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Posts in category 'Digital divide'

24 June 2008

Mito Akiyoshi: the digital divide does not vanish with the mobile

Mito Akiyoshi
The great people at the splendid French blog InternetActu have conducted an interview with the Japanese sociologist, Mito Akiyoshi. Since InternetActu is published in French, and I have been pushing them time and again to make the rich contents of their blog also available in English, they have offered us to co-publish this interview in English — the language it was conducted in. It was not difficult to accept the offer and I thank Hubert Guillaud in particular for this opportunity. If you read French, go read it here.
 

Mito Akiyoshi (blog) is a Japanese sociologist at Senshu University. She also collaborates with sociologist Izumi Aizu on a NTT research programme on privacy and identity. The interview provides us with an opportunity to take a unique look at what is happening in Japan: it allows us to not focus on the technology, as is so often the case, but on how this technology is used, which is often more varied and complex than one might think.
 

DIGITAL DIVIDE IN JAPAN?

InternetActu.net: You have worked on the digital divide in Japan. We in the West often have the impression that the digital divide does not exist in your country where the mobile phone is so pervasive. But is that really so? Do all people really have equal access?

Mito Akiyoshi: There is a growing consensus among researchers in Japan as well as abroad that the digital divide is not just about having Internet access or not. It is also about the type of use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT’s) and the goals of that use. In order to understand the implications of the mobile phone on the digital divide, we have to start with a broader definition of the digital divide itself, which needs to encompass all activities mediated by technologies. Due to the mobile phone we are now facing a mixed reality: it is a glass that is both half-full and half-empty.

Japan is indeed a global leader in mobile telephony: the mobile phone has brought ICT to those who would otherwise not have used technology. Yet the mobile phone has not eliminated the digital divide at all. My research shows that existing patterns of inequality strongly influence the type of technology and technology use certain kinds of people exhibit. Generally speaking, there are three types of ICT users in terms of access to hardware: “Literati” are those people who use both computers and mobile phones. A second group consists of a fairly large number of people who use mobile phones but rarely use PC’s. The third group are those who use neither. The last group is obviously decreasing now because of the pervasiveness of the internet, but even the second group could be considered on the wrong side of the digital divide — unable to make the most of ICT.
 

UNIVORES AND OMNIVORES

All of that would be OK if the choice was just that: a matter of choice. But often it isn’t. Web contents accessed on a computer are quite different from those accessed on a mobile device. For example, my research shows that respondents use a PC for professional reasons and to access government services. The use of a mobile phone however is mainly limited to entertainment related activities. Those who use mobile phones and not the PC tend to be less educated, less wealthy, and/or female. So, their reliance on their mobile phone and their non-use of the PC could also be interpreted as perpetuating a less privileged status.

I am still looking for good labels to identify these different types of users, and in particular those who use the mobile but not the PC. The distinction between “univore” and “omnivore” as used in cultural sociology could be useful. The “univores” refer to people with limited cultural resources who consume just one type of genre, e.g. hip-hop. The “omnivores” on the other hand are endowed with rich resources: they enjoy multiple genres. According to this view, the distinction between middle class and working class is not based on their preference for particular genres, but rather on their ability to consume a wide range of cultural products. So based on this logic, I could probably use the term “mobile univore”.

InternetActu.net: What does the mobile phone prevent that the combination of internet and mobile enables?

Mito Akiyoshi: Studies have shown that PC Internet users acquire new ICT skills as they become more familiar with the web. It is a virtuous circle. Initially you go online to address a particular need, but then you discover other services and applications and you do a lot of “learning by doing”. The PC Internet encourages people to explore. The mobile Internet on the other hand provides only basic internet related services, which are often limited to entertainment and leisure activities. The mobile internet is rarely a channel for serious, productive activities. Even the content and service quality differs. Although you can read news on both the computer and the mobile phone, news items on the mobile tend to be brief and sketchy, because of space limitations. If you read news and opinion stories in the newspaper or on a PC, you can learn a lot. But if you read news summaries on the mobile phone, you miss out on this learning opportunity.
 

A POLICY ISSUE

InternetActu.net: How to promote passing from mobile tools to internet tools, when uses are not really the same?

Mito Akiyoshi: First of all, I think we should acknowledge both quality and quantity of contents and services are of the utmost significance. Access to them are legitimate global, national and local policy issues, but are hardly recognised as such. For example if you know that mobile users do not get information of equivalent quality to those on PC internet, you could modify the way you present the information. If you would like to mobile phone use for productive activities, you can improve the design, the interface, and the services. Mobile Internet has been entertainment-driven because mobile internet service providers saw entertainment related services as the most lucrative business. But policy makers can intervene and encourage technology development that contributes to wider social inclusion and participation.
 

THE JAPANESE FASCINATION WITH THE MOBILE

InternetActu.net: The West has a certain image of the use of technology in Japan: omnipresent, very focused on the mobile, with a population fond of everything innovative. Does this picture correspond to reality?

Mito Akiyoshi: Well, the Japanese are fond of certain innovations. But one should also note that Japan lagged behind other industrialised countries with respect to basic Internet connectivity during the 1990s. So my short answer to this question is yes and no. The explosion of mobile telephony must be put into perspective, rather than being taken as a sign of general enthusiasm for all innovations. Some innovations take root at a phenomenal speed while others are sadly abandoned.

But Japan’s fascination with mobility may be peculiar to them. The obsession with mobility, cuteness, and miniaturisation are repeatedly brought up in popular discourse as part of the essence of Japanese culture. But as a social scientist, I want to explain them. The fascination with mobility is a consequence of our lifestyle. Tokyoites spend long hours commuting by train with plenty of time to play around with their mobile phones. Unlike people in Europe and the U.S., the majority of Japanese have not experienced a smooth transition from the typewriter to the computer. Some users actually prefer the mobile phone simply because they are not comfortable working with a keyboard. Those people use their mobile phones for reasons that have little to do with their portability. The popularity of the mobile phone in Japan is actually quite a complex phenomenon.

