garden Design
Good Life Connoisseur
Harvard Business Review
Hit Parader
Home Theater
Income Trust
Income Trust
Infosecurity Today
Institutional Investor
IT Week
Janes Defence Weekly
Macworld UK
Marlin Sportfishing
Matador Girls
Mens Health
Motocross Action
Motor Trend
Motorcycle Sport and Leisure
Mountain Bike Action
National Geographic
National Geographic (Chinese)
National Geographic Espana
National Review
Network World
NME Originals
Old Glory
Oracle Professional
PC Novice
PC Today
Personal Computer World
Photoshop Fix
Pocket PC
Popular Mechanics
Popular Photography and Imaging
Power Cruising
Private - Pirate
Racecar Engineering
Rap Mag
Reader Digest
Red Herring
Report On Mining
Reseller World Middle East
Road and Track
Rotor and Wing
SA Sports Illustrated
Sailing World
Scientific American
Scientific American - Mind
Scooterist Scene
Security Advisor Middle East
Smart Access
Smart Computing
Sound and Vision
Spiegel (German)
Sporting News
SQL Server Professional
Super Bike
The Hockey News
The Scottish Farmer
US News and World Report
Via Satellite
Visual Studio Developer
Volks World
Wake Boarding
Warbird Modeling, Battle of Britain,
Water Ski
What Digital Camera
Windows ITpro
Woman and Home
Womans Day
World Soccer
World Trade
WSJ Briefing China Business
WSJ Briefing China Manufacturing


For the new year, I was treated to an amusing honor. Australian ABC news used one of my Flickr pictures to illustrate a story on Sony's fake graffiti ad campaign. This kind of "guerilla" advertising always smells of someone in an ad agency reading a business book, then pitching the idea to an ad buyer who doesn't really know what hip is, but works for a hip company. This kind of astroturfing nearly always backfires. Like Nike's appropriation of a Minor Threat record cover last year, it may sound like a good idea to everyone except its audience. When a phenomenon was mocked by the Simpsons 8 years ago, it's probably time to give it a rest. That said, maybe Sony managed to get some of the 18-24 year-olds who were the likely target of this campaign to actually buy a PSP, but--frankly--I don't see how. I think they would have done much better if they let real graffiti writers design custom cases for the things, or something.

On another graffiti-meets-video games note, it seems that after two years, Getting Up, the graffiti-themed video game cobranded with Marc Ecko's clothing line is nearly complete. I hope they've fixed some of the moralist-baiting stuff: versions I saw had the lead character doing all kinds of violence against hapless security guards in order to get into a good spot for tagging. That's both unlike how graffiti writers generally behave and totally undermines any positive "graffiti is cool" message Ecko and Atari may have. It's using cultural cues with no appreciation of the long-term effects on that culture (contrast with GTA: San Andreas, which was a full-on homage to the culture it was invoking, down to the stuff revealed by the"Hot Coffee" mod). But, then again, that's not surprising, either. Clueless cultural tourism is par for the course for unsuccessful products. It's one of the things that makes them unsuccessful. Good luck Sony and good luck Atari.

Finally, I think that the reason my picture was picked was because of its Creative Commons license. Woohoo! Go CC.




A device studio that lives at the intersections of ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, industrial design and materials science.

The Smart Furniture Manifesto

Giant poster, suitable for framing! (300K PDF)
Full text and explanation

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Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design

By me!
ISBN: 0123748992
Published in September 2010
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Observing the User Experience: a practitioner's guide to user research

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ISBN: 1558609237
Published April 2003
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This page is an archive of entries from January 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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