futureness: ambient information and entertainment in 2050

couple of thoughts for a project by our friends at rightanglestudio.com.au

— How do you expect people living in the city in 2050 will benefit from the Internet of Things?

Wherever we are living by 2050 we can look forward to the decline of screens and the growth of ambient information. Fewer screen-led devices and more contextual information fed through into organic physical forms. We are currently in a phase of moving to natural interactions such as voice or audio, gesture, translation and touch, and screens are becoming thinner, more flexible and less conspicuous. From there it is a short step to move all of the functions that we currently have loaded onto our phones and relocate them in more appropriate pieces of furniture. Humans have used simple tools to perform complex tasks for millenia - it's more natural, so I like the idea of a world filled with elegant consumable technology in discrete forms. More not fewer, simpler not more complex. The new devices will use all the data streams we generate naturally in order to create ambient utilities that nudge and augment us via the physical objects around us. We are always being told to listen to our bodies, but in the future we will listen our bodies data, and to the data of the objects around us. It's as simple as expecting cups to tell you the temperature of the coffee, or the place where you normally put your keys showing you where you actually left your keys with an arrow and "your keys are ~5m that-a-way." Think of anything that it is useful to know and imagine a softer, more helpful way to experience that information.


— How will we be entertained in the future?  

The most immersive experience we have at the moment is the book. Reading can change the way we relate to the world over a sustained period. So the most receptive organ to immersive entertainment is yet to be truly tapped by the digital world the way we have altered our experience of drama or games. We still read long books in old fashioned ways, turning digital pages or even turning down corners of actual paper novels.

As humans we segment play, pretend, and reality from an early age, and we learn that the strongest responses come from reality, rather than play or role-play. So I'd imagine that the while there will always be space for lean-back consumption - like TV - the passive dramatic experience (whether that is 3D or 360 degree surround-video holodecks). We can imagine that, it is a bot more of a stretch to get to entertainment that wraps itself invisibly around you, becoming contextual to your specific circumstances - responding to the data that defines you - in other words for the story or action to embed itself in your world and blend the boundaries between reality and fiction. (There is advertising that already does this called 're-marketing', using cookies and tracking tags to follow you. Perhaps the new narrative forms will come from there?)

But the level of immersion that books reach, where you begin to feel you exist in their world, and behave as if characters are real - that would open up many possibilities, from romance to pathos, comedy and tragedy.  There will be an author who can combine the decision trees in gaming mechanisms with deep, long-form story-telling and will be able to blend media to deliver this story across multiple touch points, using video, social, long-form and graphic story-telling devices to genuinely 'immerse' the reader in their narrative creation. You will opt in to the story. In fact we see this already in any celebrity news story - except these are organic, unstructured and non-personalised, but all these components exist and occasionally 'go viral' becoming ubiquitous, we simply need to harness and refine them.

DIgital Art: the move from concept to context

[This is a piece I wrote for Bristol Watershed's Playable Cities commission.
A version of this appeared in WIRED UK in Dec 2012.

150 years ago the colour photographic process was being invented; at the same time the Impressionists began to re-imagine the world through painted interpretations of light, something that is now so normal as to appear saccharine or twee. It would be another 100 years before the technology of the photograph would be commonly framed, or presented as art. We are now immersed in a digital world; so how close are we to the generation of artists that will transform our world through their interpretations of data? When might "digital art" become just "art"?

Our data-marked world is often represented as benignly utilitarian -- filled with smart cities and networked objects -- a functional, benefit-led data-driven place, flipping classrooms and crowdsourcing solutions. Yet in this world there are relatively few artists or data sculptors such as Aaron Koblin, the wired poets of the new reality.

This new art will not be painted, or static, or televised, or found in a gallery. It must be digital, and digital means dynamic, constantly changing. Digital means algorithmic, generative, collaborative, crowdsourced; the output is unique to the user, to the time, to the place. It stands to reason that digital art should be all of this and seek to reflect the state of contemporary reality using contemporary platforms. What might that look like? Art that might game our behaviours and our environment into new ways of understanding.

We are told the world is going mobile; it seems hard to argue. We prefer to swipe, push and prod rather than sit and click. Small screens are getting larger. We check the news in line at Starbucks. Share photos on the loo. Setting up a direct debit on the train seems normal, as is shopping on the bus. What used to be a "click" is now a swipe, a scan, spoken, shaken, or touched, or better still -- "it just knows". Our phones and tablets have become remote controls for an alternative reality that hovers around us like a scene fromKeiichi Matsuda's prescient Augmented City.

And this raises many challenges, such as how to move you, dear viewer, between the real world and the digital one? How will this "art" start? Let's imagine you are standing in the street, in the middle of an exhibit, but you wouldn't know. Or everyone else in the building is immersed in a location based performance work, but you are not. You are out of the game. How do you enter this world, what do you click, where is your ticket, is that an app or just a url, and either way how do you get it?

It is a question not of clicks but of context. What used to be conceptual is now contextual. How do we tell your device to initiate an action? What triggers the art when you remove the need for it to exist on a screen, or at a certain time, or even in a certain place? The artists can use ambient measures like temperature, location, frequency, velocity, orientation, sounds, volume, weight, speed, humidity, density, face recognition, emotion recognition, touch, keywords, time, or any combination of these. And these can all become the equivalent of a "click", like pressing a button, or opening a door into one of those old white cubed galleries. Potentially it is chaos, or beauty.

We are comfortable with digital art immersions, literally. There have been consistent two hour long queues for Random International's Rain Room at the Barbican -- an exhibit which uses location aware software to follow the "viewer" around the room and moves the "rain" around them. Maybe the new form means viewers have to contribute to the work in order to experience the cumulative piece. Perhaps it could be an extravagant interactive experience, or augmented reality, or just as simple as trees that whisper secrets to you (if there is no one else around).

