Near Future Laboratory Seldom Dispatch

Enough curious things and publications and prototypes and robot news and VLOGS are currently happening in our different bureaux that we need to issue a  dispatch with a note from each of us.

From Julian

OMATA

Together with Rhys Newman — a friend and colleague from back at Nokia — we started a company 14 months ago called OMATA to build a beautiful analog GPS bike computer. We launch our product in a few weeks on Kickstarter. It’s something Rhys and I had been talking about for a good long time and the wind-down of the Advanced Design studio at Nokia gave us the impetus we needed to start a company and build a product.

A bike speedometer? Why this, you might ask? What ever happened to weird future algorithms, catalogs and robots? What about workshops and consulting to future-starved clients?

Making “things” has always been a passion as followers of the Laboratory will understand. Making “things from the future” is a driving motivation for all of us here at the Laboratory. OMATA is an opportunity to do that on the terms that Rhys and I set, without the slow, arduous, punishing, soul-crushing briar patch of decision making protocols found in large, old-fashioned consumer electronics companies.

Aside from my passion for cycling, this product is, in many ways, a deviant object from a future where people have given up on the assumption that everything needs to be fully digital, have a touchscreen, be a nebulously defined “thing” of the Internet, and be a receptacle for distracting alerts/updates/notifications/etc. This is a focused object, designed to show what matters most while riding a bike: how fast, how far, how high and how long. It’s incredibly modern on the inside — very sophisticated GPS, ARM processor, BTLE, beautiful mechanics and world-class industrial design. It just ends up looking more beautiful on the outside then your typical connected digital thing.

You can follow along on Instagram and sign-up on the mail list on OMATA.

From Herr. Foster

I turned 40. I started a Vlog. Why?

  1. Turning 40 made me evaluate a lot of things, but primarily that life moves fast. Whilst I consider myself generally well-motivated to stay creative and busy, I feel that sometimes I slip into the Netflix and pub comfort zone. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I have a feeling that I want to do more of the things which forge stronger memories.
  2. I want to understand social media a bit more than I do. By creating a YouTube channel I have already learned a great deal about what’s good and bad about the platform, how it all goes together and how it feels to use it.
  3. I procrastinate a lot. By forcing myself to make a film every week, I’m going to have to get quicker at production. This will force me to learn on the hoof and improvise, which will hopefully make me a better film-maker.
  4. It’s a good experiment in storytelling. Much of the work I do, particularly the work at the Near Future Lab involves telling stories. I’ll only get better at that with practice.

So what’s it about? Primarily I’m scoring my weeks. A 10 would be ‘best week ever’, based on an entirely non-scientific algorithm, but not limited to: new things, new places, new people and the creation of interesting things.

So here goes. As the mantra of the Vlogger goes: PLEASE SUBSCRIBE

Fabien Says

Humans app

Most connected humans suffer from poor ‘data hygiene’. I wrote a piece on Medium on the reasons why we developed Humans an app that offers a way to rationally manage too many social media contacts and slows down the consumption of status updates, tweets, selfies, and photos of all kinds. This work invites designers and data scientists to adapt their social interfaces and algorithms to human pace rather than uniquely focus on the real-time, the ‘now’, and the accumulation of ‘likes’ and ‘contacts’.

Dr. Prof. Nicolas Nova

Smart Frictions

I recently wrote a book (with Joël Vacheron) about/bot algorithmic cultures. Régine Debatty at We Make Money Not Art blogged about it last week. Besides that, I recently gave a talk on the topic of “Smart Fictions” with Simone Rebaudengo (Automato Farm) at IxDA Interaction 2016 in Helsinki about frictions with smart technologies. I’m also starting work on a new project regarding mobile phone repair cultures.

Social Media at Human Pace

Most connected humans suffer from poor ‘data hygiene’. For instance, we are plainly grotesquely overfed on social media with its ‘anytime’ ‘anywhere’ experience and there is no rational end in sight. In this article, I introduce the reasons why I developed Humans, an app that offers a way to rationally manage too many social media contacts and slows down the consumption of status updates, tweets, selfies, and photos of all kinds.

A fictional Humans ad suggesting a better practice of ‘data hygiene’
A fictional Humans ad suggesting a better practice of ‘data hygiene’

We live in a society that captures the moment, refashions it to ‘share’ across a network of social media endpoints containing algorithms and human, perpetually. Social media, its algorithms and its humans are highly optimized to never stop the cycle. Consequently, we experiencing an unprecedented increase in the rate of this ‘anytime’ ‘anywhere’ consumption cycle. As of 2014, according to the Nielsen US Digital Consumer Report almost half (47%) of smartphone owners visited social networks every day. On top of that, it is not uncommon for a Facebook user to have 1,500 posts waiting in the queue when logging in. Yet, the perpetual consumption yields to very little and there is no rational end in sight. We are quite plainly grotesquely overfed on social media.

Social media needs its consumption cycle. It depends on ‘views’, ‘eyeballs’, ‘reshares’, ‘likes’, ‘comments’ — the euphemism used by the media mavens is the optimistic word ‘engagement’. We are bloated on ‘engagement’ to the point where we sleep with our nodes, wear them on our wrists, clip them to our dashboards, autistically shove them in pockets only to immediately remove them only to shove them back in our pockets only to immediately remove them in order to slake our thirst for more content. This ‘too much, too fast’ consumption cycles has reduced an ability to pay sustained attention, have a meaningful conversation, reflect deeply — even be without our connected devices.

