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Co-viewing TV

7 May

I recently cut my cable bill in half. Slowly but surely I’m moving towards a more DIY entertainment solution – streaming Netflix, utilizing XBOX and a digital media server. It’s all very exciting; researching new techniques and solutions to get the best home entertainment experience. One thing on the horizon in particular has caught my attention, co-viewing.

Co-viewing is simply a term for sharing in the experience of watching TV. At it’s core, it’s just a more modern version of talking on the phone to a friend while both of you watch the same TV show.

Talking on the phone while watching TV seems like a horrible idea to me, and I’ve never tried it. But I do often talk about movies and TV shows with my friends and coworkers the day after I watch something. Sometimes, if I find a show or movie particularly engaging, I’ll go online and read IMDB or other message boards to get more information.

I think that co-viewing is a step in the right direction. It isn’t as up-front as talking on the phone and it is a great way to get real-time commentary and supplemental information about whatever I am watching.

That is great from a viewer’s perspective, but co-viewing is also great from the networks perspective. It will become much easier to deliver personalized programming to consumers. Imagine having a choose your own adventure TV show or commercials customized to products you actually like. Networks would be able to get real-time feedback on their content and user could participate in more live contests (just think about what that means for ‘reality’ TV).

It’s also not that far off, MIT’s Technology Review has placed it on their top annual top 10 emerging technologies. MTV, among other networks, are already developing a social TV iPad application. As both the technology and the devices become commonplace I think out everyday TV experience will change.

For more information, check out these links:

Facebook is the new Xbox?

30 Mar

GDC 2010

Although I didn’t get to attend this year’s Game Developer Conference in San Francisco my coworker (thank you Zander!) went and brought back lots of great stories and notes. After trying to play catch-up as best of could via twitter and blog posts, it seems that I missed a pretty relevant and exciting conference.

In particular, I’ve been reading follow-ups to Kristian Segerstrale’s (Playfish) keynote, The Relentless March Towards Free…and What it Means to the Games Industry.

In the past two years Playfish has released 12 games, two of which have a bigger reach than World of War-craft. He talks about the switch from products to services. There is a transition from the old way of making games to the new way of making games. It used to be that games had to be written to a DVD, put in a box and then on a shelf. Once it is written to a DVD, it’s written in stone – the game is finished being developed.

Products now are no longer physical, but now products are digital. The minute a product is fully digital then one is able to change it instantaneously. This also means that the game is never “finished” and is in perpetual beta.

Kristian Segerstrale

Along with this switch from product to service, Sergerstrale discusses how in the future “social gaming” will just become “gaming”. He states that the problem currently with Xbox is that it limits the types of friends a user can have access to. Because of the barrier to entry, the only friends you see online on Xbox are your friends who own Xbox. What Facebook does well is allows users to interact with their friends inside and outside the game at the same time.

It’s now important to think about how to create interest and excitement outside the game in order to drive actions back towards the game. With approximately 1.8 billion users (and growing) on the internet, the barrier to entry for Xbox and the barrier to entry for computer based games becomes very apparent.

The idea of extending gameplay from outside the console – to desktop, smartphones and other devices is something that is inevitable. Gamemakers, like any other industry, need to go to where the users are in order to be successful. As content consumption habits change the content delivery channels must change as well.

Overall it seems like I missed a great talk and a great conference. Hope to make it next time around!

Wireframes vs No Wireframes

16 Feb

I recently read an article in UX Magazine of all places, questioning the need for presenting wireframes to clients. This article seems to take the stance that wireframes are the blue-print for visual designs and can have negative repercussions when they are discussed with the client.

The author states that: [Wireframes] provide guidance for the rest of the design process …for the designer. They can, however, be problematic or useless for the client and in some cases they’re simply a waste of time…..Put another way, many designers generate and present wireframes to clients not because they know it’s a good idea in a specific case, but because they’ve seen or heard of others doing so and they therefore think they’re supposed to as well.