And you may even have to subscribe -- art that requires you to authenticate yourself. When we can create a conventional market for work with that potential for intimacy, magic and scarcity, then we will have a whole new art. The Tate can sell tickets to an exhibition that occurs where you are, and that exists around you.

A new international commission from Bristol's Watershed might shine light on this. The commission provides £30,000 for artists using creative technologies to explore the theme of the Playable City in and around the streets of Bristol. Turning the hard purposefulness of the data-driven smart city into a context-driven chaos, a cacophonous playful, playable city, or reflecting the darkness and the absurdity of our device-driven sensibilities.

We are raised and educated to understand the world visually, and this is why we understand today's art. It might be hoped that the next generation of artists will be raised to understand the world digitally and so understand data as art, and they will illuminate our endless volumes of self-generated data and make them beautiful. Playable City seems to be just the very start of that. Digital art is not about touch-screens or clicking things -- but it is about removing the constraints of the past thousand years and using data and hardware to generate extraordinary transformative experiences, just as photography did. The first step towards this is funding artists properly to make this work rather than relying on galleries, schools or brands to stimulate and subsidize. From the urban spaces of Bristol, Playable City will hopefully be the first of many commissions for contextual art that transcends technology and show us new ways to see the world.

Find out more at www.watershed.co.uk/playablecity

the art of #fail & the importance of oops

[this post was first published on 18.sept.12 for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas blog for the Sydney Opera House]

Failure is all the rage at the moment. It has been embraced gloriously by everyone from educationalists, to intellectuals to terrible digital gurus (like me). The worst part about this adoption is that the language itself loses significance, the word loses impact, failure becomes a form of schmaltz.

For the marketing types "failing forward" are words du jour alongside, "innovation" and "digital first" when seeking to sedate a world agitated by a noisy, frantic, fantastic rush towards the future with all it's bewildering whizz bang cloud-driven gadgetry. It seems hard to see how can anyone do anything but fail faced with the armada of online opportunities, a flotilla of digital destroyers. So, perhaps the question is, can we truly succeed?

And I confess, I am a fan of failure. I rather like the idea. But not as a buzz word. I like it in practice. My best moments have come from reaching forward, aspiring to greater and better deliverables only to fall short, to quit, to lose patience or have it taken from me. Basically, failing. Being fired; not delivering; printing completely the wrong advert. That sort of thing. Real, bonafide failures.

I like to imagine that most people's career paths vaguely match the undulating meander of mild successes, gentle failures, and unplanned eventualities that I have experienced.  
According to John Lennon life is what happens when you make other plans - and funnily enough that is what happens. In childhood we call this trial and error. In business we call it emergent strategy. In marketing we call it failing forward. Basically, when you fall over you learn.

Now I work for a company with a strong Engineering culture that believes in data, and measuring, lots of testing. Testing means noticing what didn't work, what fell over, and changing it. And calling it out and sharing it widely, and making that process so normal, so everyday, that something going wrong is simply a good thing to know. That way you learn things you didn't even know you needed to learn. It's a different kind of failing, it's discovery through failure.

Within the marketing division of this engineering firm I work for a creative team.
My team get labelled as innovative; it's a funny word - to me it means exploring and experimenting - we find that the best projects don't know what they might become at the start, or what they will achieve at the end, instead they build on the learnings of disastrous experience, using happy accidents or near misses, and find things that we can't do, or cannot be done, new assumptions we have made, mistakes. For example a less-than successful plan to have musicians play for the YouTube Symphony at the Opera House (by waving a phone at a computer) eventually turned into an entire floor of physical online interactions at the Science Museum in London. Our only successes are when we adequately disguise our failures. Creative success is the collision of ideas or imagery or functions or words in a way that surprises, delights or astounds people, including yourself (or, it is appropriating genius that no one else has seen yet). Or both. Half the time our failure is the inability to execute, half the time it's in the execution. But much like the drawing of your hand, or the model of your house, or that knitting project you started, our outputs never, ever looks like it did in our head, it is never good enough.  

And then you have a choice, try again, improve, learn, fail; or stop, watch TV, give up, fail. Good fail or bad fail. Perhaps that is what success means: a failure to set sufficiently ambitious goals.

I have a friend who stayed up until 4am baking blueberry muffins, over and over, 5 times, until they were right. He didn't tell anyone. He failed furtively. He failed frequently. But his muffins were awesome.

So I'm a fan. My hairdresser continues to insist that for her failure is not an option. And to be honest, she's right, below a certain standard failure, especially in hairdressing, is not an option. But for most of us failure is the only option. Embrace it warmly.

Click No More. Why we should care about data not devices + the disintegration of convergence.

*this is a most spurious and poorly researched post. Frankly I wouldn't read it. It's a balloon load of hot air - and I wrote it. But as piffle goes, I thought it might be thought-provoking piffle - so there you go.  Let me know if any thoughts are provoked...

The last ten years have seen an extraordinary explosion in how we collect and organize data.
I think the next ten years will be mainly about how we interact with and experience that data.

Let's say you look after a brand, or have a website. You want to know whether you should build apps or sites, optimize for mobile, tablet or PC, advertise in Flash or HTML, or go native on iOS or Android? It's decision time.

But we're coming at that decision, and everything to do with digital, from where we have been, rather than where we are going; as if the future might not change, as if this might be it: a touchscreen, some tablets and twitter. But we know this isn't it. We know it will evolve again. We are trying to guess our way to a soufflé. So far we have some eggs, in a bowl.   

For instance we still think it's about clicking.
It's pretty uncertain if it will be about clicking. Or buttons, or banners. Or webpages.
It's more likely to be about liminal display, 3d spaces, environment coding and custom gesture control. No, I'm not sure what that is either. I know that people used to talk about convergence but really we are experiencing a disintegration.

Features are fickle.

