Putting People First

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June 2009
21 June 2009

Mobile impact

Last week I quoted from Robert Fabricant’s contribution to a Fast Company discussion roundtable on the impact of the mobile phone.

Robert has meanwhile posted the full text of his response to the questions. Here another quote:

“Density and connectivity are the keys drivers of social transformation and mobile technologies are the medium. There may be a scarcity of financial resources in the the developing world but their is an abundance of social resources. This is no longer about leapfrogging the wired telecommunications infrastructure. The effects are far more profound in terms of economic development and social transformation.

I spend a great deal of time working with social impact initiatives in health, agriculture and conservation and in almost every case the key point of leverage is mobile technologies. And what most designers don’t realize or want to realize is the degree to which the most basic platforms like SMS, USSD and Voicemail can support rich services that create social value way beyond what we experience in the US market. Services that are far more profound than Urban Spoon. We are blinded by the iPhone and the Blackberry into thinking that these sophisticated gadgets are necessary to build rich applications. Just look at what Unicef is doing with rapidSMS and rapidAndroid to transform healthcare delivery and respond to global emergencies like famine, disease and warfare.”

Read full story

19 June 2009

Thomas Crampton on his transition from journalism to digital strategy

Thomas Crampton
Thomas Crampton, a former correspondent for the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times, was asked to address an OECD gathering in Paris about his transition from journalism to digital strategy, focusing on his experiences within a traditional media company and the way it dealt with the transition to digital.

Although he could not attend, he posted a 10 minute video on the role of the Internet and the way it is affecting journalism, that is highly recommended.

Crampton divides the Internet’s effect on the way he work into three distinct phases:
1. internal communications (1995-1999) – using the Internet to improve communications
2. research (2000-2004) – using the Internet as a way to find information
3. social media (2005-today) – changing the processes of the newsrooms entirely (due to a fundamental change in the role of the ‘audience’)

Interestingly, Crampton describes how especially the third change (which he calls “a revolution”) had the biggest impact on his professional life. He is now working for Ogilvy, running their social media strategy across Asia-Pacific.

Watch video

19 June 2009

UK report on how cities use innovation to tackle social challenges

Breakthrough Cities
British Council press release:

Breakthrough cities is a groundbreaking report on how cities can mobilise creativity and knowledge to tackle compelling social challenges. The report was commissioned by the British Council from the Young Foundation. Geoff Mulgan and Charles Leadbeater, established international experts in social innovation and creativity, are major contributors.

The Breakthrough cities report is a unique resource for anyone working in the field of city policy – policy makers, consultants, public employees, workers in the arts or education sectors, NGOs, or simply private individuals committed to improving city lives. It provides inspiring ideas, understanding and guidance that can help make cities better places to live in.

Download report (1.4 mb)
Transforming Public Spaces – some ideas from the UK (3.1 mb)

19 June 2009

A complex vision of citizen media

Center for Future Civic Media
MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media is hosting the annual meeting of Knight News Challenge winners at MIT, and Ethan Zuckerman is there.

Aside from a Q&A session with Knight Foundation president Alberto Ibarguen and sociologist/author Eric Klinenberg about the future of news, Zuckerman posts two longer contributions about citizen media, which I thought were worth highlighting:

Iran, citizen media and media attention

“I’ve written at some length about homophily, the tendency of birds of a feather to flock together. Turns out that reporters flock, too. It’s somewhat amazing to me the extent to which reporters from really good newspapers are all asking the same questions. I’m glad that people are taking a close look at the phenomenon of social media in the Iranian protests – it’s an important, fascinating and worthwhile topic. But there’s a lot of topics out there, and I wonder whether we benefit from a thousand well-researched stories on this phenomenon rather than a hundred, and nine hundred other stories.”

Chris Csikszentmihayli and a complex vision of citizen media

“Chris closes his talk with remarks on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who wrote not just political philosphy but “bodice-ripper novels”. These novels allowed individuals to “live in the skin of others”, experience the empathy that comes from living for a while as a servant or a noble. The daily paper, he believes, can give a sense of community empathy, the ability to live another’s experience through storytelling. That’s something we need to preserve and cultivate as we move into a digital future.”