That said, their quirky tastes might help discover and popularise certain innovations in an unexpected manner. The camera/video mobile phone is one example that comes to my mind. At first, the idea appeared strange. But the Japanese loved camera phones for whatever reasons and have made them popular in other parts of the world.
 

THE FUTURE OF MOBILE

InternetActu.net: Japan seems ahead because consumers already use the mobile to access online contents, and this will become the future everywhere. But you seem more sceptical.

Mito Akiyoshi: Japan is indeed one of the leaders in mobile Internet services. Although I raised some issues about the causes and current use of mobile Internet, there are lots of reasons to believe that a wider use of mobile and ubiquitous technology will create better communicative environments in Japan and elsewhere. But it is simplistic to assume that the mobile phone in and of itself can solve the deep-rooted problem of digital inequality. But it does help people to get online and to maintain their social networks. The Japanese have enthusiastically taken up the mobile Internet when it first became available in the late 1990s, because they thought it would fulfill their needs.

Now we have to redefine those “needs” or “demands” in the light of the future society we intend to create. Up until now there has been little discussion about the basic values ICT should focus on. Mobile technology holds a key to the realisation of fundamental social values, such as human captial development, equality, sustainable development, democracy, etc., but it does not automatically make it happen.

I am not sceptical, but rather cautiously optimistic because we need a better understanding of the existing problems and a better vision for the future to fully realise the communicative possibilities offered by mobile technology.
 

OUR UBIQUITOUS BUT LOCALLY EMBEDDED LIVES

InternetActu.net: There is a lot of talk these days about geolocation as the future of the mobile, allowing a synthesis of social networks and mobility. Did geolocation use explode in Japan and why?

Mito Akiyoshi: There are some interesting uses of mobile geolocation technology in Japan, such as the otetsudai network which is basically a job search service accessed via a mobile phone, allows people to find a job or an employee “on the spot”. Geolocation services enable micromanagement of time, space, a job slot, and even a worker. Even in the age of globalization, our day-to-day life is locally embedded and mobile technology serves locally embedded needs quite well.

InternetActu.net: In terms of government action, the focus seems to have evolved from e-Japan (a fairly classic approach to Internet access and use) to u-Japan, seen as a more futuristic plan focussed on ubiquitous information availability. What is the reality of this programme now?

Mito Akiyoshi: To answer such a question, the first thing one might want to do is to go to a government website to do some research on the u-Japan project. But if you do that, you realise that the search functionality on government websites is a real mess. Search information on any specific issue on a Japanese government website and you will share my frustration. One cannot get the information one is looking for. This very fact affects my evaluation of the u-Japan project.

U-Japan was successful in providing the nation fast Internet connection and improving government services. In areas such as tax preparation and business filings, great progress was made and the u-Japan project should be given due credit.

But there are some goals still to be accomplished as illustrated by the mediocre search functionality.

Let me give you another example: When I consult government statistics, I often get a lot of Excel tables. I rather need a decent query system so that I can combine variables and create the tabled results I need.

Ubiquity is all fine, but ubiquitous solutions must be user-friendly solutions as well.
 

THE DIFFICULTY OF COMPREHENDING THE PRIVACY AND IDENTITY CHALLENGES

InternetActu.net: You work with Izumi Aizu on a NTT research programme on privacy and identity. Can you tell us more about the objectives of this programme and its first results?

Mito Akiyoshi: NTT is a very interesting organisation. They do not ask us to do research to maximize their profit on a short-term basis. They came to us with no specific agenda and asked us tell them “something interesting about privacy and identity.” So we devised our research objectives on the fly.

We investigated national identity projects as well as business identity management projects. I like to think that the fact that we didn’t find strong trends is one of our major findings. Not that we came back empty-handed: there is a huge information asymmetry between the various parties involved. For example, I contacted a recruiting company for my research, but they could not come up with good interviewees because the issue is too technical. Only one interviewee I talked with said he was interested in the issue of identity management.

The issue of privacy and identity is very relevant to everyone but it is difficult to bring home to everyone its relevance when it involves so many technical details. Unfortunately many decisions that have real social implications are removed from the public discourse and are reduced to technical matters. How do you explain the notion of search engine privacy to your grandma or even to your boss for that matter? Or the possible privacy breach with the introduction of IPv6 due to its addressing mechanism? They may not comprehend the issues, although they are relevant to them. We found that there is no common language to start a productive discussion about the way those issues are handled by governments, businesses, researchers, and community leaders.

InternetActu.net: You point the finger at strong concerns about privacy issues, even though we in France tend to believe that these issues do not have the same impact in Japan, because of cultural differences. So are privacy concerns similar in Japan and in the West?

Mito Akiyoshi: This is an interesting question. Of course France and Japan are culturally quite different, but France is also quite different from the UK, the US, Germany, and other countries that supposedly constitute “the West.” I do not want to ignore differences between countries, but I would like to balance “between-country” differences with “within-country” differences. I do not know if it is appropriate to bring privacy concerns back to “cultural differences,” but the issue of privacy does manifest itself differently in different societies. For example, racial profiling is a big issue in societies with diverse minority populations. I do not say that it does not exist in Japan. But it is less central there than in the US, for example.

One way to address cultural differences is to look for social problems that affect a society in particular. If the Japanese have reservations about a national identity card system, it may be because their trust in the government’s handling of personal information is low. The national pension system is mismanaged and its failure is a huge scandal here right now. Those who are entitled to pension money were not given their money because the agency in charge did not handle the records properly.

