Archive for the ‘the connected world’ Category

immerse yourself

Friday, February 19th, 2010

In order to think creatively about the impact of the connected world, you need to immerse yourself in the culture, practices and intellectual perspectives that define and exemplify the connected worldview. Here are some suggestions for you and your friends, family and colleagues to try out in the next few months.


Daniel Suarez’ novels Daemon and Freedom (TM), and Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother and Makers are four excellent near-future science fiction novels that I recommend highly. Both Suarez and Doctorow are savvy observers of today’s high tech scene, and they use their knowledge of technology to extrapolate our common experience of the Internet and personal computing into imaginative and entertaining stories of the future to come.

(The links above are to Amazon; if you buy there I receive a small commission which I donate to a reputable charity. You can also download Makers for free from Cory’s site. Little Brother too).


O’Reilly’s Where 2.0 (3/30 – 4/1, 2010 in San Jose, CA) is the best conference to intersect with experts in mapping, mobile social location services, geoweb, GIS, and more. Also don’t miss the open unconference WhereCamp SF 2010 on April 3&4 hosted by Google.

New thinktank Council have declared April 9th Global Internet of Things Day, an unstructured, self-organizing event aimed at discussion of the notion of an Internet of Things. If you’re in Silicon Valley that day, I’m organizing an informal workshop focused on the Internet of People, Places and Things. If interested, ping me on twitter or email

If you’re in Europe in May, Lift10 will convene a delightful community of future thinkers with a definite slant toward humanistic design. Geneva, May 5-7, 2010.

Augmented Reality Event 2010 is an industry conference about, well, augmented reality. It runs June 2-3, 2010 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Silicon Valley. The always provocative Bruce Sterling will keynote. I’ll be speaking there, along with a very bright roster of technical and business folks. If you’re going, get in touch and we’ll find the best parties together.

Get Your Game On

EVOKE is a game about learning to change the world through social innovation. It was developed by the World Bank Institute, the learning and knowledge arm of the World Bank Group, and directed by alternate reality game master Jane McGonigal.

EVOKE is free to play and open to anyone, anywhere. The game begins on March 3, 2010, and players can join the game at any time. Players who successfully complete ten game challenges in ten weeks will be able to claim their honors: Certified World Bank Institute Social Innovator – Class of 2010. Top players will also earn online mentorships with experienced social innovators and business leaders from around the world, and scholarships to share their vision for the future at the EVOKE Summit in Washington DC.

I’m part of the team helping to run the game, along with some truly amazing people from around the world. I hope you’ll check it out, sign up to play, and see firsthand how games might just change the world.

let’s bury the electronic newspaper

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

In technology, use model and interface metaphors exert a powerful influence on the rhetorical framing innovators adopt for their work. These metaphors can become entrenched schools of thought in product and experience design, making it difficult to imagine alternative approaches. Consider the longevity of the desktop metaphor for personal computing – it has been more than 35 years since the original Xerox PARC Alto, and we are still looking at desktops on many of our screens.

Similarly, the idea of electronic newspapers has been around since at least the 1970s, and now that the print newspaper industry is in dire straits we are seeing that notion thrown around rather more freqently. For example, LG Display is currently showing off an impressive lab prototype of a 19” flexible e-paper display that is 0.3mm thick and weighs just 4 ounces. The prototype measures 40x25cm or around 16×10 inches, making it about the size of a small tabloid newspaper. LG are touting it as “optimized for an e-newspaper and able to convey the feeling of reading an actual newspaper”


LG Display 19" e-paper prototype

As I see it, there’s a fundamental problem with attempts to transplant the design of physical newspapers into an “electronic newspaper” interaction metaphor. The design of print newspapers, and our interaction with them – where, when, what and how we read – arises from the intrinsic properties of the medium. The size of pages, the multicolumn tiled layout, the length of stories, the variety and separation of sections, advertising, subscriptions, deadlines, distribution, local geographic focus, national syndication, editorial viewpoint – all of these factors evolved to their current state largely due to the physical properties and economics of paper. When you remove the paper and substitute a dynamic networked display appliance, you have changed the underlying properties and constraints so radically that the entire newspaper metaphor collapses.

Furthermore, as Clay Shirky and many others have observed, the Internet has spawned a host of disaggregated alternatives to all of the major functions of print newspapers. From online news sites, blogs and social media to Craigslist, Google, and the Sunlight Foundation, we are evolving new structures, business logic and user experiences based on the properties and economics of connected world technologies. As Shirky wrote in March 2009:

Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.

When I see electronic versions of print newspapers being sold for Amazon’s Kindle, demonstrated on the Plastic Logic QUE, and mocked up in demos like LG’s flexible plastic e-paper, I see designers and marketers indulging in nostalgia for a bygone era. Newspapers as we know them are pretty much dead. Let’s bury the electronic newspaper metaphor with them.



While researching this post I came across Hakon Lie’s 1990 MSc thesis from the MIT Media Lab, titled The Electronic Broadsheet – all the news that fits the display. Lie describes the design and implementation of a broadsheet-sized electronic newspaper on a large high resolution display. Although some of the leading edge technology from 1990 (pre-WWW, pre-flat panel monitors) seems quaint now, Lie’s overview of the Newspaper Metaphor remains relevant and worth reviewing. Lie sought to maintain the best qualities and practices of newspaper reading while augmenting them with the affordances of networked digital media, reifying the whole into a new kind of newspaper. At the time, he did not anticipate the breadth and depth of disruption that would begin in just a few years with the advent of the web. Of course Lie went on to develop CSS in 1994, demonstrating somewhat greater adaptability than the newspaper industry he sought to transform.

