Week 144

In between the work I’ve been doing at Layar (which I can’t real­ly tell you much about still, sad­ly) it’s been a rel­a­tive­ly qui­et week.

On mon­day I got my pho­to tak­en for this book on cre­ative SMEs in Utrecht that I men­tioned in the pre­vi­ous wee­knotes. I had a chat with Lodewijk of Stekker Fest about the next phase of Tako and then head­ed off to Ams­ter­dam for Mobile Mon­day #15. As is often the case with MoMo, I end­ed up half pro­voked — I find the views of Sin­gu­lar­i­ty peo­ple a lit­tle prob­lem­at­ic — and half inspired — Boor­ei­land and Tinker.it! had some fine design work to share. The best part was the pleas­ant din­ner I had after­wards with Alexan­dra, Iskan­der and Peter.

On tues­day, after a day of hard graft at Layar I had a chat with Jeroen about Tako too. We’ve more or less fig­ured out the orga­ni­za­tion­al scheme we’ll need to push things for­ward so now it’s a mat­ter of find­ing a few more peo­ple to help run it. We have a list.

Wednes­day morn­ing was spent at the HKU; chat­ting with sev­er­al of my stu­dents about their progress. Com­pared to the ones I had last year, these guys are more hands-on and have all start­ed build­ing stuff already. That makes men­tor­ing much eas­i­er. In the after­noon I spent some time at Waag Soci­ety talk­ing to Ronald and Mar­ti­jn about a 7scenes work­shop we’ll be run­ning on april 14. If you’re read­ing this, it might be of inter­est to you. Have a look.

Yes­ter­day (thurs­day) and today are all about Layar again so not much to report there. Next week’s notes will dis­cuss just four work­ing days since it’s East­er here. I’m look­ing for­ward to a longish week­end catch­ing up with friends and fam­i­ly. See you on the oth­er side.

Design-related endnotes for MoMo AMS #7

Yes­ter­day I attend­ed my first Mobile Mon­day in Ams­ter­dam. The theme was “val­ue” and in my mind, I had already equat­ed the term with “user expe­ri­ence”. This was a mis­take. Con­trary to my expec­ta­tions, the event was well out­side of my com­fort zone. Dis­cus­sions were dom­i­nat­ed by busi­ness and tech­nol­o­gy per­spec­tives. I found the expe­ri­ence frus­trat­ing at times, but I guess this is good. Frus­tra­tion often leads to new insights. There­fore, although this may not sound as a rec­om­men­da­tion, I would say MoMo is an event worth vis­it­ing for any design­er inter­est­ed in mobil­i­ty. It will remind you that in this indus­try, many ideas you take for grant­ed are far from accept­ed.

I thought I’d share some thoughts con­cern­ing the salient points of the evening.

Context

Con­text was often equat­ed with loca­tion. To me, these two are far from the same. Loca­tion is, at best, a com­po­nent of con­text, which also involves what peo­ple are doing, who else is there, what objects are present, etc. But, more impor­tant­ly: Con­text aris­es from inter­ac­tions, it is rela­tion­al and there­fore can­not be objec­ti­fied. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, Adam Green­field has post­ed some valu­able insights on this top­ic.

As an exam­ple, con­sid­er a per­son present in the White House, in the pos­ses­sion of a firearm, in clear sight of the pres­i­dent. The mean­ing of this sit­u­a­tion (i.e. the con­text) depends com­plete­ly on who this per­son is and what his moti­va­tions are. He might be work­ing (body­guard­ing the pres­i­dent), he might be at war (mak­ing an attempt at the president’s life) or he might be play­ing around (the gun isn’t real, he’s the president’s son).

Any­way — I sub­scribe to the view that we should not attempt to guess con­text, the above exam­ple has hope­ful­ly shown that this is an impos­si­ble task. (At least, as long as we can­not reli­ably read the minds of peo­ple.) In stead, we should ‘lim­it’ our­selves to giv­ing places, things, etc. a voice in the con­ver­sa­tion (mak­ing them self-describ­ing, and account­able) and hav­ing con­text arise those voic­es, as deter­mined by the peo­ple involved.

Open source

Ajit Jaokar posit­ed that open source mobile soft­ware (such as Android) will lead to new device man­u­fac­tur­ers enter­ing the are­na. The anal­o­gy was made to the PC indus­try with the emer­gence of white-label box­es. I won­der though, for this to tru­ly hap­pen, shouldn’t the hard­ware be open-sourced too, not (just) the soft­ware?

In any case, I think hav­ing more hand­set man­u­fac­tur­ers is won­der­ful. Not in the least for the fact that it will open the door for a more diverse offer­ing, one poten­tial­ly tai­lored to regions so far under-served by device man­u­fac­tur­ers. Which brings me to my next point.

Local, global, diversity, relevance…

Sev­er­al speak­ers allud­ed to the fact that mobile is a glob­al mar­ket, and that busi­ness­es shouldn’t be shy about launch­ing world-wide. I see sev­er­al issues with this. First of all, with­out want­i­ng to sound too anti-glob­al­is­tic, do we real­ly want to con­tin­ue on mak­ing stuff that is the same no mat­ter where you go? I find diver­si­ty a vital stim­u­lus in my life and would hate to see soft­ware expe­ri­ences become more and more the same the world over.

Let’s in stead con­sid­er the fol­low­ing: A ser­vice that might make per­fect sense in one locale very like­ly does not offer any dis­tinc­tive val­ue in anoth­er. I think the exam­ple of the now defunct Skoeps1, which was dis­cussed at the event, illus­trates this per­fect­ly. It did not work in the Dutch mar­ket, but offers real val­ue in ‘devel­op­ing’ coun­tries, where the amount of video crews on the ground is lim­it­ed and images cap­tured by locals using mobile phones are there­fore a wel­come addi­tion to the ‘offi­cial’ cov­er­age.

Context redux

Which brings me back to the ques­tion of con­text, but in this case, the role it plays not as a com­po­nent of a ser­vice, but in the design and devel­op­ment process itself. I was sad to see the most impor­tant point of Rachel Hin­man’s video mes­sage go unno­ticed (at least, judg­ing from the fact that it was not dis­cussed at all). She said that start­ing point for any new ser­vice should be to go out “into the wild” and observe what peo­ple are doing, what they want, what they need, what they enjoy and so on.2 From this real and deep under­stand­ing of people’s con­texts, you can start mak­ing mean­ing­ful choic­es that will help you cre­ate some­thing that offers true val­ue.

It was this notion of start­ing from people’s con­text that I found most lack­ing at MoMo AMS. Besides Hin­man, I was sur­prised to find only Yme Bosma of Hyves3 allud­ing to it. Who’d have thought?

  1. Skoeps — pro­nounced “scoops” — was a social video site focused on cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism. It went out of busi­ness because not enough “users” were “gen­er­at­ing con­tent”. Ugh. []
  2. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, Hin­man works at Adap­tive Path. Athough I very much agree with her presentation’s premise, I felt her exam­ple was a bit disin­gen­u­ous. I find it hard to believe Apple designed iTunes to fit the mix­tape usage sce­nario. This, I think, is more of a hap­py coin­ci­dence than any­thing else. []
  3. Hyves is the biggest social net­work­ing site of the Nether­lands. []