What kind of attitudes prevail in France regarding the issue of privacy and what kind of factors — cultural, social, political, or economic — may explain those attitudes? I think I have more questions than answers to this question.

12 June 2008

Intel anthropologists find keys to tech adoption

Adoption map
Dawn Nafus, an Intel anthropologist and her team have created Intel’s “Technology Metabolism Index,” which shows how citizens of countries’ tech adoption exceeds or lags what one would expect given their levels of wealth.

The map (hi-res pdf) shows fast tech adopters in bright colors and slow adopters in grays.

Nafus hopes that the work will help break the current business paradigms about what countries are ready for which technologies.

Read full story

1 June 2008

Library of Congress lecture series on “digital natives”

Digital spot
The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress is organising a four-part lecture series on “Digital Natives,” referring to the generation that has been raised with the computer as a natural part of their lives, especially the young people who are currently in schools and colleges today.

The series seeks to understand the practices and culture of the digital natives, the cultural implications of their phenomenon and the implications for education to schools, universities and libraries.

A Washington Times article today and some Library of Congress press releases provide some more insight:

[The series] began April 7 with child development expert Edith K. Ackermann (site) discussing “The Anthropology of Digital Natives” (video).

The Washington Times writes: “Ms. Ackermann, a visiting scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke almost affectionately of young people’s affinity for sharing, “even before they think,” and their “fascination with freedom,” defined, in part, as having “the ability to do the right thing even when they have not got all the knowledge.” Because of their affinity for texting and borrowing sources available widely on the Internet and social networking sites, she concluded that “the gap between reading and writing is closing down.”

On 12 May, a spirited defense of the digital generation was presented by the writer Steven Berlin Johnson (site) based on his 2005 best-selling book, “Everything Bad is Good for You” (wikipedia). [A video is not yet available].

According to the Library of Congress press release, Johnson discussed the response to his argument that popular culture is growing more complex and cognitively challenging, and is not racing downward towards a lowest common denominator. He also talked about the future of books in this digital age.

Michael Wesch (site), assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, is the man behind the viral internet video “The Machine Is Us/ing Us“, which with over 600,000 views has become somewhat of a phenomenon. Welsch will discuss the three-year-old video-sharing Web site in a lecture titled “The Anthropology of YouTube” on 23 June.

“More video material has been uploaded to YouTube in the past six months than has ever been aired on all major networks combined, according to cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch. About 88 percent is new and original content, most of which has been created by people formerly known as “the audience.”

According to Wesch, it took tens of thousands of years for writing to emerge after humans spoke their first words. It took thousands more before the printing press appeared and a few hundred again before the telegraph did. Today a new medium of communication emerges every time somebody creates a new web application. “A Flickr here, a Twitter there, and a new way of relating to others emerges,” Wesch said. “New types of conversation, argumentation and collaborations are realized.”

Douglas Rushkoff (site), a teacher of media theory at New York University who recently wrote a pamphlet for the UK think tank Demos, will close the series with a lecture entitled “Open Source Reality” on 30 June.

The series should eventually be available on video webcasts.

The Washington Times article also refers to a few other resources, including Digital Native, an international online academic research project that explores the “digital media landscape” and its implications. (Check the links at the end of that page).

By the way, check out the gorgeous illustration that Linas Garsys made for the Washington Times. Click on the image on the left so see it in its full size.

18 May 2008

Danish programme for user-driven innovation

Danish programme for user-driven innovation
The Danish programme for user-driven innovation (English summary) aims to strengthen the diffusion of methods for user-driven innovation, and to contribute to increased growth in the participating companies, and to increased user satisfaction and/or increased efficiency in participating public institutions.

The programme should also result in the development of new products, services, and concepts. Finally, the programme should increase the qualifications of employees to take part in the innovation processes in the participating companies and public institutions.

The programme, which has a yearly budget of DKK 100 million (13.4 million euro or 20.9 million USD) and runs for four years, 2007-2010, is administered by Danish Enterprise and Construction Authority, which is part of the Danish Ministry for Economic and Business Affairs.

The activities are grouped in three areas: strategic, regional, and other important areas.

The strategic effort concerns three broad thematic areas: (1) areas where Denmark has particular business skills (e.g. environment and energy technology, construction, health, design and food); (2) cross-sectoral issues relating to social problems with promising market potential (e.g. healthy and energy saving construction, or fighting obesity); and (3) welfare areas, in particular where the citizen interacts with the public sector (e.g. care for children and elderly citizens and the health sector). Fifteen projects are currently running:

  • Indoor climate and quality of life – more in Danish
  • Service renewal in practice – user-driven service innovation in small artisanal companies – more in Danish
  • Accessible packaging for the elderly and the functionally impaired – more in Danish
  • Innofood – employee and user driven innovation in value chains – more in Danish
  • User-driven mobile community – more in Danish
  • User-driven innovation and communication of textile qualities – more in Danish
  • The future’s interactive convenience store – more in Danish
  • Future waste systems – more in Danish
  • Coherent patient process – more in Danish
  • A good life for the elderly – more in Danish
  • The healthy way – more in Danish
  • Lead user-based entrepreneurship (in collaboration with Lego and MIT) – more in Danish
  • New product development with lead users (in collaboration with Grundfos and MIT) – more in Danish
  • Intelligent utility – more in Danish
  • User-driven innovation and strategic design – more in Danish | English

Desinova is the name of this last project, an historic, systematic, and longitudinal study of strategic design and co-creation innovation in services happening now in Denmark. The project’s outcomes are expected to have global implications for innovation in industry and civil society.

