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Putting People First

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June 2012
11 June 2012

Charles Leadbeater: A curriculum for the Next Billion

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Immediately a second post on writing done by Charles Leadbeater.

Here he asks if we were to think of the future consumers of the developing world (whose income is rising from around $2 a day to between $5 and $7 a day) as parents and learners, what would kind of education will they be looking for?

Put it another way, if we were to design a curriculum with ‘the next billion’ what would they want?

Read his (initial) answer here.

11 June 2012

Charles Leadbeater: Why cities need to be hospitable rather than smart

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Guimarães (Portugal), European Capital of Culture 2012, is commissioning a number of thought leadership pieces and artistic interventions to explore the concept of “Openness” as it relates to all aspects of City development – from personal to political, infrastructure to innovation.

The first one is by Charles Leadbeater, a renowned thinker on creativity, collaboration and innovation (and author of WeThink). He provides an overview of “openness as a methodology for achieving positive change’ – seen particularly through the lens of a small city such as Guimarães.

“Cities that aspire to be truly creative, need to combine cultural creativity with a broader agenda for social creativity. Truly creative cities are as creative about transport, housing, energy and waste as they are about culture and the arts.” [...]

These social challenges have traditionally been tasks for specialists – planners, architects and engineers – to re-imagine the city from on high. Most famously this gave rise to the modernist vision of the city as a machine, a lattice work of roads, factories and high rise apartment blocs. The failure of many of these schemes for planned problem solving in cities means there is a growing emphasis in many cities on more bottom up solutions, that require more distributed, social creativity, which often involves a combination of top down investment in new infrastructures – for example for energy, transport or waste– combined with changes in mass behaviour – using electricity, mass transit, household recycling. Creative cities are too large, open and unruly to be regulated in detail, top down by an all-seeing state or experts. They have to encourage collective, voluntary, self-control. A city that could be planned from the centre would also be dead. There are plenty of examples of cities around the world which are busy and rich in infrastructure and yet dead, socially and creatively, precisely because they allow little or no room for people to come together in unprogrammed ways. Successful cities allow a lot of room for adaptive mutation, encouraging their citizens to invest their ideas in the spaces they inhabit.”

Read essay

11 June 2012

A huge chapter on ‘socio-technical systems design’

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The people of the Interaction-Design.org Foundation have given us (and you) preview access to “Socio-Technical Systems Design”, the 24th chapter of the “Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction”

A socio-technical system (STS) is a social system operating on a technical base, e.g. email, chat, bulletin boards, blogs, Wikipedia, E-Bay, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Hundreds of millions of people use them every day, but how do they work? More importantly, can they be designed? If socio-technical systems are social and technical, how can computing be both at once?

The huge 30,000 word “chapter” has taken over a year to produce, involving 2 authors – Brian Whitworth and Adnan Ahmad – and 3 editors, including Mads Soegaard and Rikke Friis Dam.

Read chapter

11 June 2012

Ethnographic research in a world of big data – Part 2

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Following up on her earlier piece on ethnographic research in a world of big data, Jenna Burrell, sociologist and assistant professor in the School of Information at UC-Berkeley, continues her argument against the idea that big data might usher in a new era of automatic research and along with it researcher de-skilling or that it would render the scientific method obsolete.

Her latest post in structured through two questions: “What is big data?” (and therefore “What is beyond the easy reach of big data?”) and “Where do we stand in relation to this phenomenon as ethnographers, or more generally, as researchers with a bent towards qualitative and interpretivist approaches?”

Here are a few sentences that I found quite illuminating:

“There’s something that ethnographers have in common with big data enthusiasts though neither group perhaps realizes this. Though ethnography has sometimes inaptly been equated out in the wider world with interview studies, it is the immersion of the ethnographer in a social world and the attempt to observe the phenomenon of interest as it unfolds that more distinctively characterizes such a methodological stance. [...] It is this the closeness to the phenomenon of interest that is a shared concern. There is a common understanding that what people say (out of context, in a private interview or survey) is not a transparent representation of what they do. Ethnographers get at this the labor-intensive way, by hanging around and witnessing things first hand. Big data people do it a different way, by figuring out ways to capture actions in the moment, i.e. someone clicked on this link, set that preference, moved from this wireless access point to that one at a particular time.

