Wednesday, 30 January 2008

The Web Breaks Out

As all the tech trend round-ups of 2007 bounce about in articles on and offline generally citing 2007 as the 'Year of the Social Network', I wondered what next year's - or the one in five years' time (can't be precise about these things) - will be extolling.

I'm not a great believer in predicting stuff: there's just too much we can't know and there's randomness, but as a general feel for what might happen here goes.

I think it will be about how the web broke out, starting to slide from behind our screens and swirling deeper into the real world. This is not just mobile Internet. It's better.

The first major sign of this on a large scale is the fantastic Nike+. The Internet is not quite in your shoe but it's getting very close. Cut away the fact that the runner is informed by her iPod about all sorts of useful things (e.g. how fast she is going etc) and that the music it plays enhances the running experience and all the iPod is to the Nike+ system is a delivery boy, running messages between a shoe and the Internet.

With the advent of mobile-network enabled Internet or, even better, blanketed wireless Internet, this delivery boy is no longer needed. The Internet will be manifest in 'physical widgets', that is, real world objects augmented by their connection to the Internet. Something that sort of looks like this is Wattson, a sexy little physical widget that shows your energy consumption based on beamed data from your electricity meter.

This break out means that anything in the real world can be networked in. iPods already have; the iPod Touch is equipped with WiFi, allowing songs to be downloaded in a zone. One such zone is Starbucks, where songs playing in-store can be instantly downloaded as easily as buying a coffee. I have also written the possibility of 'kitchen widgets' here. These are essentially video recipe books that are creative by other users or pros and that could be made to sync with your grocery orders.

Outside of the house, your car will be able to update its hard drives before you set off for work, possibly adding your personalised news bulletins, recently customized iTunes playlists or tweaking the car's systems to be consistent with what it knows the weather will be like on the route you are going to take. In addition to this within-car wizardry, wireless blankets will allow between-car communication, calculating position, speed and host of other variables to possibly warn drivers about impending collisions. This is something being developed here.

Add to the wireless mix one more thing and the game changes again. If your physical widget knows where it is, this opens up a plethora of possibilities. Cars with the collision avoidance system I mentioned a second ago could factor in danger spots to improve saftey. People could create geo-playlists - songs linked to certain locations - and others could then walk in their musical vapour trails.

Similarly, cards in cameras will be dispensed and photos will take residence online as soon as they are snapped. Again, this is starting already. That particular kind of chip may be short-lived because cameras will have in-built wireless transmitters (this already exists in the form of the phone camera, it just hasn't gone vice versa yet).

The positions of photos taken can be recorded as well, allowing you to track back to the precise spot where you took it. Like geo-playlists, geo-slideshows could exist, where photographers could exhibit photos viewable on screens in certain locations (Flickr already have a rudimentary system in place for this, here, as do Google in Picasa Web.)

Perhaps the most exciting application of location aware photos is the possibility that hyperlinks can be built between them, allowing 3D models of the world to be built by millions of users. Microsoft are developing such a system called Photosynth.

Building on this is the very ripe area of geosearch. Here the physical world can be searched. Early versions of this are being actively researched. For example, a version of augmented reality using a mobile phone has been developed by Nokia here. In this GPS and orientation sensors dance together to allow buildings to be recognised via the camera.

The vision in my mind of how this will turn out is holding your camera up to a street and seeing in the overlay directions to your destination or the result of your search highlighted. Something like this:

This sort of thing will inevitably lead to (potentially very useful or spammy) location-sensitive advertising exploding out. Hungry? The sponsored links in the overlay will direct somewhere tasty, maybe even telling you today's specials. Google are understandbly excited about this and reckon that mobile ad revenue will be well over $1bn by 2012 (source: Financial Times).

So this is where I think the biggest trend in technology will be found in 2008 - the Internet unleashed and bursting out of screens. Probably, 2008 will only be the start of all that and much of the stuff I mentioned here will likely come later.