The Desinova project objectives are:

  • to generate ten successful service innovation projects;
  • to make participating service companies and agencies more capable of service innovation;
  • to develop a Service Innovation Model that explains how service company personnel, strategists, marketing people, designers, anthropologists and users successfully co-create;
  • to evolve policy recommendations for business, education and research.

The regional effort ensures that knowledge of and experience with methods for user-driven innovation is disseminated throughout the country. Regional actors in each of the country’s six geographic regions organise a yearly project in their region:

  • Copenhagen Innovation Center (Capital Region) – more in Danish | English
  • Handicaps – a knowledge resource to better aids (Central Jutland Region) – more in Danish
  • Tele home care – chronic patients and the collaborating health services (North Jutland Region) – more in Danish
  • Healthy meals for hospital patients (South Denmark Region) – more in Danish
  • Bornholm’s harbour – the hidden treasures (Bornholm Island) – more in Danish
  • User-driven innovation in value chains (Zealand Region) – more in Danish

The third area of effort covers applications from projects that work with any other important issues, businesses and institutions, notd covered by the strategic or regional effort, such as the 180º Academy and the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design.

More info:
- Presentation by Dorte Nøhr Andersen, Head of Division, Danish Enterprise and Construction Authority – (pdf)
- Presentation by Lars Bo Jeppesen, Director, Danish User-Centered Innovation Lab, Copenhagen Business School – (pdf)

4 May 2008

Recent immigrants driving advanced mobile phone use, both in Europe and in the US

Latino boy on mobile phone
Last year, The Economist published an article about ethnographic user research at Swisscom. One of the findings it highlighted was that immigrant workers are the most advanced users of communications technology:

“It is migrants, rather than geeks, who have emerged as the “most aggressive” adopters of new communications tools, says [Swisscom anthropologist Stefana] Broadbent. Dispersed families with strong ties and limited resources have taken to voice-over-internet services, IM and webcams, all of which are cheap or free. They also go online to get news or to download music from home.”

That same trend is also present in the United States, with Latinos depending on their cell phones for more services than other [major] ethnic groups, turning to it for messaging, downloading music, surfing the Web and e-mailing, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.

“According to [a Pew Internet & American Life Project survey released last month], on a typical day, Latinos were more likely to use their phone to send or receive a text message, play a mobile game, send or receive e-mail, access the Internet, play music, instant message, or get a map or directions. Fifty-six percent of Latinos said they did at least one of these activities, compared with 50 percent for African Americans and 38 percent for whites.

The numbers are supported by a Forrester Research survey last year that found Latinos were more likely than other users to text, instant or picture message, send e-mail, check the weather, get news or sports updates, research entertainment, check financial accounts and receive stock quotes through their phone.”

Interestingly, “the cell phone in some cases is being used as the primary computer for Latinos, serving up e-mail and the Internet, in the process bridging what has been called the digital divide that still exists for some minority and disadvantaged groups.”

The article mentions many reasons for this: economic (lower mean household income, so less broadband access at home), demographic (family and friends are spread out across the United States and across the border), and cultural (a higher value is placed on staying in touch with family and friends).

But even though these ethnic minorities are advanced users, mobile phone marketing companies consider them as only interested in the cheap offers: “Hendrik Schouten, director of marketing for the Hispanic segment at AT&T, said carriers assumed Latino users wanted the cheapest phones and were more likely to use prepaid plans because of limited budgets.” This now seems to be changing.

30 April 2008

Microsoft developing ‘senior PC’

senior PC
Microsoft UK is developing a “senior PC”, which will have a simple interface and be aimed at older users, writes Jane Wakefield on BBC News.

The machine will come software that allows users to manage prescriptions as well as simplified tools for everyday use, such as managing photos.

The machine, which it is developing in partnership with charities Age Concern and Help the Aged, is one of several projects the firm is working on.

The plans were unveiled at a Digital Inclusion conference in London.

Read full story

24 April 2008

One in five Britons don’t know how to use e-mail

No email
The Times comments on a report on the significant digital divide in the UK, despite widepsread broadband and mobile coverage.

One in five adult Britons is unable to open a word processing document on a computer, and just under 20 per cent still cannot use e-mail, a survey suggests.

Searching the internet using engines like Google, meanwhile, is a problem for 16 per cent of people, and when it comes to using social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, 28 per cent say they are at a loss.

The figures, detailed in an ICM poll, reveal the extent of the digital divide in Britain, where despite broadband penetration of about 65 per cent, one in five people does not yet own a computer, and 7 per cent of adults say that their lack of IT skills “greatly restricts” what they can do.

Read full story

24 February 2008

Our cells, ourselves

Disruptive Thinking
The Washington Post reflects on what it means that there is now one cellphone for every two humans on Earth.

“From essentially zero, we’ve passed a watershed of more than 3.3 billion active cellphones on a planet of some 6.6 billion humans in about 26 years. This is the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history — faster even than the polio vaccine.” [...]

“The mobile phone is the way social cohesion is taking place. It tightens the bonds between us,” says Ling, an American who researches the social consequences of mobile telephony for Telenor, the Oslo-based global phone company. [...]

“The cellphone allows us to create that local sphere” that was the hallmark of pre-industrial villages, says Ling. Cellphone circles tend to be small and full of people who “know what you’re up to, who you are, what’s in your refrigerator. That’s a way of being attached to society. It has a socializing effect.”

Read full story

14 September 2007

BT’s Crossing the Divide project

BT
BT (British Telecommunications plc) is setting up an initiative, called the Crossing the Divide Project, to find out why some people resist using the internet, reports the BBC News website.

The project will employ psychologists to closely study a small group of people to reveal what stops them joining the net-using majority.

