How do you design applications that remove screens, and not add more rectangles of light to your environment? A lot of public screens are ignored, ‚banner blindness’ manifesting itself physically. Screens may get in the way even, distracting you, like some car UI’s.

At the first day of ThingsCon I attended a workshop Designing Discreetness by Sami Niemelä of Nordkapp, who invited us to explore with him ways of removing screens, and get to more discreet designs. Think of a butler who anticipates your desires, and is there at the right moment, but otherwise gets out of the way.

Sami, the workshop host, described the workshop as “Our homes, workplaces and vehicles are being saturated with glowing rectangles, all competing from our attention. We augment ourselves with pieces of glass we carry, and we are at the dawn of an era where all the world’s data is accessible to us everywhere, all the time. There must be a better way. I believe the answer to cracking this is creating and experimenting with smart, connected things that are silent, behave well, and play nicely with others. How to approach connected physical objects and the attached services as a medium for something larger, instead of the thing itself? Join me in 90-minute workshop where we will discuss and sketch the new frontiers and behaviors for the post screen world ahead of us. Because someone has to.”

The workshop felt like a good fit for me, because Sami used the urban touch screens in Helsinki as a trigger. When we were in Helsinki 18 months ago I also noticed those screens and that they were unused and thus disfunctional.

Sami explained how with wearables and connected things we’re still very much in the innovators and maybe early adopters phase, and that robustness, natural language vs gestures, privacy vs proximity, and useful for mainstream vs niche experts are still aspects in need of a lot of attention.

He then took us through a work format, reminiscent of the Spimes workshop I did in Lisbon at SHiFT in 2008, and the open data workshops I do myself:

Choose one of the following to improve / brainstorm around:

1. ATMs
2. Car UIs
3. Public information screens
4. Shop transactions
5. Wearables
6. Something else

Pick one or more from each of the following:

What: private / personal / shared / common / public
How: haptics + screens + touch + voice + other = 100%
When: Now / next year / in 3 years / in 5 years or more

There was also a card game, again reminiscent of my open data workshop, that provided inputs, APIs and outputs, out of the combination of which you had to build an application.

Then generate ideas for a different approach.
I was in a group that worked on public information screens.

Two notions came up early on. One, that these screens may be obsolete because of mobile phones, and are a digital replacement of earlier fixed info points like maps etc. So making them interactive etc may not actually be useful. Two, we treat them like adverts and ignore them, but those adverts are only there to pay for the screens, so if we find a different way to finance it we can do without adverts.

I shared the idea of a park or street bench that changes color according to air quality, pollen and/or particulate matter (which came up during an open data workshop once). The color signals if it is ok to sit there, and there is no need to actually share the underlying environmental information in much detail, so no screen needed.
If you can move the information into existing street furniture, you also bypass the financial constraints that necessitates advertising: all that street furniture has its own budget cycles.

We did see a need for more sensors, to be able to better contextualize information public screens share. E.g. if it is raining maybe adapt information shared towards indoor activities etc.

Moving away from fully public screens to e.g. more personal apps, we suggested that maybe info-apps could learn or recognize me as a repeat visitor. If I am in a new city, I may have a need the first day for information on how to get by metro from the hotel to the conference. On the second day I already know that, so maybe I want to hear more about things along the way, or an event that evening close to where I am. An application that helps you quickly establish a rhythm in your new environment.

I enjoyed the workshop, although I was pretty much out of energy at the end of a long day. The ‚recipe’ we used I will add to my thinking toolbox.

Update: Sami posted the slides and notes of the workshop

Three weeks ago I and my colleague Frank Verschoor took about 30 civil servants from 10 countries through a workshop (in Warsaw) on seeing Open Data as a policy instrument that has value to the public sector itself.

A lot of the discussion on the potential of open data focuses on the economic potential, and the impact on transparency. Important things, but the benefits of it don’t accrue at the public sector body (PSB) that opens up the data. To make sure that a PSB keeps routinely publishing open data, having a direct benefit for the PSB itself is a great motivator.

Open data can be a policy instrument to help reach policy goals. At different levels of maturity examples are available, starting at improving (internal) efficiency by reducing transaction costs, through seeing how third party usage impacts own policy goals, and stimulating that usage, to the emergence of new services created by citizens/organisations and public sector bodies collaboratively that would not be possible otherwise.

In the workshop we explored where the participants were now on that spectrum, and how to start the path to the next level of maturity.

Below you find the slides to my introductory remarks, the workshop output, and a video impression made by Elmine.

20130221 ePSI Workshop Warsaw the Results by The Green Land

At the Open Government Data Camp in Warsaw on 20 and 21 October I hosted a workshop on ‘making open government data work for local government’.

If open government data is here to stay then only because it has become an instrument to government bodies themselves, and not because government are releasing data only because of compliance with transparency and re-use demands from others (central government or citizens).

This workshop started from the premise that there is opportunity in local governments treating open data as a policy instrument to find new solutions to the issues local communities face, amongst others in coming up with new ways of working in light of budget cuts.