19 June 2009

Even the BBC believes that we are all hackers now

My quest of understanding the mainstreaming of hacker culture is now also endorsed by the BBC:

“The maze of electronics on a typical circuit board can be difficult to decipher, but as hackers and tinkerers grow in number, an industry and web community have emerged to provide them with instructions to make their work simpler.”

Read full story

19 June 2009

EU lays out plans for the “internet of things”

The European Commission has announced plans for Europe to play a leading part in developing and managing interconnected networks formed from everyday objects with radio frequency identity (RFID) tags embedded in them – the so-called “internet of things”.

The Commission has launched a 14-point action plan to address the issues raised from such widespread interconnectivity.

“New examples of applications that connect objects to the internet and each other are created [everyday]: from cars connected to traffic lights that fight congestion, to home appliances connected to smart power grids and energy metering that allows people to be aware of their electricity consumption,” said EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media Viviane Reding.

The EC expects there will be a progressive connection of a variety of physical objects, and not just computers – creating the ‘internet of things’. These could be everyday items such as food packaging that records the temperature along its supply chain, or different prescription drugs that warn patients of a possible incompatibility.

Read full story
Read EU press release
Read commentary by The Register

19 June 2009

Could Twitter ever be used to trigger a genocide?

Iran green
Jamais Cascio asks in a Fast Company article if the same technologies that have allowed for a potential democratic revolution in Iran could emerge just as readily in support of something far more sinister.

“In noting the potential power of social networking tools for organizing mass change, I thought out loud for a moment about what kinds of dangers might emerge. It struck me, as I spoke, that there is a terrible analogy that might be applicable: the use of radio as a way of coordinating bloody attacks on rival ethnic communities during the Rwandan genocide in the early 1990s. I asked, out loud, whether Twitter could ever be used to trigger a genocide.”

Read full story

19 June 2009

Four new Dott07 case studies

Low Carb Lane
The UK Design Council just published — a little late — four short case studies based on the experience of Dott07, a year of community projects, events and exhibitions based in North East England and curated by John Thackara, that explored what life in a sustainable region could be like – and how design could help us get there.

New work
Work isn’t what it used to be. Across the UK, a significant portion of the workforce does not have a traditional nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday job. Around 13% of working people work for themselves and many more work in very small or micro businesses employing one to five people, where factors like location and working hours can be very different from working in a large corporation.
In the North East, 88% of working people are employed by micro businesses. Those who took part in the New Work project during Dott07 agreed that new ways of working offer new opportunities, but also bring new problems.

Our new school
In 2007 Walker Technology College in Newcastle received £13m funding from the government’s £70bn Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme to renovate its buildings. Headteacher Steve Gater knows how big an opportunity this is. ‘The last thing we want to have with our BSF project is a new old school,’ he says. He wants a school that helps the 1,200 pupils get the most out of learning and fits into the community. That’s where designers at Dott 07 came in.

Move me
Growing emphasis is being put on cutting pollution in the UK by reducing our use of transport. But millions of us still need to move by car, bus or train each day. In the village of Scremerston in Northumberland, getting around was problematic. Many villagers don’t own cars or faced a lack of regular and affordable public transport to get them to school, work or hospital appointments.

Low Carb Lane
As part of Dott 07 designers wanted to tackle domestic energy consumption. So a design team set themselves the aim of reducing the energy consumption of one house in Castle Terrace, Ashington, by 60%.

18 June 2009

Large scale user testing project as part of the Digital Britain initiative

Digital Britain
According to NewMediaAge, the UK Technology Strategy Board (TSB), the government body for business innovation in technology, and NESTA, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, will collaborate on digital user-centred test-bed projects, as part of the Digital Britain initiative, to develop and trial business models, network operating models and service platforms.

“The TSB has earmarked £10m funding for the digital test-beds, which aim to create new business and charging methods to enable content owners to profit from their work, and support the creation and integration of cross-platform content products and services.