The BT project website provides further insight:

For millions in the UK, the online social networking phenomenon, commonly referred to as web 2.0, has really brought the internet to life. People can now go online to access hundreds of services that make their lives easier and help to connect them to friends and family around the world. But 33 per cent of adults are still not online and remain excluded from the increasing number of web-based resources, services and information that many of us take for granted.

The digital divide is not always about a lack of access to the internet. From our work with the charity Citizens Online, we know that some of the biggest barriers are fear and lack of confidence.

To understand these fears and how to overcome them, BT is running a two month trial with participants across the UK. Individuals who have never had access to the internet are being given the technology and support to explore the web for the first time. They are recording their journeys and, at the end of the trial, their experiences will be shared with government, charities and other businesses to see how the process can be scaled-up in future to bring the benefits of the internet to more and more people across the UK.

View project video

7 August 2007

Fing: the next generation internet foundation from France

Fing
For some time now I have been following the French innovation blog Internet Actu, not realising that it was part of a bigger initiative called “Fing“. Fing stands for “Fondation Internet Nouvelle Génération”, or the the next generation internet foundation, aimed at stimulating and promoting R&D and innovation in ICT uses and services. Here is how they describe themselves in English:

Founded by 3 leading Internet associations, including the Internet Society, FING is a collective and open research and development project which focuses on tomorrow’s Internet’s uses, applications and services.

FING views the future Internet as not only more reliable, mobile, fast, user-friendly – but as a different Internet: the disappearing Internet, in which broadband, mobile, pervasive, intelligent technologies make it possible to focus on the user’s needs, lifestyles and desires. We believe this technological change will unleash a new innovation cycle in applications and services. We also believe that the Internet’s decentralised design should and can scale to the next generation and is innovation’s and competition’s best chance for the future.

FING intends to help corporations, public agencies, education and research organizations be at the forefront of this new cycle. Through collective and networked intelligence, creativity and experimentation, Fing seeks to improve the efficiency of the innovation process, as well as reduce risks for all involved parties.

FING:

  • publishes Internet Actu, a weblog and media which is read by 70,000 professionals;
  • supports several workgroups and communities;
  • organises visits to research labs and innovative companies throughout the world;
  • publishes papers, books and reports;
  • moderates or takes part in foresight exercises such as Ci’Num, the Digital Civilizations Forum;
  • organises international conferences and industry events such as Mobile Monday France, or the “Crossroads of Possibilities” which showcases very early-stage innovative projects.

FING is networked with other, similar initiatives throughout Europe and the world. FING’s CEO, Daniel Kaplan, is a member of the European Commission’s eEurope Advisory Group.

FING currently has more than 165 members, including: BNP Paribas, EDF, Ericsson, Eutelsat, France Telecom/Orange, Galeries Lafayette, HP, INRIA, Microsoft, the Ministries of Education and Research, Toshiba, etc.

Some browsing around led me to interesting initiatives such as:

  • Villes 2.0 (Cities 2.0), which is aimed at helping traditional urban stakeholders (companies, institutions, social entities) and “digital actors” foresee urban and mobile transformations and work together on them. There are four focus areas: the augmented city (related to ubiquitous computing); my own city (which is about personalisation and user-centredness); service innovation (and co-creation); and social sustainability.
     
  • Active Identities, which is focused on identifying and stimulating the necessary actions to make the active management of digital identities into a resource, a tool that allows users to control their lives and realise their projects, a factor of confidence, and a source of innovation and value creation.
     
  • Innovative Interfaces, a new project which ponders the question how the fact that our direct and indirect interactions with machines and digital services, which keeps on getting better, simpler and easier, can help remove certain barriers for people with “difficulties” (e.g. non-users).
     
  • Active and autonomous living until 90

Also of interest are a series of videos including this presentation by Fing CEO Daniel Kaplan at LIFT07, as well as a huge amount of rather unorganised project videos from the Crossroads of Possibilities project.

25 May 2007

UK report on culture, participation and the web

Logging On
The UK think tank Demos has just published a new report on culture, participation and the web. Based on UK case studies, it provides insight and lessons learnt on how new and emergent web technology can increase public participation in culture, and on how to organise online engagement.

“The report looks at the convergence of three trends:

  • technological change
  • the way that people engage with culture
  • the policy aim of increasing democratic participation in culture, with particular regard to audiences described as ‘hard to reach’.

What these trends have in common is a movement from passivity to engagement, from uni-directional flows to interactivity, and from the few to the many.

Digitisation has changed everything. It has created public expectations for on-demand, constantly available, individualised access to products. It has also challenged the assumptions of cultural sector professionals that their role is to oversee public access to culture in the sense that they act as gatekeepers to what is produced, what is shown and how it is interpreted. In the analogue world, the public was able to engage with culture on terms set by experts and professionals: content, pricing, format and timing were all decided by the producer. In a world of infinitely replicable and manipulable digital content, this no longer applies. The full implications of this for the cultural sector are not yet clear.

In the brief history of the internet, the cultural sector has followed two related paths: on the one hand, the digitisation of content and provision of information and, on the other, interactivity and opportunities for expression. Some have seen these as in binary opposition.

The truth is that they are inexorably merging. But the big question is where do we go next? How can policy intervention best meet with technology to achieve the aim of bringing about a more democratic culture? What will be the role, opportunities and limitations of online culture in a rapidly changing world?”

Download report (pdf, 719 kb, 93 pages)

6 May 2007

Pew/Internet typology of information and communication technology users

Pew_logo
Half of all American adults are only occasional users of modern information gadgetry, while 8% are avid participants in all that digital life has to offer.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted a survey designed to classify Americans into different groups of technology users.