In olden times clocks had barometers, weather gauges and calendars built in to the clock face. We still have the clocks. But we  can experience all those other functions on our phones. And the clock. Similarly my preferred phone experience is now on computer.  We still have paperbacks because the technology is awesome, but that moved from stone, to scrolls, to papyrus to paper to pulp before it hit maximum efficiency. (I am no expert here btw, can you tell?)

We don't care to notice these historical meanderings of functionality but as gesture & projection & screens start to move around all that data we collected starts to come back to us in new ways. So consumer technology brings us increasingly 'real' simulations - art on walls, pictures in albums, films on walls, words in ambient light, audio with base etc.  Or it will do, and it should do.

Most of the devices we use to interact now were invented in the 60's. More recently we've seen touch screens overcome their prohibitive cost and then very recently gesture, and voice control.

Meanwhile the speed that data can travel has got really rather fast.
And all the wires have vanished.

We are halfway to our date with invisible frameworks for interaction.

Voice controls, face-recognition, audio targeting and the Kinect-on-crack potential of tech like Leap suggest that we just won't need to use a computer to control a computer. You could use your face as a keyboard, wave a paperclip to open docs, or use body-language as a remote. Or... hmmm, well whatever, if I knew I would patent them, but let's all agree we will ultimately find perfect screenless ways to do things. At this point interface design becomes a about tweaking details of the experience (turning up the volume) not how we experience content (YouTube).

And what does this mean for me?
Well if you have a website it's a good time to work out what your website does.  And make it as simple as possible.

Breaking the internet down (crudely) let me suggest that site does one of four things: conversation; consumption; commerce or tools.

And it's worth asking if  a user would prefer to experience those on a computer if it could be on your watch, in your car, in your book, on the fridge, on your desk, in your pillow, in your wallet, or subcutaneously? Media should be found in the place that makes most sense, using the object it is meant to use, with the least amount of interface possible. (use your imagination)

There is very little that one gets from the internet that is best experienced on a computer screen. Most things are nicer if they feel real.

We're probably going to see a rise of programming for physical factors in our lives, like weather, traffic, illness, childcare. We claim not to need (or want) the cloud, or one company, to "know" these things. But people do want a web with tools that allow us to program around them, just like we program the VCR to record shows. We want many things that do one thing extremely well, and easily. This is an organic, societal privacy solution.

One tool, one task.
Which means we should probably stop fussing over the internet. Or even mobile. What will matter is the structure of your data. Having it organized so rigorously that you can easily move across platforms or forms; hardware devices and operating systems; so you can optimize, adjust and manage centrally; so you can analyse and change direction as expectations change or new formats emerge: a hub with spokes to the many different devices or applications that build or augment or amplify that purpose.

This is already happening within social media. It’s interesting watching brands scramble (or not) to respond to Plus, Pinterest, Tumblr, Medium and platform devices like Kindles Galaxys, Nexuses (Nexi?) and annual iPad upgrades. I imagine in ten years they will all seem insanely quaint. 

And it all comes back to data. Understanding precisely what a company actually does, and being agile enough to experiment with how it is delivered -  bringing whatever that might be to market simultaneously across a wide variety of formats and devices. Unfortunately that part is going to be quite hard. (and hard == expensive)

So you're saying we should build an App?

Not really no. I’m suggesting you experiment with everything. From experience comes wisdom and all that. The implication is that "optimizing" for one solution, web, or mobile, or any device seems to be less a priority than being consistent and authentic in your voice, because it is the only thing that will remain consistent over the coming years - outsource design and technology, and understand and focus on your content, your streams, your community and whatever it is that you do. Long term brand integrity.
It seems a truism from here - but maybe worth saying anyway - but anyone online has to learn to manage, play with, and optimize their data; and make their online form mutable and ready for change, because change is always coming, and it's always coming fast. 


Hidden cameras are simply scary.

Sight is a great short film sharing the anxiety of the times (also must see Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror)
For me the interesting thing is seeing the fear of covert surveillance  becoming more and more intimate as it becomes more plausible. It makes you wonder at what point society will require conspicuous technology.

From aliens watching us (War of The Worlds, Invaders,) then governments (1984, [any spy film ever]), then local law enforcement (Minority Report),  entertainment (Truman Show), of course on to CCTV society, and reality TV (Big Brother) covert observation has always fascinated us. Right into fetish territory of the voyeur, watching and being watched . 
And now as that technology becomes intimate we increasingly perceive how we will covertly surveil and interact with each other (Black Mirror, Augmented Cities, Sight). 
It's interesting. It also generally overlooks just how boring our lives are. (although Sight does quite a good job of emphasising that. Not quite sure why a blank wall is worse than an Xbox, but there you go).

Ultimately this film is scary because when something becomes entirely concealed, we can only imagine, and our imagination is the scariest place in the world.

It is rarer to see elegant visions of unobtrusive technology actually augmenting reality. I suppose more like BERG's "incidental media" which is about train tickets instead of stalking. 

(also , pedantically)
Slightly frustrating to see augmented reality projection-mapped without the multiple camera's, audio, gyros or accelerometers required - but that's sci-fi I guess. It's all about hidden cameras.

Ford and the key to the future.

So Ford have a key that lets you unlock your car based on your proximity. Which is cool. And (it appears) their marketing agency decided to promote this by applying the same logic via an iphone app that 'unlocks' your social sites with bluetooth as well. FaceBook, Google, AOL... 
And this is an interesting fail. For lots and lots of reasons. But first here's their video:

So. Interesting parts.
1. Mobile tech isn't that secure yet. Bluetooth, RFID, NFC etc have a way to go before having access to your entire digital identity stored on a device that people want to steal - even with second-factor authentication (which you should use, now). Also, unfortunately it is not cool to launch an extension that stores passwords in cleartext

2. So it's kind of disappeared while they make it better. Cue excellent blog from sophos on why security is a good idea. naked security

3. All this doesn't mean it's not brilliant. Lots of people are also trying to work out how to make something similar work in a secure way. That's why a car company is showing this first rather than everyone you'd expect. (hello Apple, hello password apps). Because for Ford it is an experiment that can #fail. (and sort of did). We will allow them (and their marketing agency) not to understand how the internet works and enthusiastically put people's personal information at risk.