In my professional experience wireframes should not be treated as blueprints for designs. Project managers or project leads that treat wireframes like this will get uninspired, over engineered designs.

Wireframes are a granular way for developers to see the functionality and interactions that need to be developed. If they have any questions, they should be able to refer to an annotated wire frame to get their answer. Wireframes are crucial to designers, to educate us to what needs to be on the page but even more crucial to the developers that are building the page.

From a visual standpoint, wireframes are just a guide. As I design a site I ask myself questions, “Does this have to be a traditional tab or could it be a pill-slider? Could this text be represented by an icon? ”

The wireframes serve my purpose as a list of what has to be on the page and give me contextual hierarchy. The interpretation of what is on the page is (usually) left open to the designer. When it comes time to go through a review process, I try to show an early take on the design next to the related wireframe. This educates the client to that fact that there is still a design process remaining after the wireframes are finished. They can see, and approve, a wireframe and then see the evolution of that wire into design. They realize that wireframes are not visual design.

Educating your client about the process is cricual to getting successful results and a happy client. The article is interesting mostly because of the conversations that it sparked within the user comments:

Turn any webcam into 3D Scanner

15 Dec

The Cambridge University Engineering Department developed ProForma. ProFORMA (which stands for ‘Probabilistic Feature-based On-line Rapid Model Acquisition’) turns any ordinary webcam into a powerful 3D scanning tool.

3D models easily with your webcam

Users can rotate an object in front of the camera and have it construct a 3D model. This reconstruction is displayed in real-time to the user so that they can make adjustments and focus on trouble spots.

3D models easily with your webcam

Off-line model reconstruction relies on an image collection phase and a slow reconstruction phase, requiring a long time to verify a model obtained from an image sequence is acceptable. We propose a new model acquisition system, called ProFORMA, which generates a 3D model on-line as the input sequence is being collected. As the user rotates the object in front of a stationary camera, a partial model is reconstructed and displayed to the user to assist view planning. The model is also used by the system to robustly track the pose of the object. Models are rapidly produced through a Delaunay tetrahedralisation of points obtained from on-line structure from motion estimation, followed by a probabilistic tetrahedron carving step to obtain a textured surface mesh of the object.

Read the academic paper here:

The You-Centric Web

24 Nov

Aza Raskin, Head of User Experience for Mozilla Labs recently gave a keynote at the Future of Web Apps conference in London. His talk is centered around the future of the web and what he coins as a “you-centric” web experience.

You-Centric: The Future of Browsing from Carsonified on Vimeo.

“The matching of content (nouns) to services (verbs), and services to content in the next big business model of the web.”

In his presentation Raskin says that the 3 pillars of the future web browser are identity, social and data. He discusses how the web has changed from 4 or 5 years ago into what it is today and how the web nowadays is fundamentally more social.

One of his ideas is having a browser that knows the identity of the user – a browser that knows their friends, credit card information, and communication preferences (i.e. messaging via twitter if it’s a twitter friend). He talks about the work they are doing at Mozilla with Weave and Ubiquity and gives shout outs to Google Wave and IE’s web-accelerators. He says the future of the web will also be task-centric. You should type what you want to do, instead of trying to look-up how to do it.

Raskin says that a user’s friends are too valuable for any one vendor or company to control them. He envisions a browser that scrapes the internet, aggregating and saving data relevant to the user.

Overall the video is an interesting watch, but his ideas are not that forward thinking. Much of what he talks about is currently being developed by big players in the web browsing world. I fully expect his ‘Future of Web Browsing” to be common place in the next few years.

Tech Week 2009

13 Oct

Last week was a whirlwind of late nights, traveling, and tech conferences for me. I attended both Adobe MAX in L.A. and Yahoo’s Hack Day developer conference in NYC in the same week.

This was my first year attending these conferences, so I didn’t know what exactly to expect but had a great time at both.

Adobe MAX was considerably more developer focused than I had anticipated, but there was still lots of cool emerging technology and creative centered talks to keep my attention. While many of the talks I attended devolved into presenters typing actionscript projected onto a wall, several talks stood out as being inspirational, insightful and educational.