At one end of the spectrum, the survey identifies the heaviest consumers, most active users, and happiest denizens of the information society. It also locates those who find great satisfaction in the use of ICT even though they have fewer network resources. In the middle range, the typology highlights some users who have invested a lot in services and hardware, but feel uncomfortable with the extra connectivity. And at the other end of the spectrum, it identifies those who get along – many of them just fine – with a relative scarcity of information goods and services.

The ten groups that emerge in the typology fit broadly into a “high end,” “medium users,” and “low-level adopters” framework. However, the groups within each broad category have their own particular characteristics, attitudes and usage patterns.

  • The elite users of ICTs consist of four groups that have the most information technology, are heavy and frequent users of the internet and cell phones and, to varying degrees, are engaged with user-generated content. Members of these groups have generally high levels of satisfaction about the role of ICTs in their lives, but the groups differ on whether the extra availability is a good thing or not.
  • The middle-of-the-road users consist of two groups whose outlook toward information technology is task-oriented. They use ICTs for communication more than they use it for self-expression. One group finds this pattern of information technology use satisfying and beneficial, while the other finds it burdensome.
  • For those with few technology assets (four groups), modern gadgetry is at or near the periphery of their daily lives. Some find it useful, others don’t, and others simply stick to the plain old telephone and television.

- Download report (pdf, 284 kb, 55 pages)
- Download questionnaire (pdf, 124 kb, 28 pages)
- “Survey defines split in technology use” [USA Today]
- “Wired but not Web 2.0? That’s normal, study says” [CNET News]
- America: The Growing Digital Divide [TechCrunch]

2 April 2007

France caters to market for the most simple of computers [International Herald Tribune]

Easyneuf
I just wrote on Core77 how French Internet service provider, Neuf Cegetel, has taken inspiration from the legendary Minitel to develop the Easyneuf computer based on a similar low-cost model, aimed at people who are unable or unwilling to buy a computer.

Usability seems to have been a major issue, as can be read in a report by Thomas Crampton in the International Herald Tribune:

To Neuf, the issue came down to the difficulty that first-time computer users experience in dealing with Windows.

“Nearly 80 percent of all current customer calls relate to problems with Microsoft Windows,” said Frédéric Charrier, manager of the Easy Neuf project. “We decided it was easier to build our own platform to limit potential problems.”

“Our promise of customer service forced us to conceive everything from the consumer perspective in order to reduce calls,” Charrier said. “This starts with the instruction book containing many photos, goes as far as the simplified computer interface and goes down to a redesign of the keyboard.”

Also, the software is entirely open source.

Read full story

13 February 2007

Glossary of social media for non-techies

Social media glossary
David Wilcox just finished writing a glossary of social media aimed at helping non-techies understand terms that enthusiasts take for granted, like blog, wiki, tag, podcast, feed — and added some interpretation of why common words like conversation, culture, openness have particular importance.

The glossary comes in a short version and a long version. The latter may be of more interest to those more familiar with social media.

Wilcox would really welcome any comments and/or additions you can offer in the discussion tab.

(via Designing for Civil Society)

30 January 2007

Two-thirds of Brits use just 4 functions on their phones [Cellular News]

Brit texting
Over half (53%) of Brits feel that modern technology has now become too complicated and could turn their back on technology, according to the latest report from PayPal, as covered in Cellular News.

The age old problem of setting a video recorder still exists for one in three Brits, even though they have been in the mainstream for 27 years.

DVDs offer a more complex challenge with four in five (77%) not feeling confident to set one to record.

Also, mobile phones are now ubiquitous, yet many remain baffled by their features. The majority, almost two thirds (61%), use only four features on their mobile phone – calls, text messages, alarm clock and camera – while two fifths don’t even know if their mobile phone has a camera function.

Read full story

(via textually.org)

18 January 2007

Governments should focus on connectivity, content and copyright to support user-generated content

Prof. Michael Geist
Canadian internet law professor Michael Geist describes in a BBC guest column how governments can help their citizens make the most of the web.

“Time Magazine’s choice late last month of “You” (by which it meant all the users generating content on the web) as the person of the year was mocked by critics as a poor choice that by-passed several notable political leaders.

Yet the choice may ultimately be viewed as the tipping point when the remarkable outbreak of internet participation that encompasses millions of bloggers, music remixers, amateur video creators, citizen journalists, wikipedians and Flickr photographers broke into the mainstream.

The choice may also cause government leaders and policy makers to contemplate how they fit into the world of a participatory internet and user-generated content. [...]

In the mid-1990s, the emergence of the internet and e-commerce elicited an engaged approach from many governments, who sought to balance the need for a private sector-led, self-regulatory model with e-commerce and privacy legislation that built consumer and business confidence in the new medium.

A decade later, the role of government will be to support the enormous economic and cultural potential of user-generated content, while avoiding steps that might impede its growth. It can do so by focusing on the three “C’s” – connectivity, [free access to] content, and copyright [relaxation].”

Read full story

11 January 2007

UK think tank Demos on education for a digital generation

Education for a Digital Generation
The report “Their Space: Education for a digital generation” draws on qualitative research with children and polling of parents to counter the myths obscuring the true value of digital media. Approaching technology from the perspective of children, it tells positive stories about how they use online space to build relationships and create original content. It argues that the skills children are developing through these activities, such as creativity, communication and collaboration, are those that will enable them to succeed in a globally networked, knowledge-driven economy.

In a report launched today (Thursday) the influential think tank Demos calls on schools to get past fears about children’s internet use and harness its learning potential.

The report Their Space: Education for a digital generation draws on research showing that a generation of children have made online activity a part of everyday life, with parents and schools still far behind.