And if you'll let me be fanciful and imagine the logical endpoint of this expansion, I'd say it will be neurally accessible Internet. Where we can call upon the Internet in the same way we call upon a memory and where there is the potential to affect other perceptual systems. Where is the shop again? We could literally see it subtly highlighted in our vision, dispensing with the need for the mobile phones I mentioned earlier. But that's for another blog. Brain-Internet interfaces are a long way off but the Internet moving beyond its confines in the screen is not.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008


The film Crash may be rather pessimistic and over-wrought at times. It may also have rather too many ribbons of serendipitous connectedness running through it, tying everything and everyone neatly together. It looked like one of those hyperlink TV shows (like Lost, 24, Prison Break etc) squashed into a film. But I loved it.

Wonderfully, it's expanding out into the TV series it looked liked it had been squashed into. Leaving off from where the film finished it will go beyond the film's focus on ethnic relations and promises to reprise the original cast.

Here is a scene, which I love for packing a weighty dramatic punch. Thandie Newton and Matt Dillon's acting in both the earlier encounter (which sets up the tension for this scene) and this scene is brilliant. This is combined with Mark Isham's emollient score (the piece here is called 'Flames') and Paul Haggis' direction to create this mini-masterpiece:

Now you see it

Here I pointed out some work going on at Microsoft to stitch together millions of photos into 3D worlds. Here is something else you can do with lots of photos.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Where are you from?

This sort of thing adorns the front page of a vast number of international sites. Either the US and the UK have arrogantly (but conveniently) stuck themselves at the top of the list or I have to scroll down and find the UK. So this is a little web design grumble; why doesn't the website know where I am from? Why cant the IP address be used to avoid this step? Grr.

Photo Tapestries

I saw a very nifty piece of software being taken for a spin the other day. It’s called Photosynth and one of its features is the ability view an entire array of images and then seamlessly dive into it with exquisite detail. The other thing it can do is build relationships between photos creating interactive three-dimensional spaces. Well worth a look if you haven’t seen it already. Here's the vid. Here's the webpage.

Breaking Point

This is my result of my latest saddling of the Photoshop beast. It's a mash-up of all sorts of things, including exploding fruit, broken glass, hair, jellyfish tentacles and ice. Click here for the larger version.

Fighting bad web 2.0

I wrote about the dark underbelly of web 2.0 here. Something I suggested to counteract the increasingly fragmented, isolated and inaccurate islands of information (ooh alliteration!) is the adoption of professional standards for people publishing information on the Internet, which web 3.0 could enforce.

On the other side of the coin though, I realised (as I was thinking about the blog below) that the importance of professionals reporting fundamentally unbiased information will also need to grow. In the future, I see only one organisation capable of doing this. Yep, if the pic hadn't given it away, it's the BBC. I also just found a great little entry on this by Richard Titus - the Beeb's Head of User Experience. There is also an article on finding the truth on the net from the BBC here.

BBC Beta

The BBC is one of the most visited sites on the net and yet it looks old. Although I do like things to look digitally pretty (and site could do with a face lift), this is more than skin deep: it looks functionally old. I am talking about the HTML, the static design, the annoying Windows Media Player or Real Player videos, the funny little buttons and so on.

Anyway, I just headed over to the main BBC page (I normally only use the News page) and to my joy found this, a great-looking new(ish) beta page that launched last month. Clean, simple, personalised, localised and searchable. I hope something similar happens to the BBC News page soon.

See more about this on the BBC Internet Blog

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Capturing China

Having spent a month travelling around China last year, I was thrilled to find these photos by photographer Michael Roulier. They capture something wonderful about the mood of modern China much more acutely than I have been trying to do in conversations with people.

His lens has soaked up the character of the architecture and people; the ubiquity and mess of modern construction against the backdrop of classical architecture, the new shoots of economic prosperity crumbling the barren Maoist cityscapes, all embellished with the mossy green tinge of vegetation and humidity. Brilliant.