Of course a major and very important point here – ethnographers’ observations are NOT equivalent to what data logs record…and a critical point is that ethnographers don’t stop with the observation or treat it as inherently meaningful, but do a whole lot of complementary work to try to connect apparent behavior to underlying meaning.” [Emphasis by author]

A part 3 is still forthcoming.

Read article

10 June 2012

Book: The Mobile Frontier

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The Mobile Frontier – A Guide for Designing Mobile Experiences
By Rachel Hinman
Rosenfeld Media
June 2012
Publisher’s page | Amazon page

Mobile user experience is a new frontier. Untethered from a keyboard and mouse, this rich design space is lush with opportunity to invent new and more human ways for people to interact with information. Invention requires casting off many anchors and conventions inherited from the last 50 years of computer science and traditional design and jumping head first into a new and unfamiliar design space.

The Mobile Frontier will assist in navigating the unfamiliar and fast-changing mobile landscape with grace and solid thinking while inspiring you to explore the possibilities mobile technology presents.

> Excerpt from the book on UX Magazine

10 June 2012

Marty Kaplan: From Attention to Engagement (video)

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Barcelona Media, an interdisciplinary center of research and innovation, hosted Lear Center director Marty Kaplan to speak at its 10th anniversary celebration on March 6, 2012.

His talk was titled “From Attention to Engagement: The Transformation of the Content Industry.”

Digital technology has increased competition for audience attention, increased audience control of media, and fragmented the mass audience. But the same technology that threatens traditional business models is also providing new data streams and new ways to define, measure, and monetize audience attention. The media/entertainment sector, which traditionally has derived value from distribution, is finding new currencies to price advertising and discovering data mining as a profit center.

Kaplan, founding director of the Norman Lear Center for research on entertainment, media and society, explored the impact on the attention economy of new metrics for the audience.

Watch video
Download slides

Marty Kaplan was also a recent guest on the acclaimed Moyers & Company television interview programme, hosted by veteran journalist Bill Moyers. Kaplan talked about how big money and big media have coupled to create a ‘Disney World’ of democracy.

10 June 2012

Manifesto for design upholding human talents and innovation

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This morning I got an invite in the mail to attend a London design symposium at Brunel University next week (16 June) that will debate the core themes of a new design manifesto, strangely called “Big Potatoes”

Although I cannot attend the debates at such short notice, the manifesto itself and the themes of the debate are intriguing enough to merit this blog post.

The manifesto is written by six authors – Nico Macdonald, Alan Patrick, Martyn Perks, Mitchell Sava, James Woudhuysen and Norman Lewis. Unfortunately it is not so clear what the manifesto actually says – it will be officially presented at the London Symposium – but you get some background by looking at the fourteen principles who are explored in depth on the Big Potatoes website:

01: Think big
02: The post-war legacy
03: Principles not models
04: For useless research
05: Hard work
06: Expect failures
07: Chance and surprise
08: Take risks
09: Leadership
10: Whose responsibility?
11: Trust the people
12: Think/Act Global
13: We know no limits
14: For humanity

The debate on 16 June is quite provocative as well:

DEBATE#1: UPHOLDING HUMANISM – OR CENTERING ON USERS?
Design is intimately bound up with understanding people. Every designer extols the virtues of getting to know customers, users, people. However, can being too close to your subject stifle creativity? Today this question has added relevance and is at the heart of our manifesto. As at no other time, the collective and individual will of human beings is felt to be little rival to the capricious actions of Fate.

The human ability to take a conscious risk, in the pursuit of innovation, used to be the fundamental premise of design. But now designers join with other cynics in agreeing that people are for the most part driven by nature, neurology, ostentation and irrationality. That can only degrade the processes and the products of design.

The old discussion was about people as market segments with latent needs – people who were held to be in a ‘relationship’ with product or service providers. More and more, however, the rhetoric today consists of how design can work to minimise demand, redirect consumption, and even improve patterns of human behaviour.