The report argues that children are developing a sophisticated understanding of new technologies outside of formal schooling, gaining creative and entrepreneurial skills demanded by the global knowledge economy.

Schools are failing to develop these skills, with many attempting to limit children’s online activity to ICT ‘ghettos’ while banning the use of social networking sites like MySpace and YouTube.

The research, based on nine months of interviews, focus groups and recording children’s online activity, found that:

  • A majority of children use new media tools to make their lives easier and strengthen existing friendship networks
  • Almost all children are involved in creative production – e.g. uploading/editing photos and building websites
  • A smaller group of ‘digital pioneers’ are engaged in more groundbreaking activities
  • Children are well aware of potential risks, with many able to self regulate – contrary to popular assumptions about safety
  • Many children have their own ‘hierarchy of digital activity’ and are much more conscious of the relative values of online activity than their parents and teachers

The report goes on to make a number of proposals on how formal education in the UK can adapt to the growing dominance of online culture in children’s lives, including the recommendation that children should be given the opportunity to build up a ‘creative portfolio’ alongside traditional forms of assessment, access to which would be determined by the children themselves

- Read press release
- Download report (pdf, 302 kb, 81 pages)
- ‘In class, I have to power down’ [The Guardian]

22 December 2006

UK foresight studies identify emerging trends over the next 50 years

Sigma scan
Via the BBC I found out about the Sigma and Delta foresight scans, with nearly 250 papers that look ahead at developments over the next 50 years.

The research was commissioned by the UK Office of Science and Innovation‘s Horizon Scanning Centre, and complied by futures researchers, Outsights-Ipsos Mori partnership and the US-based Institute for the Future (IFTF).

The papers look forward at emerging trends in science, health and technology. As well as assessing the current state of thinking they also examine the possible implications for society.

SIGMA SCAN

The Sigma Scan is set up as a database of 146 issue papers that provide a brief description of a particular trend or development and a projection of how, given a range of possible conditions, it may unfold in the future and influence the course of events over the next 50 years. The site navigation is rather idiosyncratic and not very user-friendly. But in fact, it is not so bad: you just click on one of the five themes, and on the next page simply hit the “search” button. Here are some of the papers that caught my interest (in no particular order):

  • Come together: Virtual communities, multiple identities?
    New forms of communities are emerging, enabled by new technology and drawn together by shared interests from across the globe. As membership becomes more common, we may see people adopting multiple identities in the convergence of virtual and real worlds. The phenomenon has the potential to unleash huge creative forces and foster social capital. However it may also challenge legislators as it permits new forms of criminal behaviour.
     
  • From consumer to creator: The content revolution and the rise of the creative class
    Consumers are harnessing media previously beyond their grasp technically or economically to express themselves creatively and to earn money. This has come about through innate creativity; accessibility of equipment (eg digital cameras); means to manipulate content (eg easy-to-use software); virtual sharing communities. Creative content may grow exponentially, spawning a new ‘creative class’. Consumer behaviour may change from plain consumption to customisation or co-production.
     
  • The digitisation of knowledge: The wholesale transfer of conventional knowledge media to online sources
    Forms of knowledge and the means of sustaining them for public good are moving online at an exponential rate. The continuation of this online trend may herald radical changes in learning and work. It may or may not imply radically different patterns of knowledge use.
     
  • Technology to empower the greying generation
    Currently, we design for a ‘youth-obsessed society’. It is often thought by designers that older people have little interest in design and in many situations the issue becomes not one of tastes but of needs. However, information technologies are becoming ever more essential for participating in modern life. Potentially they provide a valuable means of keeping people mentally active and in touch with friends and family, as well as providing a convenient means of doing shopping and obtaining advice. Yet computers can be very hard for older people to use, leading to their exclusion from this central aspect of society. There is likely to be high demand for significant redesign of user interfaces – for example, the introduction of speech recognition or the improvement of haptic (touch-sensitive) interfaces.
     
  • Sensory transformation: life in a cloud of data
    Over the next ten years, increasing numbers of computational devices may be embedded in physical objects, places, and even human beings, that would provide considerable amounts of additional information about their environment. Access to this information may enhance our sensory experience, but also stretch our sensory capacity beyond current capabilities. Information technologies (e.g. ambient displays and so-called “calm” technologies) look likely to play a major role as a medium and mediator of social and professional communication. Also, by 2015 displays and interaction may be ubiquitous and provide rich sensory experiences. High-resolution and haptic (or force-feedback) displays, that allow users to feel and touch virtual objects with a high degree of realism, could become more immersive and lifelike.
     
  • Virtual democracy?: Political activity goes online
    Democratic politics may increasingly be conducted online. Ease of access may allow citizens to virtually interact with political representatives eg mass referenda. Vast numbers may be able to register their opinions on topical issues almost instantaneously. This may revive the democratic process but also prompt debate about the nature of democracy itself, increasing pressure for constitutional reform and the creation of new outlets for participation in public life.
     
  • The end of ownership?: Ubiquitous leasing of manufactured goods
    Virtually all fixed assets may be leased to businesses and consumers rather than be owned by them. Leasing could extend from property and large machinery (e.g. all vehicles might be leased) to smaller appliances (e.g. computer hardware, furniture).
     
  • Innovation communities: Open-source, cooperative R&D
    The information economy allows technology development through global research and development, but high costs for specific applications sometimes make it risky, especially in competitive industries. Private and public sectors may combine resources to develop solutions more quickly, efficiently and mitigate risk. Internet and collaborative tools may facilitate this, with open source model allowing savings in costs.
     
  • Technology’s child: the advent of young, tech-literate commercial talent
    The economy may become dependent on those who are highly technologically skilled. While some workers may be immigrants, the majority are likely to be have grown up with the technology and been through a work focused, IT-oriented education. Without re-education or re-skilling, declining demand for unskilled labour may depress their earning potential and prospects. The knowledge economy’s increasing importance may mean increasing inequality.
     