Roulier also has an engagingly beautiful nonlinear film on his site called Sub-memory Check. Turn off the lights and turn up the volume...

Witty Distortionist

Modern conceptual artists usually annoy me for dressing up their own mediocre talent with a thick layer of impentrable nonsense.

Sebastian Errazuriz, however, is neither mediocre nor content to smother his work in babble. Instead, his work is that great leveller - fun. I think it buzzes with a charming wit and a simplicity. The slightly creepy duck-light and the lego man helmet are just two examples. His website has more (but appears to be under development at the moment)

He doesnt just disort the ordinary and everyday though. In 2005, he created an illuminated crane-cum-nightlight to scare-off demons in Santiago. The year after he planted a magnolia tree smack-bang in the middle of of the same city's National Stadium, in the same place that Pinochet tortured his political foes three decades ago.

A football match was even played around it!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

In bad catalogues

Specifically for chilly days (when you have forgotten your coat, jumper, bra and judgement) this will replace the shape of nipples with the much more normal shape of medium-sized soap.

The mug updated

Hot mug holding problems vanish with this lovely heat-sink inspired design.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

The dark underbelly of Web 2.0

Web 2.0 – broadly, the move from a read-only web to a read-write web – has given millions of people a platform to make their thoughts heard. This has a created spectacular positive change in the way the Internet operates.

People can upload thoughts, videos, music, etc. This can be intellectually nourishing, highly satisfying and plain fun; in short, can be an enormous addition to people’s lives. I have no problem with any of this, in fact, I am all for it. It’s when it starts affecting others’ lives negatively that it becomes problematic.

The benefits of Web 2.0 are much discussed; the disadvantages remain underspecified. And disadvantages there are.

What I am talking about is the dark underbelly to the massively-multi-author Internet. The way Web 2.0 has become a playground for the bigoted.

Like how the BBC's 'Have Your Say' rapidly descends into offensive mud-throwing contest between crudely stereotyped ideological positions; or how a benign video on YouTube will generate a gruesome binge of aggressive xenophobia; or how a female vlogging will be 'digitally assaulted' when lurid comments are posted detailing the acts some man wishes to perform with her. (The image shows AnonyGirl1, a teenage girl and a frequent YouTube vlogger, receiving a comment.)

What I am talking about are the sorts of things on which court cases are fought in the analogue world but which run amok in the digital one. Really, what Web 2.0 gives in many cases is an accurate model of human communication from behind fully-tinted bullet-proof glass.

However, this quick-to-rear hatred is arguably not the biggest problem: it’s too obvious. For most it’s an annoyance, for some an insult. Rather, it’s all that politely composed opinion that is nevertheless unqualified, confused and inarticulate that is dodgy. Properly researched opinion is replaced by armchair journalism of the worst sort.

The argument that the democratisation of the web cancels out these pockets, because people can just get their information from another source, is undermined by the evidence that people inhabit their niches in the blogosphere and don't tend to take trips outside of it (for instance, Republicans will not read Democrat blogs and vice versa) (the source for this evidence is eluding me at the moment, but I will find the report I read it in soon!).

What you have then are unaccountable, isolated pockets of heavily-biased information in which people wallow, breeding ignorance and bigotry.

This is not a plea for a return to the old-style top-down system of a few professionals writing for the many. (Far from it: Web 2.0 is arguably the greatest addition to democracy and meritocracy that has ever existed.)

Instead, I think the many should adopt standards of the professionals. You never know, maybe Web 3.0 could automatically enforce it....



Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Laser keyboard

Solution to the problem of small keyboards. Not all that new but thought it was interesting. Available from here.

Internet Origami

You can make this cheeky little chappy here. Also zip over to this site if you like the idea.

Just Doing It on the Internet

In a previous post I wondered what a 'land-based' brand has to do to make the best use of the Internet. Here I talk about the brand I think has done this.

