What we read this week (28 Oct)

What a reading list we have for you this weekend. Grab yourself a good cup of coffee, and dig in.

  • The Post-Functional Paradigm: Why all designs are compensations for telepathy and teleportation Our friend Mark Jensen (@marks), currently working as a design intern at Google, sums up his thesis on post-functional design as a paradigm. Fantastic work.
  • Emo Touch Screen Future Toby Barnes of Mudlark started a somewhat ironic tumblelog: Emo Touch Screen Future features (often somewhat failed or misguided) visions of how touch screens will revolutionize our day-to-day lives.
  • FT: Good news and bad news for news on the iPad The Pew Research Center found out that US tablet owners consume tons of news on their tablets but do it mostly in the browser and are not very willing to pay for it.
  • Playful: Flying cars & iPads We’ve heard only good things about Playful Conference by all accounts (we had tickets but couldn’t make it). Mary Hamilton has picked up the topic of future nostalgia and written this beautiful post around it. Similar to some stuff we’ve been thinking about recently. Here’s a good summary by our friend Kars from Hubbub here.
  • Pretty Cluetrain The Cluetrain Manifest in one page, for extra easy consumption.
  • Fast Company: Bill Nguyen, The Boy In The Bubble Fast Company portraits Bill Nguyen, the founder of Color, a photo sharing app for the iPhone that has become synonymous for over-eager venture capitalists throwing money at startups based on nothing but buzz words and hype.
  • BoingBoing: An interview with David Eagleman Some great thoughts about our perception of time, near-death-experience and deja vues with neuroscientist and author David Eagleman.
  • Cleantech: How big data will help manage a world of 7 billion people By this time next week, the world will have 7 billion people in it, according to the United Nations, and by 2050 there are supposed to be 9 billion people in the world. This rapid population growth will fundamentally change the way populations use resources like energy, water and food, and corporations, governments and NGOs will increasingly turn to analytics, software and big data tools to manage how to deliver these resources to the populations that need them.
  • Nieman Journalism Lab: Word clouds considered harmful “Every time I see a word cloud presented as insight, I die a little inside.” We agree. Data visualization is an art form, or a craft. Peeling away layers and layers of data sets to surface the story hidden inside, adding context, supporting insight. And then there’s word clouds, that show you nothing but how many times a word was mentioned. Excellent stuff.
  • Wieden+Kennedy: Why We’re Not Hiring Creative Technologists WK’s Igor Clark on Creative Technologists: “Clearly many non-technical factors are involved, but there is one simple and concrete thing we can do: stop hiring “creative technologists”. Hire coders. Reject compromise on this front, and resist pressure to give in to it. Only hire people to work at the crossover of creative and technology if they have strong, practical, current coding skills.”

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.)


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.