4. BUT. But... But just imagine your invisible, universal proximity-based KEY to everything. Something that logs you on simply by you being there, but also cleans up, wipes, and logs off behind you.
Because it's an interesting fantasy world. (as Paul Ducklin says "more appropriate to a fairy tale" - but let's go there):
Imagine just logging in to websites by sitting near your computer.
In fact, forget the computer. A screen, any screen, anywhere in the world. You walk up, you are automatically logged in, there's your FB, your mail, your friends, your stream....
OK, forget the stream, you walk into your local pizza place, you pick up the tablet and are logged in, the menu is now vegetarian, with your favourites, a one-click-order, and some suggested alternatives.
You get to the cinema. You walk up to the printer. It immediately prints your tickets, and a quick map that shows which theatre - and locates your friends - over getting popcorn. 
You get on a bus, or the subway. You are out of credit. So you get off the bus. It begins to rain :(
So let's forget the phone as well. Why do you need a phone? Pretty soon the only thing you'll need to actually carry is an umbrella.
All that tech could be in your watch, or a headphone, or a pair of glasses... OK, it's in a chip. It's in a tiny sub-cutaneous SD card and an aerial that's woven into your clothes.  Get over it. It means you don't need a phone anymore, or car keys, or keys, or a bus pass, or a loyalty card, or a walkman(?) or a book...
You pick up the kindle-y device. You are logged in. Game of Thrones o'clock (better read than watched btw).
You turn on the screen-in-the-corner-that-used-to-be-a-TV, you are logged in, Sound of Music starts at the point where you last left the room.

In fact, you're in a shop, you're logged in. Here are your vouchers on the desktop, your offers, everything similar you've looked at previously here, and online. A time-based 'buy-now' offer ticks down. You are you because you are logged in, so why would you need a credit card? You have credit. Credit is just assured identity. You pick up what you want. You walk towards the door. You agree to the transaction with a wave. Happy shopping.

You are at the airport. You walk towards security. You are logged in...

Breaking the law :: speeding (why don't we just fix it?)

This is a minor mental digression about speeding in cars.
It is against the law, right? 
It's dangerous. Lethal in fact. With serious penalties.
And even if you could tweak the speed limits of zones - it feels like people would only tweak them, by a few mph.
We believe in speed limits and think they're a good thing, an important law.  

So why does everyone break that law? A lot. 
And more importantly - why don't we use the technology we carry to fix it?

For example, say your tax disc / rego became a GPS device. That way you would know if an untaxed car was active on the road.
If you have a GPS and a map of the speed limits one can also know whether a vehicle is breaking the speed limit at any point on the road, and by how much.
And let's say you are speeding, thats OK - sometimes you really need to, so why not have a fine that runs on a meter, like a cab. You can start by adding some credit.
Then society might fine you $10 for every 10% over the limit you are per minute. So speeding in a slow zone would be more expensive than speeding on a motorway. (which is a good thing).
And as a proper disincentive at a certain point you start to lose points from your license.
And then when it is clear you are a maniac the police are called and given the registration and your location.

That would probably eliminate a lot of speeding. Without the need for speed limiters. Or ugly speed cameras. Just a GPS. Or a smartphone. And as we are seeing rise in cars introducing smartphone-based control systems - that feels like a pretty low-cost, easy to implement solution.

And the tracking? Well, let's say the data is only stored while you are moving. And only becomes accessible to humans if you break the law. Which seems fair to me.

So. No cost. No interference. Let's uphold the law.
Yeah? No. No, and to be clear. No.
Amazing how much people dislike this idea. So now I'm more interested in why than the idea itself.
I think what I worked out when talking about this is that transgression is almost as important to society as law. We need to break the rules, just a little bit, to feel autonomous and alive. I'm not sure whether this has come from advertising, or Hollywood, or is innate, or cultural (do other countries break speed limits?). But the need for speed is actually relative to the limit. What we need is the naughty.

So maybe the most important thing about speeding is that it isn't enforced. Funny to think that maybe society is just as controlled by the rules we break as the rules we adhere to. 

But that's nice too. Live a little. Press the pedal to the metal. Just a little. Be free.

From Road Trip

Revolution. 3 projects to change the world.

I'm really lucky. I get to work with some of the most brilliant people and ideas. 
Sometimes they are just good ideas. Sometimes they are just marketing. And sometimes they are revolutionary. And even if they do not cause revolutions, [and sometimes they do], they make marks, they create footprints - they will carve paths, build models, light the way for the next lot.

Here are three (of many) that I think have that capacity to be world-changing that I've been lucky enough to work with recently:

NewDemocracy.com.au is a Sydney based non-partisan, non-think-tank, doing non-lobbying at a grass-roots level within the very bedrock of democratic life. Their mission is to re-imagine the process through which we as a civic society make decisions about the communities we live in, their future and our values. 

They relieve the solitary politician, hard-pressed on all sides by corporate, government and media pressures and spread the decision-making process load across small groups of quietly determined normal people. Who, after researching and enquiring, make the kind of long-term, non-vested, sensible decision that the politician would never be able to get away with. 

It makes politics non-politcial, like a neutralising dose of knowledge in the acidic adversarial culture of decision making.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if democracy meant the sensible application of governance by the people, rather than fighting elections. 

Breaker, brain child of TED Fellow Juliette La Montagne, is a project that is hard to wrap into a line. Because when you do it becomes something like "flip the conventions of internship into a blue-sky entrepreneurship and simultaneously redefine a paradigm of secondary education"; that is polarizing because either it is hard to take seriously, or it makes the hairs stand up on your neck. 