If the image hadn't given you a fat enough clue, it's Nike. Wherever you find Nike in the digital landscape it is using the Internet’s raw power and operating at the sparking edge. Unquestionably the best example of this is Nike+. Here data, community and personalized experience dance together to create an exquisite digital universe for runners.

The ad budget is diverted away from messages that people are likely to want to block out to a useful application that people want to use, which implicitly communicates what the brand stands for anyway and is likely to reach far more people through that potent tool, word-of-mouth, than by traditional means.

Nike+ is not the only feather in Nike’s digital cap. On a smaller scale, for example, Nike Rockstar Workout (cutting-edge dance instruction for women) and Nike ID (database-driven shoe customization) do the same to offer services and content to people.

And these ideas clearly work: Nike has added $6bn to its revenue in the last four years something which its management happily admits is in large part because of how the brand has behaved online.

So, I believe Nike has made the best use of the Internet for actually using the things the web is good at, leading the way in using them to improve marketing and for being the engine for fantastic commercial growth. The Nike brand is not stuck in the drive just looking nice; it is out on the road and leading the way.

(If anyone is wondering what my other choice would be, it's Apple. Along with Nike+ iTunes is probably the best digital 'ad' ever. Why does it meet 'ad' status? It's free. It is continuously updated (thus very slightly aging your old iPod's with its new features). It locks you into Apple. It's a wonderful experience (ever tried using Sony's Sonic Stage? I'd rather try to swallow a Sony MP3 than connect it to SonicStage.) [Oct 2008 addition] And now with Genius it is actually creating sales based on the library's content.)

Internet Brand Ingredients

Lots of brands are the Internet. Things like Google, Yahoo!, Wikipedia, Flickr, You Tube, Facebook and so on. But what do 'land-based' (i.e. non-Internet) brands that want to get in on the action online have to do to make the best use of the Internet? What sort of ingredients should they have? Here I have a crack at answering that question.

You wouldn't buy a beautiful sports car and never drive it: all that engine power would go to waste. Yet most brands behave like this online, sitting pretty but not utilising the power of the Internet as the vastly powerful platform for data, community and personalized experience that it is. Any brand making use of these and not just looking pretty is doing well.

Added to that, the best brands should be using the novelty of the medium to improve marketing. This means giving people attention (engaging them) instead of constantly taking it (enraging them). It means forging better relationships with people by delighting, informing and serving them. In short, by behaving altruistically.

So exploiting the medium’s raw talents and offering something back are two criteria for a great brand online. I have a third: the ideas have to work – commercially, socially etc – otherwise what is the point?

So, which brand has mastered this triad the best? Find out here.

Light Scuptures

Went to this fantastic mini-exhibition today by British artist Anthony McCall. Rooms are filled with a small amount of smoke and bright white shapes are projected through it. This creates razor-sharp 'light-sculptures'. The best bit is getting inside the beam furthest from the projector and looking back up the cone or plane. The Brownian motion of the smoke dupes the visual system in exciting ways.

The privacy divide

I saw this last year and had to scratch my head a little. How was presenting a search engine as underground and revolutionary ever going to poach people using Yahoo! and Google?

I thought it might have been a David and Goliath strategy; present your brand as the human underdog and your competition as corporate behemoths and get the alternative-thinking trend setters to start using the brand.

Anyway, I forgot about it until December when the cleverness of the strategy became apparent when I saw another ad.

Privacy International has said that Google's attitude to privacy is "at its most blatant is hostile, and at its most benign is ambivalent" (source).

So, attack Google's perceived weakness: privacy. Make search amnesic. Let it leave no wake. This is precisely what now offers. And the new search engine from Jimmy Wales has promised to be the same.

I wonder, as the Internet rhizomatically grows and knows more about us, how this privacy debate will play out. I think we'll see privacy as a growing issue possibly dividing the web between those who don't mind having their eggs in one basket and those who'd rather there was no history of those eggs at at all.