Is it the role of design to understand and change people’s behaviour, or is design about producing ideas that allow people to make their own minds up on how they choose to use it? Likewise, should design strive to exceed expectations by going beyond people’s immediate needs, or must it be mindful of how people might use stuff, encouraging greater responsibility and awareness to ourselves and even the planet? And even where people do adapt existing things to better suit their needs – should we celebrate such amateurism, or instead prefer the expertise designers can bring, expertise that can raise people’s horizons further still?

DEBATE#2: DOES DESIGN DRIVE ECONOMIC GROWTH?
What is design’s contribution to economic growth? This question has for a long time been intimately bound up with discussions about design’s purpose — even more so since New Labour sought to trumpet the contribution made by the so-called ‘creative industries’ to UK plc. Because of the credit crunch, the precise effects that design has on wealth creation have become more pertinent than ever. Both the state and many design industry professionals feel that design needs to justify its contribution.

Economic growth is a key issue for our manifesto, not least because designers have been poor at theorising their relationship with innovation. In our view, design could do more to promote and implement scientific and technological advance. At the moment design often fails to grasp the opportunity presented by innovation – by being too focused on surface, incremental improvements. That can mean it ends up being marginalised as a result.

The problem with design and growth runs much deeper than rates of remuneration, royalties, intellectual property and all the rest. It is impossible to put a value on design without clarifying and improving the role designers play with regard to innovation. Can designers, by themselves, stimulate economic growth by creating new demand through the design of new products and services? Or are such products and services best realised when designers link up closely with scientific and technological innovation? Conversely, is design’s real role less about creating new growth per se, and more about persuading people to consume more through marketing and branding existing products and services?

So you get the gist: this event has a very strong political and pro-growth agenda, while some of the debate descriptions are laced with value judgments (“capricious actions of Fate”, “designers join with other cynics”, “degrade the process and products of design”, “amateurism”, etc.)

A little searching online confirms this first impression, but also adds complexity to it all:

Powerbase, the online wiki-style “guide to networks of power, lobbying, public relations and the communications activities of governments and other interests”, says that the manifesto is associated with the “libertarian anti-environmental LM network” (with LM standing for “Living Marxism”), which itself is an offspring of the RCP (the UK’s Revolutionary Communist Party, disbanded in 1996).

Steven Rose has been exploring the LM Network and writes briefly about it on Spinwatch, “an independent non-profit making UK organisation which monitors the role of public relations and spin in contemporary society”:

“Spinwatch has monitored the groups that have flowed from the RCP, groups we collectively term the ‘LM network’. Moving from an ultra-left position through to a libertarian pro-corporate line of argument, they have been, as Rose notes, strong defenders of what they call ‘scientific progress’, meaning that they have been strongly in favour of GM technology and other scientific advances favoured by transnational corporations. However, they have also taken a strong line against scientific progress in the area of risk. So they are opposed to the scientific consensus on climate change, on harms caused by tobacco and by the food and advertising industries.

The common denominator there is that this kind of scientific progress is against the interests of key corporate sectors. Spinwatch has also recently reported on how their traditional ‘anti-Imperialist’ position on colonial struggles has degenerated into a position that attacks those offering solidarity to the Palestinian people. Overall, what we see from the very earliest days of the RCT to the antics of the various tentacles of the LM network now, is consistent in the sense that it involves attacking the left and progressive movements. However, the increasingly close relationship between the LM network and corporate lobby groups and neoliberal and neoconservative think tanks, suggests that it might be more accurate to see them not as libertarian iconoclasts, but simply as another faction of the British conservative movement.”

I am not convinced that the above politicising of the design debate is the best way forward. It just makes our discipline another battleground of a wider culture clash, whereas I see design more as a problem solving tool. I also disagree with their deep faith in the power of economic growth, but leave it to brighter minds – like John Thackara and others – to develop this criticism.

UPDATE: John commented here and here.

10 June 2012

Dark Matter and Trojan Horses

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Dark Matter and Trojan Horses – A Strategic Design Vocabulary” is a short e-book by designer and urbanist Dan Hill in which he argues that in an age of wicked problems, conventional solutions are failing, and a new culture of decision-making is called for.

“Strategic design is about applying the principles of traditional design to “big picture” systemic challenges such as healthcare, education and climate change. It redefines how problems are approached and aims to deliver more resilient solutions.

