Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Oblong - Minority Report's computer interface

I've been excited by gestural interfaces since watching Minority Report, and it looks like the 50 years from now science fiction in the movie was based on some genuine science fact. John Underkoffler, one of the tech consultants on the movie, has released this video of his prototype (and demonstrated the actual working version at TED), created by his Oblong venture. Want on of those.....

g-speak overview 1828121108 from john underkoffler on Vimeo.

...and in case you've forgotten, here's the science fiction version

Changing behaviour changes how we think

Following on from the Dept of Transport example below, it was great to read someone far smarter than me is thinking along the same lines and explaining to small businesses how social marketing should work. I don't often post slideshare decks here, as most people design slides to illustrate what they are talking about: so there are some case study pictures in here, but the insights are so important that the deck is well worth a read

Apple as a social brand
Changing behaviour changes how we think
Social media is a place to do things for customers
It's not about conversation

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Advertising is the last thing you should do

I have a tendency to keep hold of presentations from throughout my career, sort of like a geek photo album. I was browsing though some t'other day from a few years ago, and found a [not that] old brand positioning deck prepared by an ad agency. It was full of smart insight that logically defined an emotive and differentiated territory that could create a business advantage for the brand in question. Then it finished with a load of TV scripts. Much as I like Mad Men (and the collected works of Bill Bernbach for that matter) I was shocked at how out of date it seemed. There was plenty of insight, but no idea: just a leap from insight to advertising, without any consideration of whether advertising might be the most effective way of spreading an idea.

The reason this struck me is because I've been watching a lot of kids TV recently. Or rather, my son has, and I've been trying to ignore it while I've been in the room. And there's an ad running on there for a game called Code of Everand, which was dreamed up by some smart folk at work for the Dept of Transport. Code of Everand is grounded in the fact that 8-10 year olds know that crossing the road is dangerous. Advertising that explained or dramatised the danger would therefore be ignorable, as it is something so obvious. Not to mention that fact that people don't tend to like being preached to. 8-10 year olds also love multiplayer games, particularly free multiplayer flash ones.

So the game was designed to use roadcrossing skills in gameplay - setting challenges, completion of which demanded taking on fast moving monsters to move around and gain concentration points. The background is here

The fast moving monsters move from at 180 degrees to you, and their motion is based (through some genius data analysis by game developers Area/Code) on actual traffic movement data. So although the concept and gameplay is professional standard, the skills that are required to succeed are those of safe road crossing. So learning desired behaviour rather than being told to do it.

Actually there are a lot of people who are telling participants how to do it safely - there have been fansites and forums appearing since the game was launched late last year: roughly this manyTo the extent that there are already cheat guides for it. That makes sense, as it seems designed not to look like public information, but like anything else that someone might be playing, as these comments from a PlayBBG post make clear:In fact the attention that it is starting to generate, while not actually competing with big commercial releases, does at least figure on the same chart as them:which is in no small part down to those ads that I saw on kids TV. Because after months of research and a year's development to understand what could drive behavioral change and how people could become involved in it, the idea (the game) was realised, and after a further 3 months of allowing gamers to play it, find cheats, post tips, and build the ecosystem that any realistic game requires, then advertising had a role. To let people know about a free game.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Open vs 'just works - convergence part 2

So way back when IBM stalked the earth, computers were closed systems. The whole evolution of Microsoft from IBM OS provider to the monopoly that crushed Netscape was based on allowing market forces to drive down hardware prices whilst keeping control of the software. Outside of the design/advertising/music niches that supported Apple through the 90s there was no hardware plus software alternative. It wasn't until storage, processing and distribution became cheap enough to threaten content industries that closed hardware started to reappear: Sony, with music and movie businesses as well as the hardware to play them, drove DRM across all devices (not just in MP3 and DVDs: for years their cameras used proprietary memory sticks that had to be read on Sony readers). Usability and user choice became secondary to the requirements of content owners and device manufacturers.

While peer to peer or open systems have changed the way we think about communications (Skype), advertising (Google), IT (Linux), music (BitTorrent) etc over the last ten years, this has gone hand in hand with the rise and rise of Apple. iTunes may have removed DRM as soon as it was strong enough, but only because DRM is not Apple's control, it is someone else's. Having reinvented music distribution and mobile phones, Apple is now casting its eyes over the publishing industry. To be fair, the publishing industry is glad of the attention, as this offers book publishers an alternative to Amazon/Kindle, newspaper publishers an alternative to losing readers, and both of them an alternative to Google.

The marriage of revolutionary design, innate usability and utter hardware/software compatibility means that the 95% (NB made up stat) of people who don't care about how something works or how to improve it or how to squeeze every drop of performance out of it, will never need to worry about an Apple product doing what it is meant to. It just works. Apple created new categories: there are MP3 players, and there are iPods. There are mobiles, and there are iPhones. And by the time the iPad actually arrives in shops i'd guess there will also be tablet pcs. But they won't just work.