Sick cat - some remedies

I spoke about Jaguar as an unwell brand here and suggested that it needed to lose those Ford, elitist jet-set and old-man associations. I said instead of being the car of the retiring director this should be the intelligent choice for the high-level executive. Here I'll give some ideas about how to achieve this injection of youth and intelligence using non-traditional media.


The first thing I would do is include the car in the home's wireless network. This would open the doors to a lot of interesting applications. A few might be:
  • The Jaguar Playlist. This would include playlists of cutting-edge music and exquisite classical available to the public and Jaguar owners, except the Jag owners would have the playlists available automatically in their cars.

    A Jaguar interior complete with music so good that it might as well be made right there. Click the image to enlarge.
  • Add GPS to the mix and it would be possible to create geo-playlists. In a similar manner to Night Driving, where VW (DDB) tried to inject the sheer pleasure back into driving by offering night driving routes, geo-playlists would foster driving pleasure though offering great driving routes with an accompanying soundtrack. Drivers would literally discover new music as they drive
  • All sorts of other things that could be 'downloaded' to the car include pre-planned routes you have designed on your computer, entertainment for passengers, the car's improved software (much like Apple do to improve the functioning of the iPods and iPhones), the locations of traffic works, local petrol prices and so on.
  • GPS and car data could also be married together to add value to the driving experience by 'uploading' back to the computers in the house. This might allow for a Jaguar driving analysis website where driving stats could be translated into actionable suggestions like how to consume less fuel or improve your driving routes. It could even be start of 'Driving Web 2.0', where Jaguar owners share great driving routes or arrange group activities.

Moving away from music, while BMW have BMW Films and Audi have the Audi Channel it would seem there is gap for a really gripping Internet 'TV' series in a similar multi threaded, cognitively-feisty style to shows like 24, Lost and Prison Break. Although money might seem like an issue here, I really don't think it is. Season 1 of 24 cost $35,000,000, which works out at about $32, 400 per minute ($35m / [24 episodes x 45 mins]). Guinness just spent a rumoured £10,000,000 ($21,000,000) on this, which works out at $14m per minute ($21,000,000/1.5 mins).

Now, there's probably a tiny bit of comparing apples and oranges here because of media budgets and agency fees (not sure if these are included in that figure) but even so I know what I would rather watch. Even a six part Internet TV show loosely based around Jaguar in some way (designs for their next model are stolen they need to recover them?) would be worth it and attract (rather than impose upon) a healthy number of viewers. The shows could be downloaded into the car's system (like the playlists earlier) for stationary periods or for the back seats.


I am not entirely sure about the much banded-about claim that the games industry is bigger than the film industry but it is big and it is not just catering to pale teenagers. Instead, it looks like this:

(Data from ESA)

Put simply, the people who play computer games overlap with the age group I think Jaguar should be aiming for. It would be a great way reach the Jaguar audience, give off a younger feel and invite people into the brand instead of forcing it upon them. The money is feasible as well. Digital Spy reports that the average cost of developing a PS3 game is $15 million. Assuming the game takes a year to develop, even a relatively inexpensive game would only soak up perhaps 10% of the budget (Jaguar's global ad spend in 2004 was $100m according to this.)

I don't even think the game need be completely dedicated to driving. The most popular genres in the industry include strategy, role playing, action and sports games. One idea might be to let players be like ex-special forces agent Frank Martin, the driver-cum-action hero in Transporter. This would combine driving elements from things like Need For Speed with the strategy, action and role playing of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory. Essentially, the idea would be to complete some intellectually challenging mission with the Jaguar car as one of your major tools.

Art and technology

The next suggestion is to create link-ups with other 'artfully engineered' fields, like architecture or digital art. Perhaps Jaguar could associate itself with all sorts of things that fuse art and technology. They could have the Jaguar Architecture Awards or put on an exhibition of artists whose work celebrates the interdisciplinary spirit at the Tate Modern (e.g. Theo Jansen, Julius Popp, Alex Bradley and Charles Poulet or Ryoji Ikeda.)