Contributions were made by the local open government data initiatives of the cities of Berlin, Munich (Germany), Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Enschede (Netherlands), Linz and Vienna (Austria), who all shortly presented the current status of their initiatives. It was great to be able to have seven cities take the stage after each other to explain their work in and with local government on open data, and it shows how much things have changed in the past year alone.

Slides of the introductory presentation I gave are available, and are embedded below.

After the introductions, the workshop participants worked in little groups on identifying local issues where open government data could be used towards new approaches by local government and citizens.

This was done in three steps:

  • Identify issues that are currently relevant to your local community.
  • Try to define which datasets might be connected to these issues.
  • Discuss what new steps are possible, using the datasets mentioned.

The collective output of the workshop has been made available as a document I wrote for the (download PDF), and is embedded below.

Making Local Open Data Work

Earlier this week I participated in a general workshop for the Future Workspace research consortium that I have been contributing to in the past months. The consortium is otherwise made up of the Telematica Institute, IBM, Rabobank, Royal Haskoning, CETIM, Free University of Amsterdam and Delft University of Technology.

This week’s workshop was an open invitation workshop around the use of social media in enterprise, organized by the Telematica Institute and hosted by IBM in Amsterdam. Questions around adoption, governance, selection of tools, and integration in existing ICT architecture, were discussed in a Knowledge Café format.

Before the actual discussions and conversations, a short presentation was given Erik Krischan on how social media are currently used within the IBM intranet. (Showing us the intranet in Firefox btw) A short list of things that caught my eye:

– RSS and tags are used throughout
– There seemed to be a bit of confusion between the terms tag and bookmark, which were used in part as synonyms
– It all looked very ‘portal’ like and text based
– By choice there is no single sign-on (to prevent all kinds of global architectural/integration questions)
– They link to communities of practice and people wherever that is helpful, adding human context to information
– There are rating systems
– People are shown to you in degrees of separation, and there is a recommended ‘social path‘ to people
– There are experiments with visualizing social network analysis results (with opt-in crawling of your e-mail)
– New applications are only seeded with starting money, then fend for themselves to get adoption from colleagues
BlueTwit, is IBM’s behind the firewall Twitter-like application (next to regular IM of course) (no surprise to see Luis Suarez/@elsua in that stream 🙂 )
– ‘IBM Whisper’ automatically suggests people and pieces of information to you based on your use of the intranet

Erik Krischan showing IBM web 20 enabled intranet

It is clear that IBM does a lot of ‘safe-fail’ experimenting with social media style functionality and applications in their intranet environment. It is less clear to me how consolidation is organized, as that was not part of the presentation and following discussion. It seems to me to already be a real patchwork of apps (mind you, I am no stranger to patchwork), although there are also signs of integration and consolidation. But what stood out most for me is how the ‘new stuff’  is often still presented as ‘seperate’.

A good example of that were how search results were presented. It had the usual search results with % of relevance. (The search term was portal, and yielded documents from 2004 and 2006 as most relevant results) And next to it people relevant to the search term. But then other results were not presented in terms of content or context, but in terms of channel/applications. There were boxes with ‘rss results’ and ‘bookmarks found’. That is like having seperate boxes for stuff that you heard on the telephone, or received through fax, or over a coffee in the hallway. For me as a person working on my tasks the information source is important, not channel of delivery. That does not help me filter, authenticate, or validate. It would be helpful if all those search results were in the same list (with a hint to channel displayed next to it: external blog, bookmarked by colleague) and subject to the same type of rating system.

So while IBM certainly has a lot of very very cool stuff on their intranet, making quite a number of participants drool and speak of ‘information nirvana’, I think there is one fundamental barrier in the overall approach and design however, and that is the focus on individual information items. Only then would you end up with a seperate box for rss search results, and bookmark search results, or search results tagged with your search term. That information focus is a legacy notion from earlier days. People don’t need ‘information nirvana’, they need more ‘flow nirvana’, that will help them do their work to the best of their professional standards. That is more likely to be achieved when you take the tasks people are trying to do, the context and complex characteristics of their work, more as a starting point than the distribution of ‘information items’.  In that sense the mentioned ‘Whisper’ functionality is significant, and could serve as starting point for more. Being able to create your own starting page with widgets and applets is a good start too as is possible on IBM’s intranet, if those widgets and apps are more functional building blocks, and less seperated along the lines of channels or ‘technology used under the hood to get this to you’. Because the latter seems to signify that somehow different channels are less valuable/trustworthy, whereas that has/should have nothing to do with value of information.

General conversation round

After Erik’s presentation it was Mireille Jansma who guided us through the Knowledge Café format (and told us a little something on how she and her colleagues see the possible role of social media in ING) Good to see Mireille and Jurgen Egges again, whom I both recently met in the context of a Cognitive Edge course and meeting with Dave Snowden. All in all a good session. Photos on Flickr.

Samuel Driessen also blogged his impressions, and spends a bit more time reflecting on the conversations in the Knowledge Café.

Continued conversations during lunch