  • From information to insight: Intelligent support and the conquest of information overload
    Computer agents equipped with artificial intelligence may automatically scan, filter and process information, reporting it to users in various targeted forms to aid business and personal life. Able to monitor, analyse, learn and understand natural languages in real time, these systems may help people become highly information-literate, process vast information quantities effectively from multiple inputs, and enable faster informed choices. This may boost productivity.

DELTA SCAN

Also the Delta Scan works as a forum for scanning the science and technology horizon over the next 50 years. The forum contains a hundred outlook pages covering a wide range of scientific disciplines and technologies. The Delta Scan was produced by the Institute for the Future, a Silicon Valley think-tank, as part of a project for the Horizon Scanning Centre of the United Kingdom’s Office of Science and Innovation. The database is hosted by the Stanford University Foresight Research group, housed in the university’s Wallenberg Center. Also here a selection of papers:

  • Ambient displays at the human-computer interface
    Developments in display technology may increase the repertoire of interactions between users and digital media by increasing the number of sites for ‘ambient’ displays.
     
  • Computing on the human platform
    Interaction between personal electronic products, mediated by human skin, may lead to new, and greater use of, invasive applications.
     
  • The end of cyberspace
    The concept of cyberspace as a distinct geographical entity has influenced the way we think about information technology, e-commerce, copyright, and high-tech products. New technologies are revealing a more complex relation between data-space and the real world, with consequences in all these areas.
     
  • New technologies for cooperation
    New technologies for cooperation and a better understanding of cooperative strategies may create a new capacity for rapid, ad hoc, and distributed decision making.
     
  • The rise of proactive and context-aware computing
    Proactive and context-aware computer systems that anticipate users’ needs and perform tasks in a timely and context-sensitive manner may begin to have an impact within the next 10 years.
     
  • Human brain: the next frontier
    The next 20 years are likely to witness a revolution in our understanding of the human brain, with implications for virtually every domain of human activity, from mental health to software design and academic performance and real-life decision- making.
     
  • Artificial extensions of human capabilities
    A wide range of technologies, from pharmaceuticals to implantable devices, and specialised cognitive or behavioural training (leading to regional brain activation through functional imaging), will enable extensions of human bodies, senses, and capabilities. This will lead to redefinition of various boundaries: natural versus artificial, alive versus dead, individual versus collective.
     
  • The rise of applied anthropology
    The rise of applied anthropology is likely to challenge the traditional structure of the discipline.
     
  • Studying human behaviour in cyberspace
    Cyber-ethnography, defined as the study of online interaction, is likely to become an important area of anthropological research as more and more human activities are conducted in cyberspace.
13 December 2006

Crowdsourcing product development

CrowdSpirit
What blogs, citizen journalism and YouTube have done for media, CrowdSpirit hopes to do for product development, reports Springwise.

“The Scottish-French venture’s focus is on harnessing the power of crowds to allow inventors and adaptors to take their products [currently mainly electronics] to market. By involving end-users in every aspect of a product’s life-cycle, CrowdSpirit aims to set off a crowdsourced manufacturing revolution.”

“How it works: inventors submit ideas for innovative new products and contributors submit problems for inventors to work on. Members vote, define a product’s specifications, and can invest money to finance development. After a first prototype has been created, selected members test and help fine-tune in cooperation with manufacturers. Once the stage of product development has been completed, contributors continue to be involved, for example by acting as a product’s ambassador and promoting it to retailers, or by providing product support, like translating instruction manuals.”

Springwise questions how customer-manufacturers will be rewarded for their efforts: “As trendwatching.com points out in its briefing about the customer-made trend (a.k.a. co-creation), “as co-creators get smarter and realise how much they’re worth, expect kick-backs for co-created goods and services to go up. If you don’t pay a fair share, talented members of the global brain will take their business elsewhere”.”

Read full story

(via David Carlson)

26 November 2006

Participatory media and the pedagogy of civic participation

Howard Rheingold
Participatory Media And The Pedagogy Of Civic Participation – The Transformation Of Education And Democracy: A Presentation by Howard Rheingold

“Participatory media is changing the way we communicate, engage with media and each other and even our approaches to teaching and learning.”

“The generation of digital natives – those that have grown up immersed in digital media – take all of this for granted. There is nothing strange, new or even transformative about the interactive, participative landscape of blogging, social networking and Web 2.0 Read/Write media for them. This is the very starting point, the background canvas on which they live their lives.”

“The promise of participatory media is a democratic media, and a media that strengthens our democratic rights in concrete terms. Howard Rheingold has written extensively about the very real uses people have put mobile and digital media to in fighting street level battles over concrete issues. In his 2002 bestseller Smart Mobs, he writes about the ways that these technologies have been put to use in online collaboration, direct political action and the lives of young people across the planet.”

“But can the use of these emergent socially networked technologies transcend entertainment and personal expression, and push us forward towards an engaged, empowered democracy?”

In his recent lecture The Pedagogy of Civic Participation, which took place in the 3D virtual world Second Life on the NMC Campus, Howard Rheingold asks this very question.

In this special feature, which was published on the blog of Rome, Italy-based Robin Good, Good has divided Howard Rheingold’s presentation into several audio files, and brought together the key points and questions discussed. You can listen to the original verbal presentation delivered for each key point or browse through the summary notes he has posted next to each.

Rheingold’s lecture was part of the MacArthur Foundation‘s series on Digital Media and Learning, a ”five-year, $50 million digital media and learning initiative to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialise and participate in civic life.”

Read full story