I'll add more as I think of them but it's things like this that I think Jaguar should be doing. Not things like the "Gorgeous" campaign.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Sick cat - the problem

Jaguar is a not a happy cat. Sales have been tumbling since Ford bought the marque in 1989. Last year it hemorrhaged a little less than in previous years losing a $100 million, despite a healthy luxury market. Half the problem was the accountants' approach to car building which has produced a glorified Ford (now sorted I think). But the other half of the problem is Jaguar's image. Take for example their expensive “Gorgeous” campaign in 2005:

My beef is that there was no repositioning away from the main commercial obstacle, namely that it’s still behaving like old man's car. The spot is supposed to appeal to the jet-set but, for me, it comes across as way too glossy (and even sickly - how many times was 'gorgeous' slopped about in the copy?)

Where was the passion building like the BMW Films or Audi Channel? The Jaguar site is also a bit flat, never getting deeper than the gloss of stills, the occasional video and that horrible use of simulated page turning. Nothing compared to the likes of the Audi R8 site, BMW Pace or the Mercedes R-Class microsite.

The brand used to stand for menacing pace and luxury and now looks a bit behind the times. It should have the all the appeal of Aston Martin - recently voted Britain's coolest brand - but sadly it doesn't. Personally, I don't think the problem is with the cars; the new ones are beautiful:

Jaguar XK 2008Jaguar XF 2008

As Jaguar changes hands now is the perfect time to regain that lost trick. Something needs to be done so that those Ford, elitist jet-set and old-man associations quickly disappear in the rear-view mirror and the marque can start making some financial distance. Instead of being the car of the retiring director this should be the intelligent choice for the high-level executive. In the next post I'll give some ideas about how to achieve this injection of youth and intelligence using non-traditional media.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Ordinary Night London

Just came across this on Flickr and thought it was great. Made all the more so because there is a nice story behind it. One of those ones that makes a little incision into the ordinary, lets you take a peek in and closes up when you're done. I love little things like that, events that don't change anything but are nonetheless thoroughly interesting.

I read a book like that last month, which starts with a crisp London nightscape. A neurosurgeon, unable to sleep, peers out into the night to see a plane with an engine on fire gliding across the cool night's sky, with the BT tower in the foreground. The book is Saturday by Ian McEwan.

The plotlessness of it - whilst being the primary cause of dislike among many Amazon reviewers - was the gateway to an exquisite celebration of the ordinary, which manages to capture something about what it is like to live in London right now.

I recommend this book with caution because people are clearly split between viewing this as boring, smug drivel and a work of majestic literary observation. In a geekier moment, I noticed this is supported by the soft u-shaped function that has emerged from the review graph on Amazon.

If you love the rich details of ordinary life then this is unmissable; if not, it's not.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

The future of food

Gordon Ramsay is doing something interesting tomorrow. He is doing a live cook-along; people watch him live having bought the ingredients already and cook the same dish themselves. I have always wondered why this hasn't been a feature of the 7-8ish time slot on TV. I'd love to be able to cook with an expert in the background guiding me through it. Or better, I'd love to video it (which would be fine for BBC) and then play it back as I am going along.

Anyway, the programme gives me the chance to write about a slew of thoughts that have been sloshing about for a while on buying and cooking food.

First, buying. We have all been content to buy ingredients separately for the dishes we want to cook, spending ages in store deliberating about what might go with what and which ingredient were are missing.

But I think the Internet should let us buy dishes outright, and the ingredients can sort themselves out. I just popped over to Sainsbury's website and saw that there is something like this in its early stages, which is great.

