A day of playing around with multi-touch and RoomWare

Last Sat­ur­day I attend­ed a RoomWare work­shop. The peo­ple of Can­Touch were there too, and brought one of their pro­to­type mul­ti-touch tables. The aim for the day was to come up with appli­ca­tions of RoomWare (open source soft­ware that can sense pres­ence of peo­ple in spaces) and mul­ti-touch. I attend­ed pri­mar­i­ly because it was a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to spend a day mess­ing around with a table.

Atten­dance was mul­ti­fac­eted, so while pro­gram­mers were putting togeth­er a proof-of-con­cept, design­ers (such as Alexan­der Zeh, James Burke and I) came up with con­cepts for new inter­ac­tions. The proof-of-con­cept was up and run­ning at the end of then day: The table could sense who was in the room and dis­play his or her Flickr pho­tos, which you could then move around, scale, rotate, etc. in the typ­i­cal mul­ti-touch fash­ion.

The con­cepts design­ers came up with main­ly focused on pulling in Last.fm data (again using RoomWare’s sens­ing capa­bil­i­ties) and dis­play­ing it for group-based explo­ration. Here’s a sto­ry­board I quick­ly whipped up of one such appli­ca­tion:

RoomWare + CanTouch + Last.fm

The sto­ry­board shows how you can add your­self from a list of peo­ple present in the room. Your top artists flock around you. When more peo­ple are added, lines are drawn between you. The thick­ness of the line rep­re­sents how sim­i­lar your tastes are, accord­ing to Last.fm’s taste-o-meter. Also, shared top artists flock in such a way as to be clos­est to all relat­ed peo­ple. Final­ly, artists can be act­ed on to lis­ten to music.

When I was sketch­ing this, it became appar­ent that ori­en­ta­tion of ele­ments should fol­low very dif­fer­ent rules from reg­u­lar screens. I chose to sketch things so that they all point out­wards, with the mid­dle of the table as the ori­en­ta­tion point.

By spend­ing a day immersed in mul­ti-touch stuff, some inter­est­ing design chal­lenges became appar­ent:

  • With table­top sur­faces, stuff is clos­er or fur­ther away phys­i­cal­ly. Prox­im­i­ty of ele­ments can be unin­ten­tion­al­ly inter­pret­ed as say­ing some­thing about aspects such as impor­tance, rel­e­vance, etc. Design­ers need to be even more aware of place­ment than before, plus con­ven­tions from ver­ti­cal­ly ori­ent­ed screens no longer apply. Top-of-screen becomes fur­thest away and there­fore least promi­nent in stead of most impor­tant.
  • With group-based inter­ac­tions, it becomes tricky to deter­mine who to address and where to address him or her. Some­times the sys­tem should address the group as a whole. When 5 peo­ple are stand­ing around a table, text-based inter­faces become prob­lem­at­ic since what is leg­i­ble from one end of the table is unin­tel­li­gi­ble from the oth­er. New con­ven­tions need to be devel­oped for this as well. Alexan­der and I phi­los­o­phized about plac­ing text along cir­cles and ani­mat­ing them so that they cir­cu­late around the table, for instance.
  • Besides these, many oth­er inter­face chal­lenges present them­selves. One cru­cial piece of infor­ma­tion for solv­ing many of these is know­ing where peo­ple are locat­ed around the table. This issue can be approached from dif­fer­ent angles. By incor­po­rat­ing sen­sors in the table, detec­tion may be auto­mat­ed and inter­faces could me made to adapt auto­mat­i­cal­ly. This is the tech­no-cen­tric angle. I am not con­vinced this is the way to go, because it dimin­ish­es people’s con­trol over the expe­ri­ence. I would pre­fer to make the inter­face itself adjustable in nat­ur­al ways, so that peo­ple can mold the rep­re­sen­ta­tion to suit their con­text. With sit­u­at­ed tech­nolo­gies like this, auto-mag­i­cal adap­ta­tion is an “AI-hard” prob­lem, and the price of fail­ure is a severe­ly degrad­ed user expe­ri­ence from which peo­ple can­not recov­er because the sys­tem won’t let them.

All in all the work­shop was a won­der­ful day of tin­ker­ing with like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als from rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent back­grounds. As a design­er, I think this is one of the best way be involved with open source projects. On a day like this, tech­nol­o­gists can be exposed to new inter­ac­tion con­cepts while they are hack­ing away. At the same time design­ers get that rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to play around with tech­nol­o­gy as it is shaped. Quick-and-dirty sketch­es like the ones Alexan­der and I came up with are def­i­nite­ly the way to com­mu­ni­cate ideas. The goal is to sug­gest, not to describe, after all. Tech­nol­o­gists should feel free to elab­o­rate and build on what design­ers come up with and vice-ver­sa. I am curi­ous to see which parts of what we came up with will find their way into future RoomWare projects.

Moo’s cool

Moo cards package Sil­ly title, I know. Sor­ry Chris.

I received my free set of 10 Flickr call­ing cards. They’re great, I’ll order more soon and give the nice peo­ple at Moo some of my mon­ey.