It plans to study user behaviour for new advertising and charging models, including virtual currency for digital content and micropayments, new services and technologies by commercial and public businesses, and new business relationships between networks, operators and content owners.

It will also include trials of services and technologies enabled by next-generation access, content and content-aware network operation, and controlled suspension of copyright protection.”

Read full story

According to a TSB press release, the digital test-beds where we will create an environment where businesses and users can explore the effects of alternative operating and business models. In particular, studies of user behaviour will allow investigations such as:

  • Services and technologies enabled by next generation access
  • New business relationships between network owners, operators and digital content owners
  • Content and context aware network operation
  • Controlled suspension of copyright protection to investigate other commercialisation routes
  • New advertising and charging models. e.g. virtual currency for digital content and micro payments
  • Pilots or new services and new technologies by commercial and public businesses

Further background:
Technology Strategy Board’s strategy for ‘Digital Britain’
Technology Strategy Board’s Creative Industries Strategy – Executive Summary

18 June 2009

Clive Thompson on the future of reading in a digital world

The future of reading
Clive Thompson explores the future of reading, and of books, in a digital world, and remains optimistic.

“Books are the last bastion of the old business model—the only major medium that still hasn’t embraced the digital age. Publishers and author advocates have generally refused to put books online for fear the content will be Napsterized. And you can understand their terror, because the publishing industry is in big financial trouble, rife with layoffs and restructurings. Literary pundits are fretting: Can books survive in this Facebooked, ADD, multichannel universe?”

Read full story

18 June 2009

The blind leading the deaf

A recent article about the use of anthropology and ethnography in global R&D strategies (blogged about here), has got Nokia’s user anthropologist Jan Chipchase a bit worked up, as he thinks it “largely misses the point”.

“For all the current buzz currently surrounding ethnographic / anthropological research – this isn’t the only way to feel out what or how to design (in the broadest sense of the word), doesn’t always provide value, and absolutely shouldn’t be part of every design process – anyone who thinks otherwise isn’t asking enough questions about what their client needs and hasn’t factored in the skills of the team at hand. At its worst ethnographic research is an expensive, time-consuming distraction that can take the design team (and the client they represent) in the wrong direction.

At its best, well, at its best it inspires, informs, and delivers insights that can shape and sustain ideas/products/services/resources through the organisation all the way to the consumer, it’s cost effective, it’s timely, it’s responsive. It’s as much about bridging corporate culture as bridging cultures.”

Read full story

18 June 2009

We are all hackers now (ctd.)

Open source hardware
In my ongoing exploration of the theme “we are all hackers now” (also the title of a talk I will give on 29 June in Brussels), I once again found quite a lot of recently published supporting material.

We build the parts, you build the product
The creator of Zoybar, an open-source hardware platform that lets anyone invent their own instrument, talks about “decentralized innovation.”

Neil Gershenfeld (MIT) on the future of invention
By digitizing not just the communication of ideas but also the fabrication of things, the campus can now effectively come to the student.

Future of Open Source: Collaborative Culture and Hardware Hacking
Douglas Wok talks on the new open source culture, in which anyone with an internet connection can make their creations available to the public, unmediated by the old gatekeepers of mass media, whereas Ryan Paul discusses what the open source movement will generate now that it is extending its reach to the hardware industry.

The Repair Manifesto
The Dutch art collective Platform21 introduces The Repair Manifesto, which “opposes throwaway culture and celebrates repair as the new recycling.”
(via Design Observer)

Now think what all this could mean in emerging markets:

UN and HP bring technology training to youth in Africa and Middle East
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the technology company HP announced today the opening of 20 training centres in Africa and the Middle East to expand youth entrepreneurship and information technology education.

And finally there is the truly unbeatable video Arduino the Cat, Breadboard the Mouse and Cutter the Elephant, which I posted about a month ago on Core77.

15 June 2009

The social life of health information

Pew Internet
The Pew Internet & American Life Project has published a report that shows how Americans’ pursuit of health takes place within a widening network of both online and offline sources.