Such is the potency of the idea that it could change the way we buy food. Imagine a beautiful Flash site where meals were presented with endless customisation possibilities and nutritional information. Like songs on the iTunes store, meals could be selected, the ingredients automatically arranged, the bill paid and the stuff delivered or made ready for pick-up at a store.

Foodie Web 2.0 could occur. Here people would upload their recipes to the Sainsbury's or Tesco database along with a video of how to cook it. Friends and family could then try each other's dishes, rating and sharing recipes with others in real Web 2.0 spirit. More popularly, top chefs could be brought on board to deliver their own recipes, which you could just drag and drop into your basket.

Once it arrives at your house (or after you have picked it up in store) then videos of the actual cooking process (made by friends, family or pros) could be loaded up near the kitchen or, better yet, in a 'kitchen widget', a standalone kitchen-proof screen, which could wirelessly receive the video instructions.

Like Gordon will tomorrow, you would be able to cook along. Unlike Gordon, you'll be able to pause, back up or go over a bit you know, laugh at the way your sister pretends to be Delia and take advantages of your Mum's great cookie recipe. All the pleasure and goodness of home cooked food and altogether much less fuss. Digital recipe 'books' (screens) would come as standard in new kitchens.

Fast forwarding a bit, when RFID becomes mainstream our fridges and cupboards might even sync with the supermarket's databases and eventually work out from our current food levels what we need and don't need for our chosen dishes, just like updating podcasts. Anyway, I'm getting carried away.

In a nutshell, the web has touched many areas but food remains a minor player. This should change. Instead of buying ingredients we should be buying meals and then have fun cooking them using our kitchen widgets. If this takes off the good old shopping trolley may meet a sad end.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Now Available In Beautiful

Dell suddenly looks like design might be an important part of their strategy with this slick 22-incher and also with an ad for the XPS, which sort of looks a little Apple-ish (the white background, the soft female lyrics, the sharp cut to the black logo on white at the end) but is nevertheless good.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Nice desk

Jonathan Ive is probably the most influential designer in consumer eletronics, defining the aesthetic which everyone else in technology imitates. Now it's extending to furniture with the Milk Desk, a beautifully minimalistic design with a fantastic website to go with. All products should have website that let you explore the item like this.

Not now!

from henryfaber @ Flickr

Yesterday was a bad day. I didn’t get much done. And I didn’t get much done because I was continuously interrupted. The ubiquity of interruption is neatly captured by Lewis Mumford when he said
“…the only place sacred from interruption is the private toilet.” There's a moment in Iannucci's brilliant The Thick of It where this sentiment is felt by the weary minister for Social Affairs, High Abbott,

All I do: I work, I eat, I shower, that's it. Occasionally I take a dump, just as a sort of treat. I mean that really IS my treat. I sit there and I think - no, I'm not gonna read the New Statesman, this time is just for me. This is quality time just for me. Is it normal?"

These cubicles of peace are retreats from “the malady of modernity”, from our “age of interruption”.

As interruption tickled my curiosity I spent a bit of time learning about it. The main news – unsurprisingly - is that it’s a cognitive kick in the nuts. (But see here for a positive account.) It is the hand that smacks all your papers out of your grasp letting them scatter to the floor. Interruptions mean you’ll take longer to get back to where you were and you’ll also make more mistakes doing so.

This is merely annoying for the majority of us but it’s a serious issue when safety is important, like flying, surgery or warfare. There have been accidents where a fat finger has been pointed at interruption (like here). As a result, there is some serious research into it.

Where it gets interesting is when you ask ‘What to do about it?’ “Our problems are man made; therefore, they can be solved by man”. In other words than those of JFK, technology got us into this mess, so it can get out us. And some of the ways it intends to do this are intriguing.

By designing software that is sensitive to our human foibles, all sorts of gadgets can be endowed with the ability to interrupt at more appropriate times. One thing that has made this easier is the finding that pupil size and subjective workload are correlated; the eyes are literally the windows to attention. This is already being put to use by the likes of Volvo and aerospace companies.