Wouldn’t it be great to have a ‘send to Moo cue queue’ but­ton some­where in Flickr? So any­time I see a pho­to I want a print of, I can just fire it off and for­get about it until I’m ready to order a batch.

Here’s some (mediocre) shots of the out of box expe­ri­ence.

K-141 АПЛ Курск

Some­times you learn some­thing strange while tag­ging vaca­tion shots. At least that was the case with this pho­to I took in Venice:

K-141 АПЛ Курск

Look­ing for some prop­er tags I Googled “K-141” and found a Wikipedia arti­cle on the Russ­ian sub­ma­rine Kursk. I pulled out the prop­er Russ­ian text to use as tags but was puz­zled about the rea­son behind the sten­cil.

I decid­ed to let my direct col­leagues in on the mys­tery and mailed it around at the office. Soon after, Peter point­ed out that the same sten­cil art was blogged at zom­bizi zero-six and Woost­er Col­lec­tive.

Quite enter­tain­ing, but it gets even weird­er. He point­ed out this link, which appar­ent­ly proves the sten­cil spree was part of Russia’s pres­ence at the 51st Venice Bien­nale…

Bart right­ly point­ed out that it’s strange they didn’t get caught doing it. I mean: wouldn’t it be easy for the police to hold the Rus­sians at the Bien­nale respon­si­ble for this bla­tant act of “van­dal­ism”?

Any­way. You learn some­thing new every day, don’t you?

Geotagging on Flickr: flaky

Geotagging on Flickr

Flickr launched its geo­t­ag­ging feau­ture a few days ago. Today I came across a few rav­ing posts on Tech­n­Crunch, so I decid­ed to give it a go.

I’ve been geo­t­ag­ging my pho­tos using Plazes for a while now (has it been more than a year already? This pho­to seems to prove as much.) I enjoyed doing that but it was always a bit involved. Also, geo­t­ag­ging becomes real­ly use­ful and fun once lots of peo­ple start doing it. That wasn’t real­ly hap­pen­ing yet so I’m excit­ed about Flickr inte­grat­ing it.

My first impres­sion of their map-dri­ven inter­face was pos­i­tive. It’s tucked away in the orga­nize sec­tion though; I won­der whether they’ll include some bits in the indi­vid­ual pho­to pages soon. For instance: a lit­tle map show­ing the loca­tion where the shot was tak­en and an easy way to add geo­t­ags (maybe even allow oth­ers to do it for me?) I’d like this most­ly because now the map isn’t real­ly social (in the sense that it shows an aggre­ga­tion of geo­t­agged shots, just my own.) Update: I found the social fla­vored map here; a bit under­whelm­ing, but fun.

How­ev­er: although Flickr proud­ly sports “gam­ma” at the top of its logo, the tech­nol­o­gy still lags behind. It’s beta qual­i­ty at best. New­ly tagged pho­tos don’t appear on the map after a reload; per­haps Flickr doesn’t like me chang­ing the tags out­side of the map inter­face? Update: edit­ting geo­pri­va­cy set­tings on batch­es gives back strange results too, these pho­tos should show up on the map some­where near Baarn, but they don’t. Weird…

Also, I think not being able to “snap” a batch of pho­tos to a city I found through the search inter­face is a usabil­i­ty issue. Adding pho­tos to loca­tions I haven’t iden­ti­fied in Plazes (and thus don’t show up as hotspots on the map yet) becomes arbi­trar­i­ly. Call me a meta­da­ta nut, but I real­ly want to add my pho­tos of Jurjen’s pret­ty street Zwarte­hand­spoort in Lei­den to the exact street, not drop them some­where in the vicin­i­ty of the city Lei­den.

Con­clu­sion: a promis­ing addi­tion to every­ones favourite social pho­to shar­ing site, poised to make geo­t­ag­ging ready for the big time, but not exact­ly there yet due to some tech­ni­cal and design issues.

Anoth­er update: after rum­mag­ing through the help forums, I learnt that indeed, Flickr doesn’t automag­i­cal­ly pick up on new­ly geo­t­agged pho­tos from oth­er ser­vices (such as Plazes.) You need to re-import them (as described in this post). This sucks big time, Flickr seems to think that only pho­tos that have been tagged inside the sys­tem mat­ter. Think again! (Of course all this is prob­a­bly sim­ply due to tech­ni­cal lim­i­ta­tions, which is no excuse, but still…)

Dutch Skies

There’s plen­ty of pho­tos of the sky on Flickr, but lets be hon­est — skies and clouds are just so pret­ty, and the Dutch skies are the pret­ti­est of all.

Tom thought the same, so he’s start­ed a group called ‘Hol­landse Lucht­en’ — Dutch Skies.

Here’s my first con­tri­bu­tion.

Tech­no­rati: ,

Updat­ed to cor­rect some typos.

One Sky

One Sky Orig­i­nal­ly uploaded by Kaeru.

Anoth­er cool project on Flickr: One Sky asked Flickr users to take a shot of their sky on the 1st of octo­ber and upload it to the group pool. It seems they’re plan­ning on mak­ing a huge col­lage of all the pho­tos. can’t wait to see the result!