In this short book, Dan Hill outlines a new vocabulary of design, one that needs to be smuggled into the upper echelons of power. He asserts that, increasingly, effective design means engaging with the messy politics – the “dark matter” – taking place above the designer’s head. And that may mean redesigning the organisation that hires you.”

The book is one of a series published by Strelka Press, a Russia based publishing house long critical essays on architecture, design and urbanism, published initially as digital downloads, Kindle Singles or ebooks.

One of the authors, Alexandra Lange, interviewed the editor of the press Justin McGuirk, who is also design critic for the Guardian. You can read the interview on Design Observer.

9 June 2012

Genevieve Bell: women are tech’s new lead adopters

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Social scientist Genevieve Bell – who is also the interaction and experience research director at Intel Labs – gave a major talk on what the future of technology looks like, and why middle-aged women may determine that future.

The talk, entitled “Telling the Stories of the Future: Technology, Culture and What Really Matters”, was the keynote at the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association Conference that took place in Brisbane in April, and was rebroadcast as a “Big Idea Talk” on Australian Radio.

Alexis Madrigal explores her talk in more depth at Atlantic, and cites some quotes, including these ones:

“It turns out women are our new lead adopters. When you look at internet usage, it turns out women in Western countries use the internet 17 percent more every month than their male counterparts. Women are more likely to be using the mobile phones they own, they spend more time talking on them, they spend more time using location-based services. But they also spend more time sending text messages. Women are the fastest growing and largest users on Skype, and that’s mostly younger women. Women are the fastest category and biggest users on every social networking site with the exception of LinkedIn. Women are the vast majority owners of all internet enabled devices – i.e. readers, healthcare devices, GPS – that whole bundle of technology is mostly owned by women.

So it turns out if you want to find out what the future looks like, you should be asking women. And just before you think that means you should be asking 18-year-old women, it actually turns out the majority of technology users are women in their 40s, 50s and 60s. So if you wanted to know what the future looks like, those turn out to be the heaviest users of the most successful and most popular technologies on the planet as we speak.”

“Furthermore, most consumers don’t own devices just by themselves, those devices exist within social networks. Consumers share devices in families, so that a mobile phone is owned by multiple people, a laptop is used by multiple people, an email account is used by multiple people. [...]“

Listen to audio (mp3)

8 June 2012

Mark Vanderbeeken: The English language innovation bias

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Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken wrote an article on the dominance of the English language in the discourse of innovation and the bias that this creates.

This dominance of English language in the discourse of innovation carries with it an accompanying perspective of Europe, both in terms of stereotypes and in terms of relevance (or lack of) to the Anglo-Saxon world. This often puts European businesses and countries at a serious disadvantage that they are too little aware of, and are hardly addressing. But it also disadvantages businesses in the English-speaking world, which are perhaps not aware that they are receiving an abbreviated picture of innovation in Europe. This article is about the non-English disadvantage and what we can do about it.

> English article (thank you, Bruce, also for the splendid introduction)
> Italian article (thank you, Riccardo)

7 June 2012

The future of data visualisation

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Drew Skau, a visualization architect of Visual.ly, explores what will change in data visualisation in the future:

– Data visualization will become ubiquitous
– The variety of commonly used chart types will increase
– Everyone will be able to create or develop visualizations
– Data visualization will become more significant in our society and government
– More data art will lead to better aesthetics in functional visualizations

Read article

7 June 2012

Does your phone know how happy you are?

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Kit Eaton explores the coming of age of the emotion-recognition industry.

“Because the smartphones we all carry contain sophisticated computing power, cloud computing connections and, increasingly, a front-facing webcam, it’s easy to see that the next generation of advertising will determine how you’re feeling and subsequently serve up information related to your mood. And it’s not just the question of detecting your mood, it’s all about how this leads the person expressing the mood to discover new information. Essentially advertising will be more relevant to the moment, sophisticated games will react to your emotionality, and even your cars will route you to entirely new destinations based on how you’re feeling.”

