Week 100

After our 100th week, some reflection on coping with major changes, and a report on some events we’ve been attending.

Adaptation

Things have been changing around here, and we’re working on adapting to new conditions. It seems at times as if this September is far too busy a month to work in some rest and relaxation, and being so busy creates a hesitation and sometimes slight guilt towards properly switching off. However, as advocates of naps and work-life balance, we also realize that taking vacation, as Johannes and Igor are quite wisely doing this month, provides a good opportunity to reassess the situation, reset the mindset and approach work a couple weeks later with a more flexible, relaxed mind.

A mindset adjustment is definitely necessary, since we have less manpower, some organizational loose ends (“Who’s going to water the plants?” is among them), plenty of work to be doing, and questions about goals and direction. Some of our restructuring demands some rewiring of our internal communication. It can be surprising how much one variable alters the entire equation. No matter how well we all get along, when the line of command changes and even small teams are restructured, we have to relearn to a small extent what to expect of each other, when to ask things and when to try to work them out yourself, how to talk to each other so that everything is understood exactly the right way. Fortunately, getting along well makes it a lot easier to tweak things, and speaking openly and quickly about any concerns really helps.

Identity

Adapting to a changed system leads us to think even more about our identity as a company, and corporate identity in general. Circumstances are liable to change at any time. One might, for example, win the lottery and not want to work another day in one’s life, or one might simply change one’s mind and move on to something new, like antique restoration. For this reason, it helps to build a corporate identity based partially on the constituent personalities, and partially on the types and styles of work being performed, or the corporate mission. The personalities play an important role in that we, the members of the company, are people that clients and readers can identify with. This helps to create trust: We place our trust and respect in people more reliably than in companies. The work/mission component allows people to gauge to what extent our work could help their company, whether we share professional interests that would allow us to collaborate well on projects, etc. Examples of our work allow us credibility and authority on given topics.

An identity that consists of both these components is more resilient to inevitable change, since the solidity of one at any given point in time is insurance against change in the other. When one component begins to change, the company still can be identified as itself, and clients’/collaborators’/readers’ feelings towards it hopefully don’t have to be revised too much.

Johannes’ week in events

Johannes joined about 90 other so-called “influencers” on Thursday evening for an event called Zeitgeist Project, initiated by the UK event agency FreeState. They invited eight “curators” to give their perspective on current trends in consumer electronics (it was the evening before the IFA started). Among the curators where people like Richard Seymour and Simon Waterfall and Third Wave friends Bobbie Johnson and Kati Krause. The whole evening somehow felt pretty random in the sense that nobody seemed to really understand what it wanted. Johannes described it as a little over-produced and under-programmed. Some clarity about the purpose instead of too much eye (and ear) candy would have been nice.

On Friday morning, Johannes took part in a meeting, set up by Berlin Partner for the visit of a Finnish delegation from the Koulii project. It was an interesting morning of conversations around how to set up innovation projects in education and city neighborhoods.

What we read this week (27 Jul)

Our reads this week delve into mobile identity, our feelings towards our work stations, the great gadget-addiction question, a future of 3D printing, and a promising deal between BitTorrent and a musician.

Quotes of the week

I think the space between a person and a typewriter is better than the space between a television and its viewer.

David Banks

Articles of the week

  • Rebekah Cox: Mobile Identity
    An important, thoughtful post by Quora’s lead designer on how identity and your phone go together. It’s one of those articles that will be referred to for the next few years.
  • Cyborgology: Against The Minority Report Computer
    David Banks passionately disagrees with the future vision of computers in Minority Report, because it fails to take into account our emotional attachment to our work stations. Here he describes why this vision undermines our relationship with desktop technology.
  • The Atlantic: Are We Addicted to Gadgets or Indentured to Work?
    In a response to a recent New York Times article on the popular topic of gadget addiction, Alexis Madrigal finds that it is not our use of technology that is making life increasingly stressful, but our relationship with work.
  • Rhizome: The Shape of Shaping Things to Come
    In this article, Adam Rothstein takes the reader onto a journey into the future, where ‘physibles’, 3D-printed objects, have become normality. He develops a mindblowing outlook, extrapolating the current social phenomena of hackers, early adopters and retro-fetishists, and brings them into a place where limits are set by time and creativity rather than resources.
  • GigaOM: DJ Shadow becomes first artist to get paid by BitTorrent
    In an industry first, DJ Shadow struck a deal with BitTorrent Inc, the filesharing company. For every download of a DJ Shadow bundle including some songs and a special software – on which the details are somewhat fuzzy at this point – BitTorrent and DJ Shadow share the revenue generated through that software. It’s an interesting step forward, and surely all eyes in the music industry are on this deal.