Humans create technologies, adapt their behaviors to them and vice-versa

The fact is that each major revolution in information technology produced descriptions of humans drowning in information unable to face tsunamis of texts, sounds, images or videos. For instance, in the 15th century Gutenberg’s printing press generated millions of copies of books. Suddenly, there were far more books than any single person could master, and no end in sight or as Barnaby Rich wrote in 1613:

“One of the diseases of this age is the multiplicity of books; they doth so overcharge the world that it is not able to digest the abundance of idle matter that is every day hatched and brought forth into the world”

Besides a Luddite position of some that rejected technological change, the invention of printing began to generate innovative new practices and methods for dealing with the accumulation of information. These included early plans for public libraries, the first universal bibliographies that tried to list all books ever written, the first advice books on how to take notes, and encyclopedic compilations larger and more broadly diffused than ever before. Detailed outlines and alphabetical indexes let readers consult books without reading them through, and the makers of large books experimented with slips of paper for cutting and pasting information from manuscripts and printed matter — a technique that, centuries later, would become essential to modern word processing.

Historically, humans have adapted to the increasing pace of information exchange with the appropriation of new practices and means to filter, categorize and prioritize information feeds.

Similarly, a couple of centuries later, the increasing presence of the telegraph multiplied the levels of stress among merchants used to more local, slower and less competitive transactions. They eventually adapted to the new pace of information exchange with new practices and means to filter, categorize and prioritize information feeds.

From social media ‘diets’ to ‘data hygiene’

What today’s most connected people share with their ancestors is the sense of excess and related discomfort, and stress linked to information load. In many ways, our behaviors for coping with overload have not changed. Besides the promises of AI and machine learning that trade control for convenience, we still need to filter, categorize and prioritize, and ultimately need human judgment and attention to guide the process.

These behaviors perspires in popular media and the many articles that share tips to follow successful social media diets, detox, or cleansing programs. The authors typically advise their readers to move away from being constantly ‘on top of things’ and to give up on concerns of missing out or being out of the loop. The diets are about replacing one behavior with another more frugal by pruning the many social networks (‘quit’, ‘uninstall’, ‘unplug’, ‘remove profile’) and contacts (‘mute’, ‘unfollow’). Yet they target a temporal improvement and fail to promote a more profound sustainable behavior with positive reinforcement.

Besides the promises of AI and machine learning that trade control for convenience, we still need to filter, categorize and prioritize, and ultimately need human judgment and attention to guide the process.

Social media platforms have also slightly updated the interfaces to support these behaviors. For instance Facebook recently started to allow users to specify the certain friends and pages that should appear at the top of the feed and Twitter introduced a ‘while you were away’ feature to its home timeline. Yet, social media feeds still feel like an endlessly accumulating pile of messy dirty laundry.

There is an opportunity to reconsider how we use social media and how we build it. Social media that gives human control to prioritize certain feeds over others, but without normalizing content into something less messy, and less complicated than a human. In fact, adapting to social media overload is not about being ‘on a diet’ than having a good ‘data hygiene’ with a set of rituals and tools. This is what I explored along with my colleagues at Near Future Laboratory with the design and development of Humans.

A fictional Humans ad suggesting a proper ‘data hygiene’.
A fictional Humans ad suggesting a proper ‘data hygiene’.

Introducing Humans

Humans is an app that offers a way to rationally manage too many contacts and slows down the consumption of status updates, tweets, selfies, photos of all kinds. Its design inspires from observations on how humans adapt to the feelings of information overload with its related anxieties, obsessions, stress and other mental burdens. Humans is the toothbrush for social media you pick up twice a day to help prevent these discomforts. It promotes ‘data hygiene’ that helps adjust to current pace of social exchanges.

First, Humans gives means to filter, categorize and prioritize feeds spread across multiple services, like Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr. The result forms a curated mosaic of a few contacts, friends, or connections arranged in their context.

Humans gives means to filter, categorize and prioritize feeds spread across multiple services, like Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr.
Humans gives means to filter, categorize and prioritize feeds spread across multiple services, like Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr.

Additionally Humans strips social network interfaces and algorithms from their ‘toxic’ elements that foment addictions and arouse our desire to accumulate rather than abstract. And that without altering the fascinating dynamics of social networks. One inspiration this ‘data hygiene’ design pattern is the Facebook Demetricator provocative project that removes any number present in the Facebook interface. Its developer Benjamin Grosser advocates for the reduction of our collective obsession with metrics that plays out as an insatiable desire to make every number go higher. Another inspiration is the Little Voices app that removes the ‘noise’ from Twitter feeds and that is ‘ideal for those who like their feeds slightly quieter’.

Taken together, the benefits of using Humans are:

Reduce the compulsion to perpetually check Instagram, Twitter and Flickr

A frequent use of multiple social media services reduces our ability to contextualize and focus. With Humans, you can mitigate that online social service schizophrenia and establish a rational regimen for following without the constant barrage and noise of too many extraneous strangers’ updates. It works with the main social media platforms.

Keep away from the distractions in social media feeds

Get access to content stripped out of the social media distractions. Humans removes visual noise and arrange in their context the many status updates, links, selfies, photos of all kinds.