If you think about the future of innovation and technology, then this is a scary thought. One closed platform controlling access to music, books, newspapers and (somewhere along the line) TV. Ok you can develop for the that platform, but only along carefully prescribed lines and at the risk of not being accepted to run on it. (BTW i'm suggesting here that I think that the iPad will be a big success, but not as big a success as it will be in two years' time)

Even more worrying is that that platform is controlled by one person. However successful Apple have been recently, their share price dropped dramatically when the rumours of Steve Jobs' illness circulated in autumn 2008
Although that could have been the recession as well. Nevertheless, it is an awful lot of control in the hands of one man with a recent history of health problems.

I think it is hard to square this one. Philosophically I believe in the power of open systems to drive innovation and human value. But I'm going to keep buying the closed ones because they work better. And I think that the number of people who think like that is only going to increase. I guess that this means that I'd better listen to those YouTube sales reps at work, as Google is only going to stay open and innovative for as long as the Google Revenue Equation holds true, and that equation is driven by the returns from paid search and video.

Open Vs 'Just Works' - convergence part 1

So I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I'm researching some new entertainment hardware. At some point this might lead to actually buying some, but in the meantime it is a bit of light entertainment for geeks. But since I've written a lot here over the last year about how technology can (or at some point over the next few years, will) disrupt how we consume entertaining content, it is also relevant to post. Not least because it cuts to the heart of the open vs closed internet/technology systems battle.As there's a fair chance that no-one will be remotely interested in what my living room looks like, I'm going to post this in two parts. The first one is all about me, so you will probably want to skip on to the second one, which is more about the internet....

Ok, so the 'converged hardware' stuff first. There's a joke about a suburban couple who are going to see their friends in the countryside, and somewhere down the winding country roads get horribly lost (geek caveat - obviously a pre satnav joke). Eventually they see a farmer walking up to the side of the road, and pull up to ask him how to get to their friend's house. He looks at them, looks across the field, and has a think. Eventually he says "Well I'm not too sure. But I know I wouldn't start from here"

I've been thinking about that a lot when looking at hardware, as like anyone else who has a computer, a mobile and a TV, I am starting from here. And here is different for everyone. I have a Sky+ box with lots of movies and sports on it, and I have a MacBook that syncs to my mobile, camera and video camera. I also have a remote hard drive that stores all the music, photos etc so they don't take up extra storage on my wife's computer. All the Sky subscriptions work on any computer or our mobiles. I pull YouTube, iPlayer, 4OD, etc into a Boxee interface on my computer, more because I can than because it is particularly easier. I could use my phone as a remote control, but that also seems a little bit pointless if it is only controlling a laptop.

What I'd like to be able to do is:

1. put all this stuff onto a TV screen (ok the Sky stuff is already there, but....)
2. I can only record Sky movies onto the Sky+ box

I could rip movies in real time on my laptop from SkyPlayer, but what's the point when I could buy it on DVD, cos it's easier.

So some of this is possible. XBox is leading the way in putting TV content back on the TV screen (some 9% of iPlayer streams were delivered through XBox OS in December 09). Boxee (based on Xbox Media Center software) would just need a couple of connecters to plug my laptop into the TV, or alternatively I could wait until the Boxee set top box that D-Link are producing is released in the UK, at come point in the next few months. Or until the end of the year when Project Canvas set top boxes apparently deliver on their promise of being Freeview for internet TV. Or I could track down a second hand Mac Mini, which does a computer's job while looking like a set top box. However, as I'm starting from where I am at the moment, I wouldn't dream of using Apple TV, which is based on the iTunes premise of micropayment for content. I've bought into the 'all you can eat' Sky+ version.

And none of this will help me to link up with, and record movies to view later though, Sky. Sky+ was revolutionary because it just works - anyone can use it (rather than any other hardware or software DVRs that I have seen, which take a spare few hours and a degree in hardware geekery - so ok for me, but no fun for the rest of the family). In order to just work, it is a closed proprietary system that doesn't play nice with pretty much anything else. That doesn't mean that the content that goes into it is closed: you can fit satellite cards into computers. So that leads me onto the question of whether it is worth buying a new computer to run a software DVR alongside the Sky+. Now I've already mentioned a Mac Mini, and if it was that simple then I'd go and get one, but unfortunately Apple is also a pretty closed system for which Sky satellite cards are not available. So I'd be looking at a Windows 7 machine.

This could well be a blessing, as Windows 7 Media Center is rumoured to be extremely good at syncing with multiple TV cards (which I'd need, so that I could stream Sky content and record to disc whilst watching other stuff). That starts to look quite expensive though, when you add in all the add-ons that a Windows machine would need to sync, store, network and deliver content. Because if i was going all out and buying a new pc, then it would need to be able to do music over the network as well......

So there doesn't seem to be an easy way forward. There are just a lot of different ways, all of which will work to a degree, with a lot of effort, and probably less than seamlessly. And you can probably tell by my current reliance on Apple and Sky products, lack of effort and seamless are all important. That's the beauty of closed systems - someone else does the difficult bit for you so that everything just works. The flip side is that customising, improving, making things work together becomes more difficult if they aren't designed as part of the same ecosystem.