I was one of the latter and was fortunate enough to be part of the pilot program 'Future of the Book' which seemingly transformed the apathy and grind of conventional "work experience" into all the energy, adrenaline and excitement of a start-up. The students were asked to consider the role of emerging technologies in addressing the rise of functional illiteracy in the US. 

The resulting products, MoBo and Unbound, were designed to get kids reading and keep kids reading during the pivotal middle school years - so along with it's role as an education vehicle, it also produced two highly viable, fundable business solutions. And then it did it again for Urban Agriculture

Juliette LaMontagne's ideas and vision are revolutionary and inspirational and it is very much to be hoped, both for eduction and the economy, that her work will find a way to scale to every city in the USA, and beyond. 

Impossible.com is a venture by Lily Cole. As she says in the video below (with Jimmy Wales), it is a model of a sketch of an idea. But the project is predicated on an understanding of motivation, of how much we do everyday that isn't driven by greed, but rather by altruism, philanthropy, kindness. Impossible has the impossible aim of encouraging and optimising the vast gift economy that already exists in our society.

In other words, seeing as we perform little acts of kindness everyday, seeing as we would all like to help more, not less how do we let the computers we all carry help us to help each other. How can we make the world an easier, warmer, more social place to live - through the power of mobile technology. 

Confronted with the daily litany of individualistic alienating technological appery and gadgetry and the dollar signs in the eyes of every west coast entrepreneur it is heart warming to even be associated with.

Contact them if you want to be involved. They need developers.

Watch Lily's video at Zeitgeist:

We moved. To Australia

Transpires that a simple little thing like having a child, moving to the other side of the world, starting a new job, losing a region, gaining another - saying goodbye to my wonderful teams (Potato, ATP, Toaster) and starting from scratch can take some time to adjust to. And it inhibits blogging.

But it has also been a surprisingly fertile and creative process of rebirth - so while the scale of my projects has been (intentionally) reduced - the scope and range has been extended. We are now building smaller prototypes - incubating crazy ideas, and developing dangerous lines of inquiry. We try not too spend too much time focused on creating images of the tools, instead we want to use the tools to make the thing. We want to use digital as a medium for creating narrative, imagery and experiences, rather than the current trend for calling it digital when it is analogue content - words, pictures, videos - broadcast online.

So maybe we should say if the creative output could still exist without the internet then it's not digital - even if you watch it on YouTube - it's broadcast digital.
Whereas digital creative is intrinsically digital - two way digital - it is much more fun trying to make work that is generative, collaborate or algorithmic at it's core - that can't exist without the internet. THAT's fun. And it provides ideas for advertisers to borrow, because people like a model they can see.

Personally, my parameters are that it has to use our products. Not just coding - but using Google products as a springboard. We make digital work that uses the Google product suite as the tools, as the medium. Calder might paint with shapes, I paint with code.google.com.

I speak to our engineers and often they are in awe of the way people use our tools - the ones that they build. (not always good awe). And it's an important point. We build browsers, we build tools, we don't necessarily max them out. It's like skateboards, we may make them, we may sell them, we may even build ramps, but we don't ride them hard. Trying to teach the world to ollie, is one thing, but landing the world's first 1080... we just don't do that enough yet... (but we're going to try).

So apologies for the hiatus. More coming soon.

What face blindness (Prosopagnosia) is like...

I'd like to explain something about a condition I experience called face blindness, (technically called prosopagnosia).
I wrote about it a long time ago, but I still am asked this a lot so I thought I'd write it down. It might not be the same for everyone but...
We're not blind to faces.

 I can see your nose. I see your eyes. I see moles, wrinkles, and hair.

In fact your face is a beautiful thing. A bit enigmatic, a bit changeable; I love the way your moods pass over it like weather. It is fascinating.
I see your face just the way you see mine. I simply don't process it very well, that bit of my brain is inefficient, the rest of my visual memory is excellent.

As I understand it you 'just know' that you recognize me. Even if you can't remember my name. But I don't. Not at all. I have to work out who you are by deduction, hopefully before you notice. And then I realize I can't remember your name either. So how do I do that? Well, it starts with you. That you recognize me, and, because of that, you just gave me a big hello without meaning to.

In fact you just told me a lot of things.
Your body language just told me you know me well, or you know me casually, or you know my work, or you think you know me, or you recognize me from somewhere, or you don't recognize me but you want to check in case I am someone you should recognize (Conferences & Students). Every now and then you tell me that you rather want to know me, which is nice. You probably told me how you feel about me as well, whether you want to talk to me, whether you're cross with me, whether you're hopeful, happy, harried, hurried, hungry or huggable.

I can see what you look like, gender, height, hair, weight, gait, clothes, and your general demeanor.
I know physically where we are, so I am working through everyone with your character traits that are likely to be here, right now.
Meanwhile I give you exactly the same look you just gave me. (Unless I'm in a grump, or distracted, or I missed you)

And by this point we've probably said hi. Maybe we've hugged. Or air-kissed.
So then I hear your voice, and so I know where you are from and my brain is working through everyone you could be, and it's an ever decreasing number given that you are 5ft 11 with short, dry, brown hair, you have freckles, dangly earrings, a long face, wear glasses, are kind of skinny, attractive, confident, well-spoken, smart, west-coast living on the east-coast, you are in my office building, you wear bright clothes with new shoes that create an opportunity for me to compliment you and also look to see if you have a name badge somewhere, you speak fast as if we know each other well, we are sharing a joke about something that happened last year - but at an event with a lot of people - so that doesn't help much. We have mutual acquaintances, there is a spark of curiosity that indicates you haven't worked with me, rather than a warmth or familiarity that says you have. You are carrying a work computer, it's beaten up, you've worked here a long time. You throw in some jargon that ties you down to one group. There are two or three people who could be you in that group and I try a project involving one of those people, something like: "what's happening with project X" and you shrug, so that's not you, and I ask, "Do you rate it?" and then that probably nails it, because you have to give an opinion… but either way it doesn't really matter because as far as you are concerned we totally know each other and we are sharing confidences and you would probably not believe that I still don't actually know who you are, but we insist we should grab some coffee, I make a nice joke about the person that is, in 99% likelihood, your boss, and then we make the usual small talk excuses and try not to walk off in the same direction.