Mitigate feelings and symptoms of remorse whilst taking short or long offline breaks

If you have been away from your screens or too busy, Humans creates digestible doses of context that will get you up to date.

I designed and developed Humans to exemplify a new mean for ‘data hygiene’ with an interface and algorithms that adapt to human pace and do not uniquely focus on the real-time, the ‘now’, and the accumulation of ‘likes’ and ‘contacts’. Or as our fictional experts in ‘data hygiene’ would suggest:

Humans data hygiene experts

Check lovehumans.co for more information and request the app.

The near future of data hygiene

At Near Future Laboratory, we like to investigate alternative paths for technology. As data and connectivity augment our lives, hygiene might no longer only relate to maintaining a healthy body. Connected humans produce ‘data doppelgängers’ and consume data ‘anywhere’ and ‘anytime’ at an unprecedented rate. Consequently, they start to experience discomforts such as social media overload that Humans helps mitigate.

Like other information technology revolutions, there is a necessity for people to adopt new rituals and tools. In the near future we might see emerge interfaces, experiences, algorithms, design patters that reshape our social practices and for instance:

  • moderate our collective obsession with metrics and the pervasive evaluation and comparison of one self.
  • reclaim space for conversation over the illusion of the connection, its ‘retweets’ and ‘likes’.
  • reduce the social cost to ‘unfollow’.
  • promote solitude as a good thing.
  • regulate our insatiable desire to capture ‘moments’ and accumulate ‘contacts’.
  • help us overcome the ineluctable situations of digital amnesia.
  • empower our skills for abstraction and generalization from the ‘moments’ we capture.
  • help us forget to better remember.
  • invite us to expect less from technology, and more from ourselves and each other.

More on these topics in upcoming projects.

A Few Things The Laboratory Did In 2012

As the year ends, tradition calls for a review of the several initiatives we engaged in during 2012. The exercise entails looking back in time with the support social network activities and more personal logs to keep track of gratifying rencontres and significant milestones at the Near Future Laboratory.

BARCELONA

In Barcelona we spent the year “sketching with data”, an approach to innovate with data we presented in various conferences and institutions from the high-tech cabarets such as Strata in San Francisco; or Red Innova in Madrid to the more cozy settings of the IAAC architecture school in Barcelona. These speaking engagements were part of a polishing phase that reports on the our evolving practice fed by the accumulated experiences in producing services with data. For instance, we discussed our investigation on the roles of a retail bank in the ‘smart’ city of the near future. Our client had fairly good ideas of the potentials of a real-time information platform. This is the kind of service a bank is extremely familiar with. However, they had limited knowledge on the specific information that could feed and emerge from this kind of platform. As part of our consulting work, we regularly sketched advanced dashboard for participants of the project to explore and interrogate their data with fresh perspectives. The use of the prototypes helped the the different stakeholders in the project craft and tune indicators that qualify commercial activities. This experience still feeds the development of the client’s future services and products based on data.

Another gratifying outcome of the work around “sketching with data” was the release in June and November of the alpha and beta versions of Quadirgram (see Unveiling Quadrigram). The product resulted from a collaboration with our friends at Bestiario and responds to the increasing demand of clients to think (e.g. sketch) freely with data. The tool is meant to diffuse the power of information visualization within organizations and eventually reach the hands of people with knowledge and ideas of what data mean. We had the opportunity to influence many aspects of the product development and release process (engineering, user-experience, go to market strategy, client/investor/provider meetings) and now Fabien proudly sits in the advisory board of the company.

7513631392_f4fa8d162f_bOther fruitful collaborations took place along the year, each of them bringing their unique set of experiences. I am particularly grateful to have joined forces with Urbanscale, Claro Partners, Interactive Things, Lift, Data Side and Pop-up Urbain. While a good share of the work stayed within confidential settings, we reserved efforts for self-started initiatives such as:

  • Ville Vivante: an ‘urban demo’ that took the form of a visual animation and eight posters deployed at the Geneva central station (project led by Lift Conference, in collaboration with Interactive Things).
  • Footoscope: a deciphering tool for football amateurs developed in collaboration with Philippe Gargov of Pop-up Urbain. Its interface provides a perspective on the morphology and tactics of a football team according to raw data on its passing game transformed into indicators and visualizations.

Finally, we kept some quiet moments to contribute to academia with reviews for Sensors, CHI, CSCW and Just-In-Time Sociology, teach a postgraduate course on the design of ‘data services’ and published of the paper New tools for studying visitor behaviors in museums: a case study at the Louvre co-authored with Yuji Yoshimura, UPF and MIT on a follow-up investigation of our hyper-congestion study at the Louvre.

GENEVA

At the Swiss bureau, things were geographically a bit more complicated since part of this year has been spent in Los Angeles, CA for a visiting researchers’ stay at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

Overall, 2012 was split between four types of activities:

  1. Design fiction projects that aimed at proposing various near future worlds along with a reflection on technological usage. More specifically, we worked on three projects: Corner Convenience (the near future of corner convenience stores as an exploration of technological trajectories), Curious Rituals (about gesture carried out with digital technologies), To Be Designed (a design workshop that aimed at producing a catalogue of near future objects). What we learned in these projects is basically how futures research can take different shapes, how design can be an original language to rebuild a sense of the future and how certain objects can be brought to the table as “conversation-enablers”.
  2. Client projects: three (big) field studies in the US, Switzerland and France, a series of co-creation workshops, and contributing to the production of three conference proved to be very fruitful and satisfying.
  3. Teaching in different institutions: HEAD-Geneva (where I also obtained a research grant for a project about design and ethnography), ENSCI-Les Ateliers (for a workshop with Raphael Grignani), Les Gobelins Annecy, SUPSI Lugano, University of Montpellier.
  4. Book writing: the game controller book will be released in French in the coming days and Laurent Bolli and myself are working on the English edition.