Cyborgs, identities & asking the right questions

We’re all cyborgs, says our friend Sami Niemelä in a talk he gave at Playful Conference in London the other day. Some thoughts on how human and machine identities, and why we can’t find answers just yet.

Our friend and former CoCities speaker Sami Niemalä (of Nordkapp fame) gave a talk at Playful. Sadly we had to miss it, but he posted his slides online:

I love the way he dives into the discussion if (and how) we qualify as cyborgs. More importantly, though, he shows nicely how the future isn’t the polished thing it was expected to be back in the olden, black-and-white days. Instead it’s gorgeously broken and bursting full of weirdness (tweeting plants are just the top of the iceberg).

As he points out, designing machines and household appliances to behave in a human way (if that’s even desirable) is hard:

Should every single thing at your house have needs and feelings? Would you like to have an emo couch or the more rational one. Is this a question you want to think about?

We’re still figuring out the right questions

This is something we need to think about much, much more. While we in the industry are experimenting with certain types of behaviors, and the industry as a whole is going through various stages of learning, it’s important that we remember that we won’t solve any of these questions. In fact, I believe we’re nowehere near a point where we can even try to answer any of these questions, and are rather at a point where we’re still trying to figure out the right questions.

And we see this popping up all over the place: Sami collected a few great examples of weirdness and Uncanny Valley in his presentation. We’ve been discussing software agents that (seem to) emulate human behaviors like Foursquare check-ins, Retweets and (re-)blogging with David Bausola. (He builds some of those software agents. They’re called Weavrs. I set up a few to experiment, and they’re roaming the web freely, which is fascinating to no end.)

Identities

Speaking of identities. While software, services, products have long since started to develop identities that at least emulate human behavior, we haven’t even figured out how to project real human identity on the web.

Above, you see a talk by Christopher Poole, aka moot, founder of 4chan and its tamer brother Canvas. At Web 2.0 Summit, he explored the different ways that the big services like Facebook and Google approach identity. And he (rightfully, I think) smacks them left and right:

Google and Facebook would have you believe that you’re a mirror, but in fact, we’re more like diamonds.

The current model on the web is to assume that you have one identity, and that you just need to be able to share different bits of information with different groups. But our online identities should be multi-faceted, since that’s how it works in the physical world as well. As Chris Poole states, it’s not about who we share to (as Google+ assumes with Circles, and Facebook with lists), but who we share as. Am I posting this as a friend, coworker, son?

This is a hugely complex topic; yet, it’s one of those big questions that we need to work out. In our work, when we talk to clients, we often don’t have simple answers for these questions. (In fact, if anyone claimed they had simple answers, I’d be seriously suspicious.) What we try, though, is to work out the right questions, and then take it from there.

We produce more data, more and different data trails; we can access big data & aggregated data; increasingly personal data, too. When you look at building a service or product, make sure to look at the different aspects & contexts of data and identities, of how your thing might be used in different contexts. And allow for plenty of experimentation – you might not yet be asking the right questions. We’ve been exploring this cluster of topics and data trails (ranging from web data to city data to body data and beyond) in various formats, from Cognitive Cities Conference to talks and workshops at PICNIC and WINnovation, and we’ll keep digging. Follow this blog and our tweets for upcoming workshops.

What we read this week (21 Oct)

We made a nice reading list for you, featuring online music, Bitcoins, the Pirate Party, and a serious disruption in online identities.

Have a great weekend!