April 2009 Archives

Thanks to Tim O'Reilly's generous promotion of my Etech talk, the concept of information shadows has been mentioned a bit in the last couple of weeks.

I'm very flattered, and although the coinage of the specific term is roughly mine, I did not originate the concept. The idea of data entities associated with objects, but having lives of their own, probably goes back as far as the oldest identification technologies, but there are several precedents that deserve mention (especially Adam Greenfield's). Here's a tiny bibliography of two of them (and thank you Google Scholar for helping me find them).

Data shadow

Westin, Alan F. 1967. Privacy and Freedom. (this is a very early coinage, probably resulting from the same reaction to computerization as the anti punch-card protests in Berkeley in the 60s, but that's just a hypothesis)

More modern references can be found at Word Spy

Informational Shadow

Baird, D. "The Thing-Y-Ness Of Things: Materiality And Spectrochemical Instrumentation, 1937-1955." In The Empirical Turn in the Philosophy of Technology (Kroes, Meijers, Mitcham editors), 2000 (this is a philosophy of science paper that argues that physical manifestation of an idea matters; he criticizes the distant relationship we have with material culture--"Forget the steel, what we want is its informational shadow.")

Davidson, Paul, and Louise Davidson. The Collected Writings of Paul Davidson. 1990. (this is a collection of macroeconomic essays, one of which says that we can't make judgments about the future because it does not cast an informational shadow back toward us--this is a very different use of the term, but still obliquely related)

Greenfield, Adam. Everyware, 2006 (My information shadow is nearly identical to Adam's informational shadow. In Everyware, he writes: "The significance of technologies like RFID and 2D barcoding is that they offer a low-impact way to "import" physical objects into the datasphere, to endow them with an informational shadow.")

I gave a presentation at the Web 2.0 Expo today where I tried to tie together the basic tenets of Web 2.0-style thinking about sharing data through open APIs and the promise of embedded information processing and networking distributed through the environment (i.e. ubicomp).

Here's the description:

Ubiquitous computing has been here since at least 2005, but we may not have noticed it. Computers are rapidly fragmenting from expensive general-purpose devices to cheaper specialized networked tools (phones, netbooks, desktop RFID readers, MP3 players, running shoe sensors, etc.). These tools bridge the physical world and the Internet in new ways, often using Web 2.0-style interaction to create unexpected ways to work and play in the real world while simultaneously having the power of the Net available to us. This talk will discuss how mashups between meatspace and the Net have already happened, what the emerging patterns are, and how widgetization is about to jump from social networks to devices and then disappear altogether.

The presentation with full text is available here (1.2MB PDF).

I also realized belatedly that I never once mentioned "The Internet of Things" as a unifying concept, but it's definitely what I was talking about. My apologies.




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

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
  • tamberg.myopenid.com: 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

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This page is an archive of entries from April 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

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