Other factors can be chucked into the mix too, like current activities on or off a system, ambient volume, face and speech recognition, interrupter identity and so on, to build Bayesian statistical models. These can then imbue systems with an awareness of the context, putting that phone call through to voice mail when you are navigating a tricky roundabout or prioritising incoming information to the air traffic controller’s screen.

All very fascinating and very likely to be helping me have a more productive day than I did yesterday in the near future. For more on this area, have fun with this beast.

Monday, 14 January 2008


Came across a great photographer/digital artist whose photos use the small (food, material etc) to portray the big. See his brilliant work here.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Favourite building of 2007

Photo by Feng Jun / ChinaFotoPress / Getty

Completed only a matter of days ago, this is China's National Theatre. It sits adjacent to the (in)famous Tiananmen Square and is claimed to be the largest performance hall on earth. It has been dubbed the 'pearl' or 'duck egg' because the massive half-oval is reflected in a vast square lake surrounding it. Despite detractors claiming it lacks any Chinese characteristics, this arrangement mirrors that of The Temple of Heaven - a twenty minute walk away. In both, a round part sits atop a square symbolising the ancient Chinese belief that heaven is round and earth is square.

The building by French architect Paul Andreu (also the man behind Heathrow T5) has divided Chinese opinion, but I would guess that most of its critics have only seen it on paper. When I stood by it 3 months ago, before all the lighting had been installed, it was one of those rare occasions when a building moves you. The whole structure seemingly hovers before you like a vast spaceship.

Photo by Will Lion

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Digital minds

As the money flows out of traditional communications and into digital ones, I wondered if digital is the better medium. I think it is. Here are a few rough thoughts about why from a cognitive perspective.

1. Interaction means stronger memories

This is a simple point really. In 1976 two cognitive psychologists found that interacting with information instead of just consuming it produced better memories. This opportunity for dialogue gives the internet the edge over monologue media because communications will be better remembered. And interactivity here doesnt mean clicking or hyperlinking, it means forcing people to flex a bit of cognitive muscle.

e.g. LG - Life's Good when... - people completed the sentence and made YouTube videos from that
e.g. Orange Paper Film Festival
e.g. Levi's Mobile Audio Mixer (MAX)

2. Social capital

Why humans have such big brains is something that receives a lot of head scratching by people with the biggest brains. A lot think that it has something to do with being incredibly social creatures; the bigger problems faced by group living drove the brain to produce systems to handle them. Now we have an external system to help support our sociality even more: the internet. Brands that can tap into this should do well and the internet provides the opportunity that has been lacking in traditional media for this to happen.

e.g. Nike+
e.g. Nikon and Flickr
e.g. Times Health Club

3. Virtual living

Schemas are mental structures that allow all humans to use the past to help navigate through the present. They are the mind's shortcuts for thinking, including nuggets of information on, for example, people (stereotypes) and events (scripts). They'll be things like how to program your video, the processes of ordering food in a restaurant or approaching the dating game. They are updated continuously by experience. What the internet can do is let us update schemas virtually for better analogue living. Whereas TV, posters and radio can show and tell us new ways of doing things, the Internet can let us try them out.

e.g. Lynx/Axe - Improve your Game or Get in There
e.g. Nike+ podcasts

I think there'll be more virtual products and brand-behavioural (e.g. Lynx -Improve your Game) stuff appearing. Some examples might be test driving your future car, trying out a new phone, your bank educating you in financial matters (how to start-up a new business etc).

I'll update this as I have more thoughts but there are three reasons why digital is the best.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

And so it begins...


The last thing a fish notices is that it's wet. Someone clever said that. I can't remember who they are. Well, I am not a fish yet; I'm just jumping in. But before I get wet and get used to this new technology, it worth saying this is amazing.

I don't need a publisher. Or a deal. Or a column. Or anything. I can just post away and it's out there for anyone. That's truly incredible. This is truly incredible.