This is tcw#2

the new revolution in personal computing

Friday, February 19th, 2010

One of our core themes for the connected world, is that we are living through an unprecedented confluence of new technologies that unleashes innovation and fundamentally transforms industries. In keeping with this view, in the last few months we have seen a tremendous wave of new technology products and developments from a wide range of companies. Taken separately, many of these announcements are significant and a few are game-changing, not so unusual for our industry. However, when viewed collectively they add up to nothing less than a new revolution in personal computing.

Innovation is happening at every level of personal systems, from processor architecture and devices to social media and advertising. The very idea of a personal system is broadening rapidly to encompass mobile, embedded and cloud systems, identity, context and the physical world.

In core hardware, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon platform garnered significant design wins at HP, Google and many others, while Apple has developed their own ARM-based A4 system on a chip. Nvidia also apparently gained support for their new Tegra2 mobile processor.

In system software, Google released the open source Chromium OS while their Android platform continued to gather design wins. Microsoft announced a completely redesigned Windows Phone 7 OS, Intel and Nokia merged Moblin and Maemo into the MeeGo linux platform, Symbian3 launched, and Apple extended their iPhone OS to a major new platform.

In devices, Apple announced the iPad, Google jumped into the hardware business with the Nexus One, HP and others previewed tablet PCs, and a stack of new E-readers launched from Barnes & Noble, Hearst, Plastic Logic, and more.

Application ecosystems continued to heat up as Apple’s AppStore crossed 100,000 apps and 3 billion downloads. Intel introduced the AppUp store for netbooks, and a broad consortium of carriers and device makers launched the oddly named Wholesale Applications Community for mobile apps.

The social media frenzy continued unabated, with Facebook hitting 400 million users (third in country population behind China and India!), Twitter passing 1 billion tweets per month, and Google’s Buzz launching like a rocket with millions of users before running into a buzzsaw of criticism for their tone-deaf approach to privacy and usability. A recent analysis showed Facebook driving more traffic to major web destinations than Google, signalling a dramatic shift from organic search to friend recommendations for finding information online.

Google acquired AdMob while Apple bought Quattro Wireless, pointing to a major battle for mobile advertising as well as a very provocative business model play for Apple.

Mobile social location-based gamers Foursquare, a favorite of the early-adopter tribe, inked deals with major media properties including Bravo TV, Conde Nast’s Lucky Magazine, Zagat guides, HBO, Warner and the New York Times.

The race to capture, index and augment the physical world further intensified. Microsoft’s Bing Maps and Google’s Street View each showed major new features, including integrating users’ photographs seamlessly into their visual canvases. Street View now has capture operations in 30 countries on 6 continents, and they are managing a fast-growing multi-petabyte store of image and lidar data (1 PB = 1 million GB). Meanwhile NYC startup Everyscape raised $6M from SK Telecom to expand their real-world capture into Asia, and SF-based Earthmine opened their high-resolution 3D city point cloud database to developers.

Google also released Goggles, a mobile app for Android devices that provides visual recognition, identification, OCR and search for physical world objects such as books, products, and landmarks. Nokia began a pilot of their mobile Point & Find service with bus shelter advertising in Colchester UK. Augmented reality startup Layar added $3.4M in funding and a global mobile phone distribution deal, signalling growing commercial interest in overlaying the real world with digital media and experiences.

In the realm of open innovation we saw grass-roots networks mount a groundswell of response to the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. Open source platform Ushahidi, mapping and geoweb experts from Open Street Map, and hackers at worldwide self-organizing Crisis Camps provided tools and expertise to support a wide range of relief efforts on the ground in Port au Prince.

Lastly, in two fascinating signs that the future is upon us, HP announced that it was getting into 3D printers through a deal with Stratasys, while San Diego outfit Organovo announced the first commercial 3D bio-printer for manufacturing human tissue and organs. It really doesn’t get much more personal than that.

In the 40-plus years since Douglas Engelbart created the mother of all demos, the personal computer has fundamentally transformed the way we work, play, create, communicate, shop, learn and live. Now we find ourselves at the cusp of a new revolution, where personal computing is no longer synonymous with the personal computer. The new personal computing is mobile, embedded, networked, virtual, social, contextual, wearable and physical. And it’s here. Are you ready?