2012 was also spent on the road with talks and lectures spent here and there, some highlights:

LOS ANGELES

* TBD/DTW
The bulk of the year from a Los Angeles perspective was spent conceiving, organizing and producing the To Be Designed / Detroit event. This was sort of a big deal for us. It counts as the start of a series of workshops that the Laboratory facilitates to both discover the material, designed, fictional props that are conversation starters for thinking about different kinds of futures.

While we are still working on the post-event production of a catalog from the future, the overall structure and concept was a significant goal of the event. What we wanted to do was create an environment where a group could “do” design fiction.

The theme of TBD/DTW was on the role of everyday, quotidian things that surround us. Without being normative about it — just the crap that sits in and amongst the significant infrastructure of life. Batteries, pens, knives, pool floats, outerwear, etc. These are the things that, for TBD/DTW, we focused on. In the near future we’ll cohere the workshop’s results in a catalog of these things. We’re still sorting out the precise production and publication.

DF-WK-tumblr_manyb3K5OT1r3ntzxo12_r1_1280

To go along with this goal of creating a workshop environment to do design fiction, we created a work kit composed of a some more everyday objects — a deck of custom designed playing cards, dice, note cards, a resource book, etc. The kit was meant to prompt the creation of unexpected future things through the combination and objects, attributes and design actions. Much like “Mad Libs”, but for objects. This was a theme generally last year — the creation of tools for the imagination. Resources that help prompt discussions and ideation. In the coming year, we’ll work on refining the work kit and testing it in other contexts.

Informing the workshop was the “Corner Convenience” newspaper and Corner Convenience film that we made for Emerge 2012. Rhys was the prime mover for the concept — to reflect upon the exceptional innovation that lives around us, even in the corner Quick-E-Mart or neighborhood bodega. We take for granted the things that are now 0.99¢ or 3 for $1. But many of those things embody incredible technical, scientific, logistical and manufacturing innovations that would drop the jaws of someone who travled forward from even half a century ago. For the film at Emerge, Nick and I looked forward to imagine what the convenience store of the near future would hold.

There were a couple of workshops and conferences. There was the Gaming the Game event at UC Davis in Davis California. And a fun workshop at the Walker Art Center on design fiction. Actually — that’s where I first tried this strategy of thinking through the ordinary evolution of things like garden hoses and digital cameras.

Also, did a workshop at the Anderson Ranch with Casey Reas on digital photography and Processing. That was fun. A good re-entry into the world of programming, which I’m continuing cause if everything goes to heck, it’s good to still be able to dig ditches.

Speaking of which, we’re continuing to develop the “Humans” app in the evenings. This is a way of getting back into programming but also with something I’d like, which is a way to get more of a Windows 8 style view onto my friends by aggregating their service “updates” and “status” and “photos” in one place, rather than having to go to services (which aren’t Human) first.

The Atlas of Desire

Or: privatesquare, ten months later

It would be generous to say that privatesquare was ever released. Instead, the source code was made public with a long and twisty blog post and a flurry of screenshots. I’ve told a few people about my installation of privatesquare but since I haven’t had the stamina to run a service for strangers (and a free one, at that) it’s remained small and reserved for friends and family. A few people along the way have set up their own instances and that’s been both gratifying and enormously useful in working out some of the kinks.

Maybe there are lots of copies of privatesquare running in the wild. I have no idea and no way of knowing. This is not a bad thing. In the meantime, I’ve continued to chip away at the project adding small features and fixing bugs as they come up.

Recently, we moved from San Francisco to New York City. Maybe foursquare, itself, woulda-coulda-shoulda started in another city but once you start to live the day-to-day ritual in New York it becomes pretty clear why it started here. The Atlas of Desire feature, described below, probably would have languished in a pit of good intentions if we hadn’t moved here but I’ll come back to that in a bit.

When it was first announced, last November, privatesquare came with a long list of tricks it hadn’t learned so it’s probably long overdue for a status update.

New old things

Here’s an unordered list of the things privatesquare said it didn’t do went I pushed it out of the nest:

  • History pages

    North shore / South shore (Jan. 16)

    There are now history pages for venues and dates (and date ranges) as well as for cities. Details on that below.

  • Sync with the foursquare API…

    This is now possible, although it’s not enabled by default.

    Specifically, there is a little script that can be run by hand to import any foursquare check-ins that may have happened outside of privatesquare. This includes the history of check-ins that predate someone starting to use privatesquare. Or not. That’s why the feature needs to be explicitly enabled by each user choosing from one of three options:

    • Do not sync foursquare check-ins – Which is what it says on the tin. What you do elsewhere is entirely your business and privatesquare doesn’t need to know about it.
    • Only sync recent foursquare check-ins – Tell privatesquare to archive missing check-ins but only those that have happened since you signed up (with privatesquare).
    • Sync all foursquare check-ins past and future – This tells privatesquare to archive your entire foursquare history. This is what I’d expect most users to choose but it just always ends better when you let people make that decision for themselves.
  • The nearest linear cell-tower problem…

    Sort of. Not really, though.