Afterwards I might ask someone I trust who you were, sometimes I accept my best guess, 9 times out of ten I work it out within a minute or so anyway. Occasionally the whole thing is a slow-motion car crash, an excruciating small-talk catastrophe, with me talking in riddles, spouting nonsense, mumbling and committing well-meant but disastrous faux pas; I completely humiliate myself. The weirdest bit is that people rarely seem to realize. Even when I must come across like I'm high or something.
It's a lot easier (but not foolproof) if you are sitting at your desk, or are in my house, or at a dinner party with my partner and I. It's funny how little time is spent not in one of those situations. Friends getting new haircuts is annoying. Fancy dress is a problem. Conferences are bad. Meeting people in the street in NY or London is epic. But then again sometimes I recognize people's hair before they see me and I circle them, waiting for that gesture of recognition, or not. And of course I recognize my family, but not when iPhoto cuts out their faces and asks me who they are. That is just surreal. But then again, why would I have seven thousand photos of the same very pretty girl?

In the end it kind of doesn't matter - mainly because people refuse to believe they might be unrecognizable.

So when my (dearest, closest) friends tell me: "But you recognize me don't you!" and I always say "yes! Of course.", I say that because a) it doesn't matter, and b) it doesn't matter. And c) yes, I do recognize you, kind of, I just don't know who you are.


My eternal thanks to Brad Duchaine and team for letting me understand face blindness so I can laugh about it. For 30 years that was not the case. I will always mistake him for Tom Cruise.

thought for the day : advertising as data packets.

I don't come from an advertising background, and the other day a prospective copywriter was patiently, (and somewhat patronisingly) explaining to me how a creative team is made of two, not three, and certainly not one, and how a copywriter and a creative should go off into a room and come up with a range of ideas backed up by visuals and copy, and then the artwork would be created from these concepts across a range of media.

Once I came round I suggested that an advertisement is like a phone call. It's an interaction where you receive some information.
A phone call is just little packets of data. So why can't an advertising campaign be broken into little packets of data.
In fact better yet why can't the information be broken down into little bits (like the internet) and then shared around by, well, the internet. Like an idea.
And then the next part of that is that the bits should really be the information, not an association, or implication, or a complete abstraction (e.g. Coke == Happiness. Really? wtf? it's a brown fizzy drink.)

To me a good advertising campaign is one that *is* the product, and the message.
The famous Word-of-Mouth does this, but rarely does it involve your colleague standing on the table and insisting (every 15 minutes) just how much you have to go see True Grit, starring thingy, by those guys, the ones who did Fargo. It's fucking awesome.

Advertising should involve small, reasonable, undemanding, unthreatening and often very brief moments in which a small amount of directly relevant information is shared, preferably in a way that is useful, timely, personal, fun and contextually relevant.

I suggested that all campaigns should start by breaking what they want down to those pieces of information, understanding them, and then working out what they would look like in a map, or a wiki, or in a game, or sponsored links, or a fortune cookie. or on twitter. And in a bigger way how the information would behave if you got to make a video, or a banner campaign, or a poster, or had to explain it to your mum, or to the woman next door, the one with the dogs. And then finally how would you let that information go, how would you open-source it so that the world could take the idea and make it their own and your campaign would live for the next five years despite no media spend or new creative because people actually used that idea to break up and share their own information, maybe about something completely different.

And I suggested that when you think like that digital feels innate and obvious and easy.
And that's what I think copywriters should do.

[ I am aware that none of the above stands up to scrutiny. But it's about ways of seeing, not physics]

Five ways of Watching : the difference between YT and cinema

We've been showing some of our YouTube ads on television and in cinemas around the world and watching YouTube as I do (surreptitiously in meetings, on ping, on my phone, whenever I should be doing something more important, and occasionally intentionally), i just kept thinking how extraordinarily different these experiences were.
Online is such a fragmented way of watching anything - infinitely more distracted - and more flighty - actively consuming but entirely fickle, not attentive to arcs, or detail or narrative.
On Demand - where I carve out time and stop and actively watch. I'm looking for story, script and immersion, but not production quality. I actively want to watch a programme and I am committed to it.

On TV - where I (rarely anymore) sit and let the TV wash over me. It's passive. Time passes really fast. I'm not engaged nor am I proactively changing the channel. I comfortably consume. QI til I die.
On DVD - I am attentive to the narrative, atmosphere and nuance. But in my slippers and a hoodie.
On the big screen - I am completely committed, I have physically visited a theatre and am attentive to intimate detail, I will follow complex storylines, loops and twists and I will analyse and contrast.
So nothing new there... but when I see our little ads (like this one below from Germany) run across all those media (and embedded on blogs as well) it makes me think.

Culture Hack Day :: notes for my 'what if the web is a fad?' talk

The ROH’s Culture Hack Day last weekend was just awesome.

I strongly recommend checking it out for all the background. Photos.
I gave a rather vague (shall we say, optimistic?) 5 minute lightening talk about the future of everything. Then a most enjoyable Q&A alongside Claire Reddington and Leila Johnstone, and in the rather esteemed company of lots of cool folk.
It was wonderful to be able to talk about culture && tech in the same breath, to geek out on an ungeeky subject and not feel like I should just shut up and sit down...