John Mayer makes an appearance at MAX

Lee Brimelow gave a great talk about augmented reality and showed several examples of real world applications. Joshua Davis gave a very inspiring presentation about the evolution of his work, his process (Tinker, tinker, and more tinker) and his unfortunate encounters with print shops. I’m pretty sure everyone involved left that talk eager to go experiment on their own.

Tesla Roadster

Some other highlights for me were being introduced to the Mega Phone platform, getting a behind the scenes of the new Guiter Hero website, gtting a glimpse of Photoshop’s content aware technology and of course, Roundarch‘s very own talks surround the Tesla model S.

The MAX Bash, watching the sneaks and meeting all sorts of cool, intelligent people are what really made this conference worthwhile.

The Yahoo Hackday experience was equally developer focused, but had a more grass roots flavor to it. After a day of talks promoting the latest Yahoo! technologies(which I was unable to attend), sessions broke and teams were organized. Each team had roughly 17 hours to brainstorm, build, design and test their “hack”. The definition of what a hack is and what technology or hardware it uses was up for creative interpretation.

Yahoo Open Hack Day

I partnered up with Akeem to work on developing an interactive restaurant menu. While more time to work on our idea would it been appreciated, it was great to work under the gun (voluntarily for a change) and see what other teams came up with. While our idea attracted a bit of media attention, in the end we got beat out by some other really great ideas. The overall winner of the competition was Insider Trades by team Queens Law. They describe their motivation below:

Insider trading of stocks is very valuable information. Knowing which executives are selling and buying is a very useful indicator for the millions of people who are casual investors.

For a list of all of the winner, and a recap of the competition, click here

Overall, last week was super fun and jam-packed. I had met lots of cool, interesting folks and learned lots at both conference. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Maker Faire Africa 2009

30 Sep

I’ve been reading lately about all of the cool inventions coming out of Maker Faire Africa, a celebration of African ingenuity, innovation and invention at the AITI Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT in Ghana’s capital, Accra.

This spin-off of the 2006 California conference is centered around do-it-yourself innovation. What makes this year’s conference so interesting is that it focuses on the indigenous populations of Africa. Instead of the Rube Goldberg-esque mousetrap or the Diet Coke & Mentos Fountain of previous years, this year’s inventions include solar-powered lamps and contraptions to harness wind energy and make use of recycled and discarded materials.

This conference reminds me very much of an exhibit I saw a few years ago at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. The exhibit, Design for the other 90% highlights advances in design and technology that help the world’s poor. The exhibit showcases some products and inventions that it proposes are the beginning of a design revolution:

“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”

The exhibit is centered around the topics of Health, Shelter, Water, Education, Energy and Transport. Many of the same problems that the participants of Maker Faire Africa has sought out to solve.

Both the exhibit and the conference are introducing new people (like me) to an area of design and technology that is often overlooked. I wonder how many of us designers are actually doing work that is as impactful as this. While we might describe some of our ideas and interfaces as innovative, if we are operating in the same arena as 90% of the world…how innovative is it really?

You can check out the Maker Faire Africa site and get more information here .

Product vs Platform: The App Store

17 Sep

The Internet favors platforms.

Platforms are the intermediaries that deliver products. Platforms cannot exist without products, and products need platforms to be put into context and to be delivered. As our modern consumer culture becomes even more social and connected, the benefits of being a platform become even more apparent.

Apple App Store

The case study for this is of course the Apple App Store. While the iPhone device itself is already impressive the platform that the app store allows the iPhone become is what makes this product so successful. According to the latest data from iSmashPhone, iPhone users spend at least 30 minutes a day using apps and their app market share is 40 times that of their closest competitor!

After seeing the success of the iPhone app store, numerous other phone companies jumped on the bandwagon and released their own. Companies such as
Blackberry , Palm Pre, Google Android, Windows Mobile, Nokia, and Samsung have all tossed their hat into the app store arena.