    The nearest linear cell-tower problem is caused by the fact that when a person is using privatesquare from their phone they are connected to the Internet through a cellular rather than a wireless network. Since the nearest cell-tower is used as a proxy for your location and since cell-towers have a range that is sometimes greater than the radius used to query nearby venues the list of places that gets returned is sometimes weird and full of bunk.

    One issue is that the W3C geolocation API, used by web browsers to determine your location, doesn’t tell you how your location was acquired. Was it from a wireless network? A cell-tower? A passing drone, overhead? There’s no way to know and by extension no way to adjust expectations.

    The nearest linear cell-tower problem is ultimately a user-interface problem and not one that’s ever been tackled particularly well. In more recent versions of privatesquare there is sometimes a little grey dot (rather than blue) that’s meant to indicate where the code thinks you are and help provide some context for the other dots.

    Another option is to allow you to grow the search radius for each query but I haven’t done that yet. File under: Something, however inadequate, instead of nothing.

  • There is no ability to delete (or undo) check-ins…

    Done.

    deleted checkins

    Except for the part where there’s no way to delete check-ins using foursquare API which is … puzzling, to say the least. So in those instances where you’ve checked in to both privatesquare and foursquare and then delete check-in using privatesquare you’ll be presented with a short (exasperated) note explaining the situation and a link to the foursquare site where you can finish things up.

    I know, right?

  • There is no ability to add new venues….

    Nope. Still not possible. Chances of it happening remain close to zero.

  • Nor is there any way to record events offline…

    Sort of. Kind of. But only one particular facet of the problem is handled well.

    I first started thinking about this at SXSW this year because the combination of both the cellular network and foursquare being simultaneously overloaded with eager users meant that privatesquare was often unusable in downtown Austin.

    deferred checkins / work in progress

    There are two problems that need to be sorted here:

    • The first is some way to store a check-in for future use when foursquare API is sad.
    • The second is some way to store a check-in for future use when the network itself is sad.

    The first problem is now accounted for with pending check-ins, something I’ll discuss more in a bit. The second problem isn’t really accounted for at all and at some point I just need to sit down and look carefully at what the Lanyrd kids did for their mobile site and probably just copy that.

  • There is no way to distinguish duplicate venues (same name, different ID)…

    Nope. Still punting on that.

  • Pages for venues…

    Totally!

    Every venue you’ve checked in to now has its own page on privatesquare. Each venue page has a list of the dates you’ve checked in there (including links to the actual check-in page), a link to other places you’ve checked in to nearby and a handy I am here now button for … well, check-ing in again.

    (art is your friend)

    Designing for thumbs, and all that.

  • Pages for cities…

    Yes!

    All check-ins in privatesquare are reverse-geocoded using the Flickr API which returns a list of Where on Earth (WOE) ID associated with a venue. At the moment only cities are recorded so you can’t filter check-ins by neighbourhood or country. Technically, there’s nothing to prevent it from being possible but cities seemed like a good and easy place to start.

    The places pages are kind of great and they are especially striking when you see them on a screen that is bigger than your phone. And because it uses the Flickr API it means that airports are bucketed as cities which makes even more sense in a foursquare context.

    privatesquare starts to get places pages / airport city

    Neighbourhoods are also a near-certainty given that no one’s geo infrastructure can figure out how to make peace with the meta-neighbourcities, called boroughs, that form the NYC metropolitan area and I actually have to suffer the consequences now that I live here. See also: the Atlas of Desire, below.

  • Export…

    Yes!

    There are handy links at the bottom of most pages to export your check-ins as either a CSV or a GeoJSON file.

    Exports are available for the following buckets: check-ins by date or date range; check-ins for a venue; check-ins for a place. Exports should be available but aren’t yet for for: check-ins by nearby-iness; check-ins by desire (more below).

    It has also been the case that if you’re running privatesquare in a controlled environment (like a shared web-hosting service) that enforces its own usage limits exporting check-ins for a user with billions und billions und billions of check-ins can be problematic. I don’t have a ready-made solution for this problem, yet.

New new things

At the same time all of that was being done, there were a bunch of smaller things happening. In no particular order they are:

  • Documentation!

    Gary Gale has done an amazing job of peeling away, with fresh eyes, the stack behind privatesquare and Flamework and keeping detailed notes about what everything means and how to get privatesquare up and running with a minimum of fuss in a variety of environments.

    Gary is also one of those people who checks in every time he exhales so he’s been excellent at finding the crumbly edge of things in privatesquare.

  • Weather tracking

    privatesquare records the weather!

    privatesquare tries to record the weather (based a venue’s latitude and longitude) whenever you check in. Not much is done with that data except to show in the list of check-ins for a venue. The data is stored alongside the check-in so there’s always to opportunity to do something clever and interesting with in the future and in the meantime it makes for a nice soundtrack when scrolling backwards through the history of a place.

  • Time of day tracking

    Sort of.

    Vladimir Agafonkin wrote a lovely little Javascript library to calculate the time pie for a given timestamp and Tom Carden was good enough to create a handy HTTP pony wrapper for it on Heroku that can be poked when a user checks in.