NOTES FROM MY TALK... (this isn’t a write-up, I didn’t really know what I was going to talk about and this is just trying to collect it together - so apologies if it is incoherent)
Big thanks to Rachel Coldicut, Erin & Katy and to Kim Plowright for getting me there.

What is this for?
Good hacks turn data into magic.
Raise the bar.
Open eyes.
Change the game.
Unlock minds.
glimpse the future.

Where are the data sets?
No idea.
Someone told me a funny story the other day about a client who asked "is the web a fad". Hilarious, because they were looking from the bottom of the mountain - they hadn't even begun to climb. But from the top of the mountain... well, yes, "the web" probably is. All those websites and browsers and protocols. "The web" is 15 years old. The internet is 40 years old. Data is centuries old. And data is exploding, capturing, organising, formatting - but presenting, interpreting?

What can we do... well What can't we do?

Here’s the structure.
the web - fad (see above)
web apps - good.
closed enironments - bad.
proprietary systems - really bad. death to innovation.
net neutrality - everyone should know how bad this is.
the power of open systems - ditto but good
so the “web” is probably imperilled - (i’m not completely convinced)
but data is alive and well - so true.
and the internet is alive and well.
We’re amazing at collecting/ organising/ interrogating / distributing data.
We're poor at presenting and representing in a human way
Context: For example like you might look something up in an encyclopedia or in the fridge and you get peripheral data (like the length of the article or the smell of the fridge) that helps shape your understanding of the original data.
Likewise: How much nicer is it to experience data physically? Why can’t computers show us things in a ‘real’ way. Anologue/digital anxiety - need to find consolation in the physical as every aspect of our lives becomes more digitized and less tangible.
In ten years we're not going to be opening laptops up. we're probably not going to be looking up websites in the way we do now. Do you? I look for information. Websites are like business cards. Or portraits. They are generally dumb data.
We'll be working on multi-surface systems which are linked or talk to each other via the internet, in multi-screen (or non-screen) environments
Already we can see that the primary input technologies are going to be ‘touch’, ‘speech’ and ‘gesture’, all very human - no more keyboards or devices. and fortunately the leaders in each of these technologies are three competitors. apple - touch, microsoft-gesture (kinect) and google-speech.
So the next challenge is going to be taking all this ever growing mountain of data and humanising the experience of interacting with it.
It is the beginning of the beginning and the most exciting time to be working in these fields - every step forward is a journey of exploration.

… and then how does this apply to cultural institutions....

BTW the digitisiation of our physical reality is genuine. I think people would have spoken up if they could show that CD sales aren't declining, that digital book sales didn't just overtake real book sales, why kodak is going to the wall or that the kindle was Amazons best selling product of all time over christmas... I don't hold a moral view on these things - I just observe them and I believe we can begin to look at ways at making the physical and digital interact more solidly.
is all gd.

Listening to bird song, and discovering how to hear : Chris Watson at Port Eliot Festival

This talk by Chris Watson was my highlight of Port Eliot Festival this year.

Imagine yourself in a remarkably large, very dark, circular room, say 25ft diameter - there are around 30 people on chairs and the floor, a laptop, a surround sound set of 8 speakers, and a really rather garish mural (though it was very dark).

The artist, Chris Watson, then takes ten minutes to lovingly and mellifluously recount how he came to record the 18 hours of bird song you are about to hear from around the estate over 5 days, carefully edited and layered it into a 42 minute audio journey and explains the technology behind the soundscape. He guides you through the journey like a buddhist preparing you for mediation: a visit to the pheasants in their pens on the estate, down to the mud flats and the popping mud, "and then, amazingly, it rained!" and the lightest raindrops echo in counterpoint to the popping mudflats. Under the aggressive tidal waters of the bay and out into low-tide at midnight with only the owls and the foxes and the achingly beautiful groans of the oaks in the dead of night, and then, inexorably we emerge into the incredible cacophony and social jamboree of the dawn chorus, with it's many characters and voices.

then you sit in the dark and listen to that happen and it was the most exquisite 42 minutes. It was extraordinary.

Then a rather odd thing happened. the next day I woke in a tent, in a field in Cornwall and I heard the birds. It was like I was hearing something for the very first time. (it was our third day). And it was just as beautiful - even though I don't really care for birds.

So that's nice. But it's not quite everything - the (very quick and rather clumsy) takeaway for me is that it wasn't just that birdsong is beautiful. It was that what Chris does, like all artists, is to take something we look at everyday and turn it sideways so that we look at it fresh. And it is by forcing us to turn off the filters that we use that we see things anew. And I think we should try and do that with everything we do. Just turn it sideways and make it magical. Make us adjust our media filters... and then, maybe, just maybe, in this world of noise and drama, the next time people might actually hear you.
Just for a moment.


More about Chris from the Port Eliot website:

Hailed as “the David Attenborourgh of radio” and creator of Port Eliot’s much-loved Nature Disco, award-winning sound artist Chris Watson is working on a special event for this year’s festival. Fresh off the plane from the North Pole, where he was working on the BBC’s Frozen Planet (to be broadcast in 2011), Chris came to Port Eliot in May to record for a unique new sound installation – ‘Dusk Until Dawn – A Soundscape around Port Eliot’ – which he’ll be presenting in the Round Room. Watch this short video to find out more:

Chris Watson recording at Port Eliot from Port Eliot Festival on Vimeo.

data are trivial but important

[Slightly less insane version of an earlier post]
Start from the principle that data are trivial. They don't mean anything on their own. Even as complex sets. They need to be parsed. To be valued, filtered, extrapolated, translated, visualised.
Some other starting points:
The world is full of data and they are non-specific.
To each person a particular set of data has different values.
To each person most datasets are trivial.
Datasets can be fiscal, emotional, political, artistic...
Values can be tangible or intangible.
Media channels are multiplying.
Streams are infinite and mutable.
Identity is fragmenting & converging.
Data is physical, meta, and imaginary.
The individual has no choice but to filter and prioritise.
In other words: how do we choose what to watch?