Read article

7 June 2012

Computational user experiences at Microsoft Research

 

“The Computational User Experiences (CUE) group [at Microsoft Research] creates technologies that augment our personal and professional digital lives to enhance individual and collaborative pursuits. We apply expertise in machine learning, visualization, mobile computing, sensors and devices, and quantitative and qualitative evaluation techniques to improve the state of the art in physiological computing, healthcare, home technologies, computer-assisted creativity, and entertainment.”

(Check the projects and publications)

7 June 2012

Forget B-School, D-School is hot

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The Wall Street Journal published the umpteenth article on design thinking education.

What I keep on missing in these pieces is some reflection on what understanding people actually means: ethnographic and anthropological observation and fast prototyping, combined with some creativity, will not by themselves create sufficiently sustainable solutions, I believe.

When you deal with people, you will always need a model of behaviour, and this requires a serious understanding of cognitive and behavioural science, as well as some behavioural economics.

However, what is definitely commendable about these initiatives, is the integration of design with business. Designers are not always good at that, and business people too have often difficulties working out strategic design challenges.

Read article

7 June 2012

An open letter to the User Experience Community

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In an open letter to the User Experience Community, Rich Gunther, President of what used to be called Usability Professionals Association (UPA), announces that UPA is no longer.

As explained yesterday at the UPA 2012 conference by UPA treasurer Ronnie Battista, there is now a brand new organization, the UXPA, or User Experience Professionals Association, because, they say, “there is a distinct and immediate need for a global, modern, innovative professional organization for User Experience Professionals.”

“The name change comes amidst an ongoing rebranding and reinvention of the organization, which comprises over 10,000 international and local professionals in 40 countries. “While we historically have focused on evaluation of products and services, mainly usability testing and expert review of products, we are seeing increased interest from our members in upfront field and ethnographic research, as well as design methods and theory. Furthermore, many of our members are increasingly involved in User Experience Strategy. Our new organizational model allows us to deliver content on all four of these pillars: Research, Design, Evaluation, and Strategy,”, said Carol Smith, UXPA Vice President.

As UXPA goes through this evolution, they also hope to continue delivering compelling benefits to their members. To that end, they are developing a new website, expanding their conference and professional development offerings, and offering a variety of Special Interest Groups in areas ranging from Healthcare to eGovernment User Experience. The organization’s quarterly magazine, “UX Magazine”, will now also be offered in an online format. “Our members value the social, professional network that UXPA provides, as well as the professional development and educational opportunities. We intend to use the website and our events as a conduit for these things,” said Amy Kidd, UXPA Director of Events. Cory Lebson, UXPA Director of Strategic Partnerships, noted that “We are hoping to use this name change as a way to reach out to, and more closely align with, other like-minded organizations.”

The UXPA operates chapters in a number of cities and countries around the world. A number of these chapters will also be undergoing rebranding and alignment with the new international body.”

Important to underline also is that Rich Gunther does not want this initiative to be seen as a turf war or power grab:

“I call on my counterparts in all other UX-related professional organizations to look at ways we can work together. This is not a power play or land grab. With humility and respect, I would entertain any and all discussions about collaboration, integration, and investment with our colleagues from IxDA, ACM-SIGCHI, AIGA, IAI/ASIS&T, STC, HFES, British HCI, APCHI, the Service Design Network, and any others. Between these groups and the current talented and passionate membership of UPA, together we will truly be the premier global professional association supporting people who work in this field. A field that we cannot define alone. We envision a loose confederation of organizations that doesn’t ‘unite’ us so much as it connects us. For our part, we will invest the reserves we have built up to move this mission forward.”

We at Experientia definitely applaud this new initiative, both conceptually (from usability to UX) and practically (it will make our field stronger and more powerful).

6 June 2012

The curious case of Internet privacy

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Free services in exchange for personal information. That’s the “privacy bargain” we all strike on the Web. Cory Doctorow argues it could be the worst deal ever.

“Far from destroying business, letting users control disclosure would create value. Design an app that I willingly give my location to (as I do with the Hailo app for ordering black cabs in London) and you’d be one of the few and proud firms with my permission to access and sell that information. Right now, the users and the analytics people are in a shooting war, but only the analytics people are armed. There’s a business opportunity for a company that wants to supply arms to the rebels instead of the empire.”

Read article

6 June 2012

Why are contextual inquiries so difficult?