    All your check-ins that happened during the golden hour and that sort of thing.

    Unfortunately, with all the other network requests going out to third parties (foursquare, weather services and so on) the API call to get a time pie is often the one that fails or is killed because it happens so late in the chain of events. For the time being it is not a feature that is enabled by default. There’s a branch of privatesquare with the start of a pure PHP port of the code but it is both incomplete and full of bugs.

    If you’re not familiar with the idea of time pies, you should definitely read this blog post about them from the Stamen kids.

  • Deferred check-ins

    Occasionally the foursquare API is sad. Sometimes it happens when you’re trying to use privatesquare. In the past you were sorry-out-of-luck but now when that first API call to fetch nearby venues fails privatesquare will give you the option of writing down the name of the venue you were trying to check in to and stick it, along with a timestamp, in your browser’s local (storage) cache.

    Once that happens a link titled pending will magically appears in the navigation menu and from there you can go back in time (sort of) and finish check-ing in.

    Essentially all that’s happening is the usual check-in process being replayed but with a canned search term and a note to privatesquare to use a an equally canned check-in time instead of of right now.

    copy is interface, right?

    For a bunch of perfectly good reasons you can’t do the same in foursquare so any pending, or deferred, check-ins are not forwarded along to the mothership. I may change that in the future and handle the spacetime disconnect by simply adding a note to the foursquare check-in. We’ll see.

    This is basically what should happen when the network itself is down or unavailable. Cities like New York are strange beasts that way. It’s hard to keep the scale of the infrastructure, and the burden of its history, in mind some days. Aside from the fact there are whole pockets of the city with terrible network (read: cellular) connectivity there are others that completely silent, to this day.

    Subways are an obvious place to want to check-in and privatesquare shouldn’t let itself be defeated by the dark spaces underground so teaching the code to play nicely as an offline application is rapidly bubbling up the totem pole.

    I’m told that if you have one of the fancy auto-refilling monthly New York City subway passes it’s possible to retrieve a history of all the stations where it’s been swiped so that bodes well for some sexy Clipper Futures style integration with privatesquare in the not too distant future.

  • The Atlas of Desire

    Untitled

    Let’s be honest. On its current trajectory privatesquare will, sooner or later, become Dopplr. I don’t know what that says about foursquare and since the thing I built is, by design, not social I couldn’t exactly call the Chris Heathcote buckets described in the first blog post a Social Atlas. So, I called it what it is: an Atlas of Desire. Or, in concrete terms:

    • Web pages and list view for all the places you’ve checked-in to rolled up by the status you assigned: I am here; I want to go there; again again; and so on.
    • The ability to change a status after you’ve checked-in. For example, you could check-in to a restaurant when you sit down to eat and then change to again maybe when you leave.

    I’ve also added a new status simply called meh which, to my mind, is somewhere between again maybe and again never but ultimately the semantics are left up to individual users.

    If you asked me I’d tell you it’s for those places that you would visit for purely mechanical reasons: No matter how lackluster the food is it remains less bad than the bad craziness and temper tantrums caused when you melt down out of hunger.

    privatesquare got a new VERB

    Shelley Bernstein, from the Brooklyn Museum, deserves a proper shout-out for the Idea of Meh which was part of her work making public the museum’s collection metadata.

    In addition to filtering your check-ins by status, you can further prune those places by nearby-iness or by city. It’s become pretty obvious that you should also be able to scope your desire to a neighbourhood. (See above inre: neighbourhoods.) It’s not a hard feature to add but it is a lot of typing so it will happen sometime between this blog post and re-wiring everything to work offline.

Still broken things:

Things that should never have been broken in the first place and that maybe I should fix before I say anything else, but oh well…

  • OMGWTFTZ… timezones

    There are no excuses for this. It’s a thing that conveniently Just Works ® on the West Coast (because that’s the default timezone in the source code) and a thing complicated enough, under the surface, that I’d like to spend a little bit of time thinking about it before I go charging in to fix things.

    Probably the best thing would be to check for the timezone in the foursquare API response when you check-in and store that information locally. Failing timezone information in the API response I might build a simple httpony service on top of the whereonearth-timezeone dataset to do reverse geocoding for timezones.

    Sorry.

Things still TO DO

Untitled

Mike Migurski has requested that privatesquare grow an I’m on my way status flag which is tempting but we’ll have to see about that one. Meanwhile, in no particular order these are some of the outstanding known-knowns:

  • Make the tasteful pale grey permalink button and link for individual check-ins less invisible

    Yes, there are tasteful pale grey permalink buttons and links and for every check-in.

  • Build scripts for “cloud app” hosting

    Gary’s documentation for setting up privatesquare is great and makes the whole process less painful but enough technical hoop-jumping remains to make it all inaccessible to a lot of people. Meanwhile, there are a whole raft of hosted services, like Heroku or PHPFog, that allow you to one-button install web applications which seem like they would be a good fit for things like privatesquare.

    Unfortunately the way the privatesquare is bundled (read: the ways the files and folders are organized) doesn’t lend it to one-button anything with many of these services. privatesquare (and similar tools I’ve been tinkering with at the same time) has never had versioned releases but it might be time be time to start freeze-drying the code at particular moments and creating discrete bundles targeted at specific environments.