I don't care about Iran's nuclear secrets.
I do care about Lady Gaga's shoes.
Most people don't care about the Google Book Agreement
But Michael Jackson's death was equivalent to a DoS attack on Google News.
I do care that it's raining, but not if it's not raining here.
Which of these is the most "valuable"? How do we filter and unconsciously make that decision? How does anyone prioritise and value one dataset over another?
Can society assign value when overwhelmed with information? What happens tomorrow when every channel is saturated contextually, in real-time - like a simulated bout of schizophrenia?
Are we going to be all right?

Hospital Art

I had a week in hospital recently which was interesting and gave me a lot of time to fill.
Amongst other things (such as learning to solve a Rubik's Cube on YouTube) I made a collection of psuedo-art-pastiches taken with my phone (Nexus One)... some more pastiche than others.

Anyway - I thought I'd share it:

Edward Tufte at Intelligence Squared

Decided I was feeling well enough to go to a talk last night by Edward Tufte - God of information design. (like I was going to miss that...)

Needless to say it was fairly awesome. Enough for me to tell you it's available online.

Honestly if you ever design anything with data i.e. content i.e. anything - it's worth watching this long but incredibly thought-provoking man. He makes his insights just as relevant to web-pages and slides and art as to data-vis. or statistical analysis.

Here are my take-aways
6 principles of evidence:
  1. Compare. Nothing is visible without contrast
  2. Causality & Mechanics. Aim to describe how or why it went from A to B as well as the fact of going from A to B.
  3. Use multidata sets - data works best when it is contextualised by other data sets - i.e. allows comparison & causality
  4. Tell a story - when the content becomes secondary to the form all is lost.
  5. Integrate - all is content - pictures and words only got separated at Gutenburg (necessarily by process). Humans will always try and integrate words and pictures.
  6. Be credible. Document every source.

More generally:
  • Put it on the same page. Non-adjacent content is non-comparable (example ppt)
  • Humans are good at deciphering. NYTimes homepage has 400 links and still gets 10m daily users
  • Web sites which Pitch have the ethics of the marketplace not the validity of websites that inform.
  • Put content over process. Don't just do/use what is easiest/you know/you're told to. Do what is right for the data,
  • Don't cherry pick - data only has validity when it has integrity.
  • Only drug-dealers and web designers call their customers users
If you're interested I found some proper, fleshed out notes here by Mia Ridge
and some sweet sketch notes by someone called Lucy : http://twitpic.com/1p7h00

Who to vote for...

Who to vote for?! Such a dilemma, especially as this UK election is dominated by the personalities of the leaders of the three main parties - who are in turn: dour, smug and eager.
Basically no one wants to vote for any of them - but someone has to be in charge.

Of course we don't get to vote for that person. That is out of my hands. I get to vote for someone from a group of people that I simply don't know at all.

It got me thinking about the bit where you put the X next to the name - who is that?
For this election I decided to research my own local candidates and decide to vote for the one that would represent me best in Parliament rather than for the national party.

Turns out (thank you theyworkforyou.com) that my local MP actually voted exactly as I'd have liked her to in the past parliament. Whereas the others keep telling me about their personal histories rather than how they would have voted on the same issues.

So I've decided that however much I may despise her party and all it stands for - I completely agree with her.

Surely there must be a site that does this? Asks all my candidates how they would have voted on recent debates and only accepts Yes, No or Abstain? That's how I want to decide. Data!

Is Data Visualisation the New Photo Journalism?

I was chatting with David McCandless (


) the other day. He seems an incredibly nice and switched on guy. I missed a talk he came in to give so we were swapping ideas over coffee and I pitched my Data Visualisation as the New Photo Journalism opEd at him.

It basically goes like this: In the c.20th people didn't have the freedom to travel that we take for granted today. As cameras got lighter we sent out visual reporters to capture and make sense of the unknowable, inconceivably vast mass of humanity, conflict and strife that was becoming accessible. The photo-journalists of the middle part of the century captured, in single frames, images that defined the world at that moment so we could digest and understand it over coffee and croissant.

Today we are in a similar situation with data.

We are literally overwhelmed with data having mastered the art of capturing and interrogating our daily actions - yet have not found adequate ways of distilling that into something that makes sense to normal folks. Ways to make data into stories. Ways to visualise all this noise and make it real. Instead it just terrifies us. This is where people like David come in. And

Aaron Koblin

. And

Jonathan Harris

... and we need many more.

Visualisations of data whether political, economic or environmental have to go further than just taking a snapshot - like a chart or a graph - they have to reach in and pull out a story that allows us to see, read and understand complex naratives that describe the world today. It's an extraordinary feat when done well. I think it will be the true successor to photo-journalism in the c.21st.

David smiled politely and said, "Yes. That's pretty much what I said".

Here's something fun of his: [



How brands can avoid being digitally anti-social.

I have a couple of friends who only talk about themselves and their achievements. I love them dearly but really, they are awful bores. I don't introduce them to my other friends and I don't really listen to what they say.

On the other hand I have friends who tell me about their friends, about gossip, and ideas, and news, and politics and life..., and then they talk about themselves. And by then I am ready to listen and share all the interesting bits with my world

This is everyday real-world social ability, but it transfers pretty directly to social media. Guess that's why they call it social.
But it doesn't explain why lots of brands still use social media to talk about themselves.
I like the ones that listen to their users, interact at an individual level and that talk about interesting stuff first and themselves second.
In other words have fun, or are useful, or at least interesting rather than treating each buzz, tweet and post as a branded broadcast opportunity.

I like the @cocacola stream for this. Even though I don't like coke. And the @virginatlantic is useful, and very personal. @microsoft - your tweets seem somewhat self-obsessed. (You too @Google! - though not quite as bad)