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.

serious games, collective action and amplified individuals

Friday, February 19th, 2010

One of the first things I did after I left my corporate job to start my own company, was I spent 6 weeks playing a game. I know, you’re thinking that sounds a bit like post-cubicle depression, right? But this was no plunge into escapism, no existential Crysis, no losing myself on some shard in the seductive World of Warcraft. Instead, it was immersion into a massively multiplayer game about envisioning the future. Or perhaps, it was a global collaborative scenario planning exercise with strong game-like qualities. Either way, I became the character ‘ubik2019’ and entered the world of Superstruct along with several thousand other people around the globe. Our goal was nothing less than to work together to save humanity.


Superstruct was created by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) as part of their annual Ten Year Forecast project. The design was led by Jane McGonigal aka @avantgame, well known for her cutting edge work in Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). From the FAQ:

“Superstruct is the world’s first massively multiplayer forecasting game. By playing the game, you’ll help us chronicle the world of 2019 – and imagine how we might solve the problems we’ll face. Because this is about more than just envisioning the future. It’s about making the future, inventing new ways to organize the human race and augment our collective human potential.”

Superthreats and superpowers

The game revolved around the confluence of five major “superthreats” – pandemic disease, food system collapse, energy crisis, technological outlaws, and global refugee diasporas – which together threatened the very survival of the human race. Players worked to create stories, strategies and solutions to these threats, and earned achievement badges for demonstrating a range of collaborative skills. Not coincidentally, the skills required to succeed in Superstruct were drawn from earlier work at IFTF which identified a number of new competencies and collaborative abilities for a connected world. These ranged from skills like High Ping Quotient and Open Authorship, to Emergensight, “the ability to prepare for and deal with surprising results arising from coordination and collaboration at extreme scales”. These are the foundational skills of what IFTF calls Amplified Individuals, people who excel at navigating a fast changing, interconnected world through augmented social, collaborative and improvisational behaviors. For further reading, see the full Superstruct skills list and IFTF’s map of the Future of Work.

Generation ARG

There are a couple of intertwined ideas here that you should take note of. The first is the concept of large-scale distributed collective action, where hundreds or thousands of strangers come together online and cooperate to solve complex, multifaceted problems. In the same way that Gen Y employees brought new communication practices like IM, blogs and wikis into the workplace, the next generation of workers will have expectations and expertise in global cooperation honed in ARGs and MMOGs, along with public social performance practices learned from Facebook, Twitter et al. And like their predecessors, they will probably experience frustration with less collaborative, less open colleagues and managers, and they will face pushback from IT departments struggling to maintain control over tools and enforce secure network boundaries.

Serious games

The second idea is the use of game mechanisms – missions, achievements, badges, leveling and such – as a way to make activities more engaging, satisfying and impactful. Game mechanisms are increasingly being put to work as a way to tap into the focus, goal orientation, commitment and flow that gamers experience in play, but aimed at contributions with real world impact. The field of ‘serious games’ is making significant progress, led by researchers such as Byron Reeves at Stanford, Liz Lawley at RIT, and Ian Bogost at Georgia Tech.

‘A crash course in changing the world’


If you want to get firsthand experience with a global collective action game, join us March 3 – May 12, 2010 for EVOKE, an alternate reality game designed to help empower young people around the world, and especially in Africa, to come up with creative solutions to our most pressing problems: hunger, poverty, disease, war and oppression, water access, education, climate change. EVOKE is a project for the World Bank Institute, the learning and knowledge arm of the World Bank. As creative director McGonigal says, “We consider it a crash course in changing the world.” I hope to see you there.

Postscript: In April 2009, Superstruct was honored as the “Most Important Futures Work of 2008” by the Association of Professional Futurists. So it wasn’t just a game after all. Or was it?

the massively multiplayer magazine

Friday, February 19th, 2010

This idea is a quick brainstorming sketch that brings together several threads in the spirit of combinatorial innovation. I’d love to have your feedback in the comments.