    Those releases would always lag a little behind the new and shiny but the up-side is that it would be easier to install, which is probably a trade-off some people would make.

  • Sharing. Maybe? Probably not…

    privatesquare is so-called for a reason. Every now and then I think about changing the default check-in status from don’t tell foursquare to don’t tell anyone which would, once you pulled in a user’s contact list, allow for sharing of things on privatesquare.

    I am still unconvinced about this one as it adds another layer of complexity and it’s not clear why it’s useful (foursquare is pretty good at that side of things) outside of the Atlas of Desire for which plain vanilla exports are probably more important. To whit:

  • Better integration and/or pillaging of the Dotspotting codebase

    A couple months ago I forked the source code for Dotspotting and started to add the ability to edit individual dots. That’s really as far as I got and I’m not entirely sure where it all fits with privatesquare but the shadows of the two projects seem to overlap more often than not.

    Something something something see above something about exports something something something maps something something something.

  • A proper API

    privatesquare already uses its own API but punts entirely on delegated authentication and still uses cookies for authentication and authorization. This is not ideal or, rather, is not a reason to lack an API that third-parties could build on.

    This is just another one of those tasks that requires some time where I sit down and spend the time to finish all the typing necessary to make it happen. Unfortunately, it is a thing made more complicated by the fact that having to read any of the OAuth specs makes me a little crazy in the head. It will happen.

  • Notes

    Maybe. I’m of two minds which is to say I’m not inclined to add notes because I like the simplicity of the site, now, but could be convinced. For a while I had a version of privatesquare that would let you add notes to Findery (née Pinwheel) from venue, or check-in, pages and relied on the magic of machine tags (on their side) to stitch everything back together. I liked that and when there is a public API for the site (in the past I was… well, yeah, anyway…) I will probably slip it back in as an optional feature.

  • Artisanal Integers!

    No, really.

    Privatesquare is at least half the reason that artisanal integers exist at all so it’s only fitting that is should start using them. Dan Catt’s blog post about London Integers is good place to start if you’re sitting there oscillating between confusion and table-pounding muttering the words artisanal… integers…

    Really.

One of the nicest things anyone has said to me about privatesquare since I started building it was: Oh, I’d love to use it but I can’t because I have an Android phone. The nice part is: you can! privatesquare is nothing more than a what-do-you-call-it web application.

The whole native versus web application debate on mobile is interesting, but only insofar as there are still a few tricks that web browsers can’t do or that they are prevented from doing by the operating system itself. Beyond that it all smells too much like the insane and self-serving hair-splitting that people, in the 90s and early 2000s, made about WAP and other uniquely mobile technologies. Read: Small computers, in your pocket.

privatesquare gets a HUD / flying home from Lisbon

privatesquare is meant to play equally well with your desktop as it is your phone. As time permits and I can work through what a print-specific CSS file looks like it should also work on that crazy retrograde technology that refuses to die: paper. The extent to which privatesquare fails, in any of those arenas, is more a reflection of (my) poor design skills than it is proof that somebody’s preferred form factor wins at celebrity death match.

And on and on, it goes!

Weekending 21012012

Fabien and Nicolas went to Madrid for a workshop at BBVA innovation about Smart Cities. Organized by Urbanscale (and more specifically by Jeff Kirsh, Adam Greenfield and Leah Meisterlin), it focused on opportunities to use networked data for the client. It basically followed up on the previous work we have done with this bank last year.

The workshop went well, with a combination of short talks, field observations (qualitative and quantitative) and discussions. This workshop was followed by an open session entitled “Beyond Smart Cities” at BBVA’s Innovation Center, with Adam Greenfield, myself (Nicolas) and Kevin Slavin. My slides are on Slideshare. There’s a write-up of the event at the following URL. As described by Kevin on his tumblog, “As surely as it feels like a movement has a name (“Smart Cities”) it also feels like the critique of said movement is collectively more articulate and persuasive. Now the key is to find language to describe what it should be, to go beyond popping the balloon and figuring out what the party really needs.“.

Here in Los Angeles Julian has been hard at work puzzling over an incredibly simple problem of making a little audio device called an Ear Freshener avoid having a power switch and a volume knob. He thinks the solution was intimated by a generous comment poster who told him to slap a couple of transistors in strategic locations in the circuit. So he tried that. It seems to make sense. Hopefully it won’t destroy everything.

Related to this were discussions about the principles behind/between things that make sound — such as sound should just come out of them, rather than be all fussy with settings, configurations and network connections. And that tied into an ongoing thinking thing about latter day considerations about “simplicity”, “one thing done well” and skinny Williamsburg/Brick Lane 23 year olds with full beards who’ve done nothing to deserve a full beard but rock Holgas and fetishize film/vinyl/casette tapes fixed-gear bikes and the like. Thus, we’ve been working on a short essay on the topic of the Cult of the Analog Cult. Or something like that.

Meanwhile, on the East side of L.A. Jayne (with Kickstarter funding in hand) has been getting back to making new Portals. They’re still in the physical draft/sketch phase of things but making the upgrade from end-table-foam-core to mdf feels quite satisfying. The insides are still very rough and she’s still getting started with hooking up the magic/technology bits, but at least now a pair of Portal boxes exist in the world, ready to be filled with interactive goodies.