HP Touch-S,mart Printer

What I find extremely fascinating is that this concept is extending beyond the reach of mobile devices. HP just launched a new printer that allows users to connect to the web and download apps to use on their printer. The printer touts applications for printing out directions, movie tickets, and cross word puzzles.

Here at Roundarch, we are working on some cool touch screen interfaces for a car, and the concept of an in-car app store has definitely been brought up. Even in your living room, Verzion has announced that it is bringing an app store and social media to it’s FiOS-TV.


While I’m both excited and eager to see products grow into platforms, I’m also anxious to see how thoroughly companies will adopt that philosophy. It seems that “app store” has become a buzzword now, similar in vein to “social media” and “viral”. These are words that marketing departments throw around all the time without fully understanding that they mean, or how these changes will affect the growth and foundation of their company.

The Apple iPhone isn’t just a phone, and I doubt Steve Jobs ever thought it would be. The app store was always a part on what the iPhone was. This isn’t a case of other companies playing catch-up with Apple. Rather, I’m more interested in seeing what the repercussions of haphazardly adding app stores, attempting to change their product into a platform, will be to these companies in the future.

Scratch Surface Applications

26 Aug

CMU researcher Chris Harrison is heading to SIGGRAPH this summer to showcase some of his cool interface work. His has done lots of research into touch screen & tactile interfaces, much of it very interesting. At this years conference he will be displaying his surface scratch input.

This interface works by recording and interpreting the audio that is caused by running your fingernail along a surface. I think it’s an interesting concept, but I was a bit underwhelmed by the use-case scenarios that were presented in the video. Writing an “S” on the table doesn’t seem like less effort than hitting the “Cancel” button on my phone (assuming my phone is right next to me as in the video).

Then I saw CRISTAL, a tabletop universal remote. The concept behind this piece is clever, but I the the execution is a bit off. I’d love to be able to control all of my surrounding devices from sitting on my couch. But who really wants an overhead video playing on their coffee table? If I’m watching a movie and have kids playing, a dog running around or I simply reach to grab some pop-corn, all of that movement will be displayed real time and become a distraction. I don’t adjust the lighting or turn on my ceiling fan often enough to warrant a real time video display placed directly in my line of sight. Not to mention I use my coffee table and it usually has all kinds of stuff sitting on it.

The universal tabletop remote is an ideal candidate for scratch surface interface because it has a minimal (read: no) visual footprint. All of the functionality of the remote, adjusting volume & lighting, ability to toggle things on & off, and song/movie/channel selection all lend themselves to a touchscreen interface. The final concept would have to be a marriage between the two. Selecting a movie or CD to play might require a visual sorting method, but after the selection has been chosen it would then fade out returning the table to normal. I could then fast forward or skip through the movie/song by scratching or tapping the surfaces of the table.

How the Internet sees me

24 Aug

My Internet Persona

MIT’s Media Lab recently launched Personas, a component of the Metropath(ologies) exhibit, currently on display at the MIT Museum by the Sociable Media Group. It uses sophisticated natural language processing and the Internet to create a data portrait of one’s aggregated online identity. In short, Personas shows you how the Internet sees you.

It didn’t do a great job of creating my persona, due to either too much or too little data out there. There have been many John Gist‘s throughout history as I would find out.
However, what attracted me most to this experiment is the simplicity and ease of use in the design. Clearly labeled and color-coded, paired with real-time data aggregation make this a fun and exciting process. I ended up putting in all of my online aliases as well as some of my friends and family, just to watch the system run again.

My Internet Persona

Although the project cautions,

In a world where fortunes are sought through data-mining vast information repositories, the computer is our indispensable but far from infallible assistant. Personas demonstrates the computer’s uncanny insights and its inadvertent errors, such as the mischaracterizations caused by the inability to separate data from multiple owners of the same name

I wish it would give a bit more insight into how it classifies the data it is gathering. Why did my twitter username yield a persona that was 50% legal. Why did my name come back with 10% Religion?

My Internet Persona

Give it a shot and see how the Internet sees you here