Americans’ pursuit of health takes place within a widening network of both online and offline sources. Whereas someone may have in the past called a health professional, their Mom, or a good friend, they now are also reading blogs, listening to podcasts, updating their social network profile, and posting comments. And many people, once they find health information online, talk with someone about it offline.

This Pew Internet/California HealthCare Foundation survey finds that technology is not an end, but a means to accelerate the pace of discovery, widen social networks, and sharpen the questions someone might ask when they do get to talk to a health professional. Technology can help to enable the human connection in health care and the internet is turning up the information network’s volume.
About the Survey

The findings in this report come from a national phone survey done by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in partnership with the California HealthCare Foundation. Some 2,253 adults, age 18 and older, were interviewed in December 2008 about the social impact of the internet on health care. The interviews were conducted in English or Spanish and included 502 cell-phone interviews.

View report online
Download report (72 pages)

15 June 2009

The rules for balancing technology and relationships

Phone relationship
Emma Cook asks in The Times of London if our increasing desire to stay in the loop is distracting us from the people who should matter the most in our lives.

“According to research carried out last year by Professor Nada Kakabadse at Northampton University, a growing number of people are becoming overdependent on their BlackBerries, mobile phones and other digital devices.”

Read full story

15 June 2009

From business to buttons

From business to buttons
Interaction designers, business strategists and usability experts gathered last week in Malmö, Sweden for the third edition of the “From Business to Buttons” conference.

Videos (alternate link) of the presentations are now online. A selection:

The Zen of presentation design & delivery: Why it matters now more than ever
Garr Reynolds, Associate Professor of Management, Kansai Gaidai University , Japan
Over the years presentation software such as PowerPoint has gotten better, but presentations largely have not. The presentation tools have advanced, but we have not. Why? Part of the problem has been a focus only on how to use the tools themselves rather than on how to clarify and amplify our ideas and messages through through fundamental design and storytelling principles.

“What’s going on” to “We’re not gonna take it”
David Malouf, Professor, Savannah College of Art & Design, USA
The new differentiators are beyond quality and usability, but is directly related to holistic aesthetic design consideration.
Designers bring a new level of “fit” to this new class of products and services. They imbue stories that engage and delight. Surrounding all this is depth, connectedness, and individual expression, that adds up to the “soul” of a design.

Designing personal informatics
Matt Jones, Co-founder/Lead Designer,, UK
Here’s an explosion in “personal informatics”: Services that surface information about you and your network to your advantage.
Reviewing visualisations like the Dopplr Personal Personal Annual Report, Matt Jones will examine how great UX design can maximize the services’ benefits and impact.

Designing humanity into your products
Bill DeRouchey, Director, Interaction Design, Ziba Design, USA
Relationships are formed in the smallest moments and intimate details within each and every interaction, even between people and products. In this session, we’ll see examples of how humanity has been designed into products and services through humor, personality, and emotion. We’ll discover how just a little extra design effort and thought beyond functional needs can enrich the experience, reveal the company behind the product, and forge enduring connections with customers.

Designing beyond the screen: the convergence of products, interactions and services
Niclas Andersson, Director of Marketing and Business Development, Ergonomidesign, Sweden
Lennart Andersson, Director of Interaction Design, Ergonomidesign, Sweden
During this session we will give you a look into what we believe is the future of convergent design, based on real-life case studies and by interpreting the signs of the future trends. We also share our knowledge and experience within physical, cognitive and emotional ergonomics to be able to give you insights and tools for developing people driven innovation.

“Every 3 Seconds, a User Dies Somewhere”. Making analytics matter in your design process
Gene Liebel, Partner, Director of User Experience, HUGE, USA
Nowadays almost every internet team looks at website usage statistics on a regular basis. But most of the discussion is still about broad measures like “monthly visitors”, “repeat visitors”, “sign-ups”, “conversion”, and so on. In reality the tools have evolved to the point where you can quickly learn things about users you would usually need to get from qualitative research techniques (such as user interviews or usability studies). We’ll discuss a few situations where the analytics are sending a clear message about what the user wants or the performance of the current design. Finally we’ll check out a few tricks for “humanizing” the numbers so they’re easier to present to product design teams.