 

Jim Ross, Principal of Design Research at Electronic Ink, thinks contextual inquiry is the most difficult user research technique to perform effectively, as it requires a difficult balance between traditional interviewing and ethnographic observation. In an article for UXMatters, he discusses the most common problems one faces when conducting contextual inquiries and how to solve them.

“The key differentiator between contextual inquiry and other user research methods is that contextual inquiry occurs in context. It’s not simply an interview, and it’s not simply an observation. It involves observing people performing their tasks and having them talk about what they are doing while they are doing it.

Another key difference between contextual inquiry and other user research methods is that participants must take a more active role in leading their session. This is unfamiliar territory, and it can be uncomfortable for some people. The dynamic of interviews and focus groups is more familiar to participants, who take a more passive role, sitting back and waiting to answer a facilitator’s questions. In contrast, a contextual inquiry requires participants to take the role of an expert, leading the session by demonstrating and talking about their tasks. For those who are used to taking a more traditional, passive role during interviews, this role-reversal can be a difficult adjustment. Without intending to, participants often slip back into a passive, interviewee role.”

Read article

4 June 2012

UX challenges when building collaborative consumption platforms

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Rachel Botsman, founder and chief innovator of the Collaborative Lab (part of the Collaborative Consumption movement) writes that the biggest initial barrier to implementing Collaborative Consumption ideas is typically inertia.

Some common questions are: “How do we use technologies to enable trust between strangers? What’s the best approach for building critical mass? How do we know when and how to scale? How do we design a user experience that gets to the heart of what people want?”

In two blog posts on the NESTA site, Botsman synthesized “some key learning around what it takes to successfully address these questions” with examples from a few start-ups.

Critical mass and scale
The first big issue to address is building a critical mass of inventory (users, products or services) on both the supply and demand sides of the equation. The second issue is when and how to scale up.

Trust and user experience
Design and user experience are absolutely critical in building a successful and distinctive Collaborative Consumption platform and strong community of early-ambassadors, yet it is often overlooked in favour of optimum functionality or speed-to-market.

2 June 2012

New York Times Magazine – The Innovations Issue

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The annual Innovations Issue of the New York Times Magazine arrives this Sunday. Two highlights:

32 Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow
An abridged guide to the many ways that your day is about to get better.

15. The Kindness Hack
Researchers at Wharton, Yale and Harvard have figured out how to make employees feel less pressed for time: force them to help others. According to a recent study, giving workers menial tasks or, surprisingly, longer breaks actually leads them to believe that they have less time, while having them write to a sick child, for instance, makes them feel more in control and “willing to commit to future engagements despite their busy schedules.” The idea is that completing an altruistic task increases your sense of productivity, which in turn boosts your confidence about finishing everything else you need to do.

How Kinect Spawned a Commercial Ecosystem
The wildly popular Kinect bred a rich subculture of techies dreaming up new uses for it.

“An object that spawns its own commercial ecosystem is a thing to take seriously. [...] But there is disagreement about exactly how the Kinect evolved into an object with such potential. Did Microsoft intentionally create a versatile platform analogous to the app store? Or did outsider tech-artists and hobbyists take what the company thought of as a gaming device and redefine its potential?

This clash of theories illustrates a larger debate about the nature of innovation in the 21st century, and the even larger question of who, exactly, decides what any given object is really for. Does progress flow from a corporate entity’s offering a whiz-bang breakthrough embraced by the masses? Or does techno-thing success now depend on the company’s acquiescing to the crowd’s input? Which vision of an object’s meaning wins? The Kinect does not neatly conform to either theory. But in this instance, maybe it’s not about whose vision wins; maybe it’s about the contest.”

2 June 2012

US Veterans Administration launches iPad patient study on tablet use

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The US Veterans Administration has announced it has created an initiative aimed at studying the benefits associated with the use of mhealth apps and tablet devices to improve and coordinate care between physicians, veterans and their families/caregivers.

To that end, the VA is handing out 1,000 iPads to veteran’s families in the “Clinic-in-Hand” pilot program. These are not just stock iPads either, they will come pre-loaded with apps that are designed to facilitate communication with the veteran’s physician.

Read article