The future of magazines in a connected world

I love magazines, and I’ll bet you do too. Magazines are perhaps the most vibrant and culturally relevant form of print media, and their diversity mirrors the staggering range of human interests and obsessions. In the connected world, they have the potential to evolve into an incredibly interesting and engaging networked medium. In recent months we have seen two inspiring future design concepts: the lushTime/Sports Illustrated video, and the poeticMag+ conceptcreated by design firm@BERGLondonand publisherBonnier. With high performance, connected e-reader and tablet platforms finally coming to market, it’s clear we are going to see some very exciting developments in this space. However, we should remember that the fundamental nature of connected media is very different from that of print media, and we should be careful about bringing a print-oriented mindset to a new networked medium. The features of electronic magazines should not simply be incremental extensions of the printed version, even if the physical artifacts are roughly similar in size, shape and appearance. With that in mind, I’d like to engage you in a thought experiment about what could happen when we collide digital magazines together with the global social Internet. One possibility we might imagine ismassively multiplayer magazines.


Massively multiplayer what?

You’re probably familiar with massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft. The massively multiplayer magazine re-imagines the traditional periodical in the context of an online social game environment involving thousands of people. In this scenario, the magazine becomes a gateway into a universe of intertwined stories, knowledge, people and play, with experience design and game mechanics drawn from MMOGs, ARGs and social games. Readers become players who have profiles, scores, achievements and abilities. Players self-assemble into clans, guilds and communities. Game elements encompass traditional magazine fare such as stories, images, features and advertisements, alongside new aspects including collaborative quests, mini-games, social streams, location awareness, augmented reality and physical hyperlinks. Gameplay involves completing missions, defeating bosses, unlocking hidden features, and participating in experiences that add richness, engagement and dimensionality to the magazine’s thematic center.

Magazines are like printed Usenet

Magazines are like printed Usenet

Magazines are like printed Usenet

You may be thinking this is a pretty strange idea, because magazines and online games seem like completely different media with little apparent synergy.  But consider: A well-stocked newsstand’s magazine rack is a glossy reflection of a world of enthusiast niches, each one incredibly narrow and deep. From heavy metal music to needlepoint; from luxury island living to body modification culture, magazines are the proto-Usenet of publishing. Furthermore, every special interest grouping you can imagine has already established itself in some form of online presence, be it a mailing list, web forum, or social network. The inherently social, topical milieu of magazines and their enthusiast communities has much in common with the ecosystem of social, story-oriented worlds and deeply invested players of many online games. It’s not hard to imagine that online gamers and magazine readers would each be attracted to a medium that combined the best of both genres. In fact, there is ample precedent for communities passionately following and participating in stories and games across multiple media. Think of Pokemon, Survivor, and the Star Wars Universe as examples of huge cultural phenomena with stories that span books, television, games, the web and more. For more on that, you might enjoy going down the deep rabbit hole of transmedia storytelling. But let’s continue.

Possible user stories

Clearly, this new kind of magazine/game would be primarily a digital medium. Mobile tablet computers like the just-announced Apple iPad would be excellent platforms to build optimized experiences around. Moreover, a massively multiplayer magazine would also play out across websites, social forums and physical locations, in much the same way that many alternate reality games have done. With the addition of ‘clickable’ links via QR codes and similar physical links, even readers of printed magazines could be drawn into the game through their mobile phones.

So what would a massively multiplayer magazine be like? Here are a few possible user stories that begin to explore the concept; you should definitely add your own ideas in the comments:

* Each story is a context that you “check into”, much like a Foursquare location. This might show up in your Twitter stream as “I’m reading <article> with 5 other people“, with a shortened link directly to the article. As you check in and comment about the article in your social stream, you accumulate points in your profile for each new reader that clicks through your link. If you are leafing through a paper copy of the magazine, you might find a QR code printed on the page, and scan it with your smartphone to “check in” and connect to the social stream about the article.

* Stories are customized based on your location. When you are physically in Paris, stories and games with a Parisian context are revealed. Reading those stories in their intended locations around the city earns you a special achievement badge for Paris. Meeting local players face to face grows your social circle and adds to your in-game reputation.

* A rock music magazine works with bands and concert promoters to place printed QR codes on posters at live shows, and readers earn badges by going to the show and scanning the codes.

