August 2007 Archives

Elizabeth Goodman and I got married this weekend in San Francisco (where we live). I'm ecstatic to be married to the smartest, wisest, funniest, sweetest, most wonderful person I know. Thank you Liz for agreeing to be my wife.

(photo by Cassidy Curtis)

Thanks also to everyone who came, and extra special thanks to everyone who helped. Timothy, your forklift skills (among other things) are amazing. Thank you.

Various people took photos, here are some from Flickr:

James',Audra's,Cassidy's, Peter's,Brian's.

Thank you all, again.

[8/28/07 update: Elizabeth posted some photos, and so did I, along with some photos of our honeymoon]

I had the honor and pleasure of being invited to give two very different presentations recently.

Yesterday, I was on a panel at the Headlands Center for the Arts on the economic side of creative work. This is something that's long interested me, but something I rarely get to discuss in private, much less in public with such panelists as Donald Fortescue, Bruce Tomb and Andrea Zittel. My presentation (400K PDF) was only a small piece of the two-hour discussion, but I figured I'd share it anyway. In it, I introduce the idea of boundary objects as a way to talk about products and projects that fall between the primarily commercial work of design and the primarily expressive work of art (though as the discussion showed, the distinction is very fuzzy). In the presentation, I mention the work of Noam Toran and although I have ranted about critical design before, I think his work is great, even though I still don't think it's really design. Also, if you were there: what I meant when I said that the high end art market (which is a market, unlike the music industry) was corrupt was that its workings (as someone on the outside) are highly opaque and that I believe it is highly susceptible to price manipulation and insider trading; if it was a regulated market, I believe that there would be a lot of playfield-leveling regulation that would be done to keep dealers, collectors and museums from leveraging their respective power in the financial and reputation markets unfairly toward people outside of the existing social network.

The second presentation (650K PDF) I gave was on sketching for frogdesign San Francisco back in mid-July. It outlines much of the work that ThingM has been doing this year and how it fits into our overall philosophy of sketching as an agile user experience design methodology.

[I wrote this for the ThingM newsletter that went out yesterday, but thought it may be of broader interest]

Wine keeps reappearing at the intersection of the digital world and the physical one. Bruce Sterling's pioneering book on the implications of ubiquitous computing, Shaping Things, uses it extensively as an example, but he wasn't the first to discuss it. Wine is the textbook example (literally) in the Information Architecture world, where the problem of organizing is often used to explain an approach known as faceted classification. Virtual Vineyard (arguably the first successful ecommerce website) launched before Amazon did.

Why? Our theory is that wine exists in two worlds: as a physical object and as an informational one. The informational object doesn't just exist as a way to help people select wine to drink, but the information about the wine becomes an important part of the process of collecting wine. Moreover, unlike other collectibles that exist as physical and informational objects (think Magic the Gathering cards), wine is a consumable. You can never get a complete set and what you have is always shrinking, so there's a perpetual pressure to gather new information to gather new wine.

The problem is that wine bottles are terribly difficult to track. As collectibles, there are market pressures to create scarcity, which leads many producers (especially of high-end wines) to avoid using the most common object tracking mechanism, the UPC barcode. Barcodes symbolize mass production to wine producers struggling to create scarcity, so they don't use them, or use them haphazardly. We feel this ends up backfiring on wine producers, creating obscurity instead. Wine is a classic Long Tail product: in other words, there's a huge volume of potential in the obscure end of the market, but despite wine's early entry as objects of cutting-edge technological consideration, it hasn't achieved nearly its potential.

We believe the core problem is that most wine is virtually untrackable in the information space. It's a physical object that has no anchor to which to attach data. There is huge potential in creating such anchors. Ulla-Maaria Mutanen created the Thinglink project to create "social objects" that "make it possible to 1) aggregate online discussion around particular items, 2) track their history, and 3) develop new ways of connecting through particular objects on the web." She's talking about handicrafts, but the same thing can--and should--apply to wine.

However, when I went to the Wine Industry Technology Symposium a couple of weeks ago, there was virtually no discussion of ideas like this, even as the group discussed the power of "Web 2.0" and social networks.

Since we're currently working on an RFID wine rack, we're thinking a lot about these issues. We would like the answer to be RFIDs embedded in wine labels (invisibly) coupled with open, shared communication standards for exchanging wine information. These should look forward toward the capabilities of the technology and the "social life" of objects that bridge the information and physical worlds, rather than trying to copy UPCs or ISBNs, as valuable as those have been. Until then, wine, that most textbook example of hybrid objects, will be frustratingly out of reach for consumers, who then will be themselves frustratingly unavailable to producers. It's a situation that could be much better (i.e. profitable and enjoyable) for everyone involved.




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

Recent Photos (from Flickr)

Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design

By me!
ISBN: 0123748992
Published in September 2010
Available from Amazon

Observing the User Experience: a practitioner's guide to user research

By me!
ISBN: 1558609237
Published April 2003
Available from Amazon

Recent Comments

  • Katherina: Information not just material. In our days it is a read more
  • Hi Mike, totally agree on building the IoT in a read more
  • Mutuelle: Man is the reflections of his thought, some name it read more
  • Amanda Carter: You obviously placed a great deal of work into that read more
  • Molly: You might find it interesting to connect with return of read more
  • George: You might want to change "Size" to "form" for terminal. read more
  • Mike: Thanks for the reminder, Robin. I'm aware of that article, read more
  • Robin: It's a slightly different argument (it predates most work in read more
  • Tim: This reminded me of the Pleo video Mark posted awhile read more
  • michael studli: i was wonting to know is the game fun to read more

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from August 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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