Open AR: what's the point?

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

Like many other folks involved in augmented reality, I’d like to see the mobile AR community embrace open standards for AR experiences. And just to be clear, by “embrace” I mean “create and implement”. Now, I know this discussion is eventually going to take us into deep waters, but let’s just start off with the simplest possible thing. I’d like to see the mobile AR community agree on how it represents a point in space. If we could do that, we might be able to create some simple, public AR experiences that work across platforms and in the various competing AR browsers. And the positive example of one agreed open standard, arrived at by an open community process, might lead to additional good things. So let’s talk about points.

Geographic AR Points

Geographic AR systems like Layar, Geovector, Wikitude, Robotvision, Gamaray etc, use a spheroid-based coordinate system of latitude, longitude and (sometimes) altitude to specify the point locations of the observer and georeferenced content. POIs (points of interest) consisting of a single (lat,lon,alt) coordinate tuple plus various metadata, are commonly used to represent physical entities such as restaurants, monuments and attractions. Unfortunately even in this extremely simple case, there is no agreement on specifications for a single point in space. For example, if altitude is used, is it the height of the point above the topographic surface at that location, the height above the observer’s location, or the height above the WGS-84 reference ellipsoid approximating mean sea level, as a GPS would measure it? Does a point also have accuracy metrics? And what metadata are required or optional for each point?  Each of the companies mentioned above is doing something a bit different, and so are their upstream POI data providers. So far, and despite recent announcements, openness is not really happening yet.

3D AR Points

AR has its roots in computer graphics & vision technologies, and these approaches primarily use 3D cartesian (xyz) coordinate systems. A 3D model of a teapot might have a local xyz coordinate system; the teapot rests on a 3D model of a table which in turn has its own reference coordinate system; the observer of the scene has their own reference coordinate system; the screen that the scene is displayed on has its own 2D pixel coordinates, and a set of mathematical transformations (e.g., translation, scaling, rotation & projection) ties them all together. A 3D graphics scene is not inherently tied to any physical world reference point; in marker-based AR, the fiducial marker provides an anchor that binds the 3D augmented scene to a physical world location. However, the data structure for the scene’s location is entirely relative, which makes the location of 3D models fairly portable.

Simple Geo + 3D AR

Of course, one simple and obvious thing we want is to enable 3D graphics models to be placed in geographic locations. If we truly think open AR is important, we are going to want to agree on which kinds of coordinate systems to use. This is not a trivial question. Do we want the 3D model to be on a local or global coordinate system? A fixed position relative to the world and regardless of viewpoint, or always located relative to the observer? What if the model and the observer are on boats? What if the model is something like an entire city? Different choices for coordinate systems and schema will impact computational costs and accuracy. In Google Earth, KML allows use of static COLLADA models which are then imported/transformed to the GE geographic coodinate system. Planet9’s virtual cities have a single reference coordinate system for the entire city, and use UTM WGS-84 in order to keep their building models square. The Web3D Consortium’s X3D framework supports georeferencing models in geodetic, UTM and geocentric reference frames, appropriate for a variety of use cases. What approach(es) makes sense for mobile AR? Can we leverage & extend existing standards, or will we have to create new ones from the ground up?

Start simple, but start now

Okay, so clearly things can get messy, even for the simple case of specifying a point in space. And it is also clear that multiple constituencies are going to be very interested in the geographic and 3D graphic aspects of AR. I think it’s time to have serious discussions about open standards for mobile AR, starting with the basic question of representing POIs and static 3D objects. I realize it is hard for small, fast moving teams to spend precious energy on this kind of discussion, but to me it seems like a critical thing for the community to establish a common foundation for the mobile AR experience. Do you agree? If not, why not? If so, then where should this discussion happen and who should be involved? Perhaps the recently formed AR Consortium can play a role here? Maybe it is already happening somewhere?

I’m very interested in your thoughts on this topic. Please share in the comments below, link here from your own blog, or respond @genebecker. YMMV as always.

For further reading

* Augmented Reality Should Be Open by Joe Ludwig
* Augmented Reality: Open, Closed, Walled or What? by Robert Rice
* Wikitude API
* Layar API
* Gamaray formats
* Garmin GPX POI schema
* WGS-84
* A Discussion of Various Measures of Altitude
* GeoRSS
* W3C Geolocation API
* X3D
* CityGML

hello (connected) world

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

We live in a connected world, now. The web is real-time and social. The physical world of people, places and things is becoming digital, networked, sensate. Computing is a fabric of mobile, embedded and cloud systems woven with data and services. Media flows everywhere, innovation abounds at street-level, and we are all creators, authors, and makers. It’s an exciting time, but also one fraught with complexity and difficult choices for businesses, institutions and individuals.

This journal offers disruptive ideas, spirited perspectives and tools to think with. My goals are to help you make sense of the emerging landscape, engage you in an ongoing conversation about technology, strategy and society, and work with you to envision and build the kind of future we actually want to live in. Please explore the archives, immerse yourself in new ideas, and share your reactions in the comments.