* A pop culture fan magazine creates a series of 12 monthly challenges, each building on the previous one and taking players progressively deeper into a complex storyline. The challenges can only be worked out through large-scale cooperation by fans; the resolution leads to a hidden plot device in the upcoming season of a hit reality TV series.

* An advertiser sponsors a global treasure hunt, with rabbit holes, missions and puzzles embedded in the digital and print versions of a travel magazine. The prize is significant and the story engaging enough to attract tens of thousands of players and drive millions of social media mentions and impressions over the entire duration. For inspiration, take a look at the ARG calledPerplex City, which offered a $200,000 prize for finding a game artifact called the Receda Cube.

* Collaboratively generated story/soundtrack pairings are recommended by your friends and other readers of the same stories. “One of your friends recommended the Cowboy Junkies channel on Pandora, to accompany this story on musician Townes Van Zandt.” Alternatively, writers and photographers offer their own musical pairings to convey mood and contextual cues for their work, similar to sound design for cinema.

* A media literacy foundation challenges teams to create an entirely new magazine, organized around crowdsourced recommendations and contributions for the best stories, photographs, video, audio and even advertisements. The contributors earn achievements and reputation scores based on readers’ ratings and social metrics. The winning team receives a grant funding the creation of their next 6 issues, and featured placement on a popular media blog.

These are only a few examples of the possibilities of a new kind of massively multiplayer media. There are many open questions here, obviously. Would publishers find this concept attractive? Would readers make the leap to become players in a worldwide game? How hard would they be to develop [see note 2 below], and at what cost? It’s no sure thing, but I am inclined to believe that the well-established cultural familiarity and affection for magazines, combined with the addictive and viral nature of online games like Farmville and Foursquare, and built on the mobile, social, contextual platform of the connected world, would make an incredible creative genre and a very interesting business opportunity.

What do you think? Leave comments, send me email, or tweet some feedback to @genebecker. Thanks for reading, and YMMV as always.

[1] Photo credit: mannobhai

[2] It’s worth noting that designing media to be massively multiplayer will require new skills, tools and workflows, well beyond those employed in today’s magazine publishing ecosystem; our hypothetical project will surely need to address the authoring process. If you are interested, Ben Hammersley makes this point well in a series of eloquent posts that are worth your time.

does your business need a design intervention?

Friday, February 19th, 2010

When someone you care about gets trapped in a cycle of self-destructive behavior, perhaps from some kind of dependency, they may find it impossible to break free on their own. They need decisive action to put them on a different trajectory, so you stage a personal intervention.

A similar situation arises in business. Companies become dependent on partners, revenue streams, and business models; they optimize their structure, processes and skills to succeed in their industry’s ecosystem. It becomes harder to shift direction and take innovative risks that lead to new opportunities; their success can make them vulnerable to disruptive shifts in technology, industry structure, or customer desires. If this happens to a company you care about, you may need to stage a design intervention.

The Design Intervention

A design intervention is a short, intensive project where we work with you to envision and prototype the future of some aspect of your business, breaking free of short term constraints. This could be done for any aspect of the business, but most frequently we focus on future products and services. The goal is to identify, articulate and recommend actions that can help the company move in ambitious and profitable new directions.

Every organization has its own situation, issues and culture, and needs a personalized approach. However, these are some typical attributes of the design intervention process:

* Highly ambitious goals for the long term – what could you do to achieve an “iPhone effect” in your business in five years?
* Highly practical plans for the short term – what concrete steps can you take in the next 12 months to steer toward your ambitions?
* Considers broad trends and forces, beyond the current dynamics of your industry.
* Consults external voices & provocative thinkers.
* Assumes company strategy, structure, processes, business models and culture can change.
* Assumes skills and assets can come from anywhere e.g., through open innovation or M&A.
* Multidisciplinary approach, blending design, technology, user experience, social sciences, business strategy, brand & market savvy, ecosystem knowledge.
* Delivers tangible results: physical concept designs, paper prototypes, architectural principles, technology options, business model prototypes, partner and M&A ideas, next step investment proposals.

If this sounds intriguing for your organization, please contact us to discuss your situation.