Why designers fail and what to do about it
Scott Berkun, author, USA
All those who participate in design, from interaction designers, to usability engineers, to IA masters, fall victim to the same kinds of challenges when trying to bring good design into the world. From politics, to hubris, to downright incompetence, what can we learn by confessing to, and examining the causes of, our failures? Berkun thinks we can learn everything, much more than studying our successes. This fun, interactive talk, explores why designers fail and offers advice on how to learn from and triumph in the face of these situations.

15 June 2009

Identity crisis in the West and innovation in the developing world

Nokia’s Ideas Project published two feature stories today:

Digital We: A (Multiple) Identity Crisis
We create new digital identities almost without limit – at the same time new technologies urge us to blur them. Is it a new digital arms race?

“Intentionally or not, the world of bits offers so many opportunities to create information related to ourselves, and for that information to coalesce into something like an identity, that even the most transparent and consistent Net denizens appears in multiple forms in multiple locations. You might say that we’re all suffering from a form of digital schizophrenia.

Yet according to a number of our ideators, the ways in which we coordinate our digital personae is about to change.”

Global Vision, Local Impact
Technology innovations in the developing world generate lasting results

“The developing world has begun to experience a dramatic transformation not only in the adoption of new technologies but in the innovative ways they are being used. Mobile devices in particular have offered unprecedented opportunities to individuals without access many other basic amenities.”

Also on Ideas Project a video interview with Ann Winblad, a well-known and respected software industry entrepreneur and technology leader, who argues that by moving technology from location-based servers to a virtual environment, with expanded if not universal access, the opportunities for innovation increase exponentially.

15 June 2009

Nokia to offer Life Tools for rural mobile users

Nokia Life Tools for farmer
Nokia plans to roll out its Life Tools group of services to more emerging markets following a successful pilot program in India, a company executive said Monday.

“Nokia plans to roll out its Life Tools group of services to more emerging markets following a successful pilot program in India, a company executive said Monday.

Nokia is now formulating plans to roll out Life Tools, which includes agricultural and educational services for rural mobile users, in other emerging markets following the “great success” of a trial conducted in India, said Mary McDowell, executive vice president and chief development officer at Nokia, speaking at a company event in Singapore ahead of the CommunicAsia conference and exhibition, which opens on June 16.”

Read full story

15 June 2009

Smartphone rises fast from gadget to necessity

The increasing popularity of BlackBerrys, iPhones and their kin owes as much to sociology as technology. Steve Lohr reports in The New York Times.

“The smartphone surge, it seems, is a case of a trading-up trend in technology that is running strong enough to weather the downturn. And as is so often true when it comes to adoption of new technology, the smartphone story is as much about consumer sociology and psychology as it is about chips, bytes and bandwidth.

For a growing swath of the population, the social expectation is that one is nearly always connected and reachable almost instantly via e-mail. The smartphone, analysts say, is the instrument of that connectedness — and thus worth the cost, both as a communications tool and as a status symbol”

Read full story

15 June 2009

Anthropologist Stefana Broadbent speaker at TEDGlobal

Stefana Broadbent, the acclaimed tech anthropologist, will be an invited speaker at the upcoming TEDGlobal conference (21-24 July, Oxford, UK).

Stefana is currently a visiting research fellow in the Department of Anthropology at University College London, and was the head of the Customer Observatory at Swisscom.

Her work was published in Business Week and The Economist, and she was a speaker at many conferences, including LIFT and Picnic.

Check also her UsageWatch blog where she observes the evolution of technology usage.

15 June 2009

US Government providing cellphones for the poor

Phones for the poor
A US federal program providing subsidized phone service now offers cellphones, showing how much society values them, reports The New York Times.

“The users are not the only ones receiving government assistance. Telecommunications industry analysts said the program, while in its infancy, could benefit mobile phone carriers, who face a steep challenge of their own: most Americans already own a cellphone, so the poor represent a last untapped market.”

Read full story