Continue reading Weekending 21012012

PDPal in Talk To Me

 

Well, I have a fondness for this old project — PDPal. PDPal is now enshrined on the Talk To Me exhibit’s little online catalog of thing-ies. Without getting assy about it, I think it deserved to be in the physical exhibit with all the installation mechanics we had built for its display in the real world..we could’ve even bought a bunch of Palm m505’s off of EBay and given them out with PDPal on them, those things are so cheap nowadays.

*shrug.

There’s no figuring the mind of the institutional curator. Plus, they over at MoMA have their perennial favorites that they shove into every show.

It’s on the list of @2011 Goals that I keep here to re-do in something like iOS — anything modern. I remember squirreling away in the depths of Metrowerks Code Warrior writing Palm PDA code to get this thing working. Seeking support from some dodgy Russian software company that made a little library I needed to use. Being up until the crack of dawn in an artist’s panic thinking — “This is it..This’ll be the end of me.”

At the end of it all — it was fine. It’s a lovely little bit of futuristic serendipity-y mobile app-y application. I don’t mean to get all, like..”back in my day”-y on you but, like — all the iPhone app kiddies? You have little idea what it was to program a PDA — that awful industry term that some knot head in the business unit came up with to describe these things. It was ugly. Thoroughly barely fun. There were no APIs for anything. You wrote to the metal and built things up from there. Really nasty. I reckon, even with my squeaky iOS skills that I could have an iOS edition of PDPal written in a week..couple of weeks if I work just at night.

Anyway — enough reminiscing. I’m just glad this one still has a little life left in ‘er.

Check out the main PDPal page here for more data points and to download the emulator, if you want. It’ll be wonderfully baffling.

Continue reading PDPal in Talk To Me

Quiet But Not Quiescent

Judge not the less yammer-y state of the studio blog to indicate that there is nothing worth yammering about. It’s just that the clang of steel caressing code has been going on and that in great measure, too. Some of you may have glimpsed and grinned at the fantastic electronified edition of the paper Drift Deck that we developed a couple of years ago. That’s right. We’ve added *batteries to the Drift Deck and it’s fallen into the *app well..it’s an app which is fantastic because it means the last remaining physical card editions can become properly *artisinal and the electronic battery editions can spread the sensibility of the Drift Deck concept to the rest of the world.

Release is imminent. Prepare ye iPhones. Hop expectantly from foot-to-foot. More news in a short while, including linkages to downloadables. In the meantime, check out the new Drift Deck webified “page” and the fantastic roster of hammererers that batteryified the ‘deck.

..And then — onto the next thing here. It’ll be quiet a little, but good things are baking in the kiln, rest assured.

*Willow next. The superlative friendregator for the discerning social being.
Continue reading Quiet But Not Quiescent

Weekending 06102010

Digital & Analog Day In The Studio

Thursday June 10 21:35

Habitar

Well, without making a big thing out of it, I thought I’d just share a few of the installation photos from the Apparatus for Capturing Other Points of View, which is at the HABITAR exhibition at LABoral Art and Industrial Creation Centre. ((It’s always fun to see the preposterous things you get excited about installed in a big-ass exhibition hall.))

Thursday June 10 21:44

Habitar

The exhibition catalogs showed up in the mail and Regine put up a nice blog post about the exhibit, which also includes some fine work from Timo who is like *vapors on the internet and with curitorial assistance from Fabien Giardin. Nicolas contributed a nice essay for the exhibition catalog, as well as Molly Steenson, Anne Galloway, Bryan Boyer, Usman Haque, Anne Galloway, José Pérez de Lama and Benjamin Weil.

What else happened in the week that just ended?

*shrug*

Good times in the studio ((as seen above in the first photo)) — a mix of digital and analog activities all in the spirit of thinking, processing and making with zealous enthusiasm. And some back-to-writing attempts for an essay commissioned for the 01SJ catalog, which is due pretty dang soon.

Final simple preparations for a day trip to Seattle to do a short-sharp talk at the Primordial *Amphibians and mostly meet up with some old friends.

Continue reading Weekending 06102010

Apparatus at The HABITAR Exhibition

Wednesday June 17, 14.44.17

As Fabien has mentioned and due to his participation in curating the event, the laboratory’s Apparatus for Capturing Other Points of View will be exhibited at HABITAR. It’ snice to have this project reconsidered in an art & technology context. The exhibition catalog is available as a PDF here.

Originally this was a thought-collaboration after a Nokia colleague turned me onto this William H. Whyte small book called The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Whyte managed to capture the dynamics of urban parks and gathering points with the recording technoogy of the day — eyeballs, notebooks and some 16mm cameras. (You can watch some of it here and other places.)

HABITAR

It was a simple thing to get excited about — how might this sort of observation be redone in the early 21st century and what might be some curious things to look for? My own interest was to build the thing and make it a provocative instrument and then wonder what a video enhancement and post-processing of these images look like? Something algorithmic, I supposed — are there behaviors and movements that can be abstracted from the general hub-bub and rush of urban pedestrians’ lives?

You can find most of the videos here, and there are some new edits at the exhibition should you be in their neighborhood.

Continue reading Apparatus at The HABITAR Exhibition

Week Ending 04232010

Saturday April 10 17:30 Ver.1.01

Well, I missed the Week Ending last week so I’ll capture a couple of the things that happened then, now.

There were a cacophony of tasks to be done, some fun, some that should’ve been fun, and all that tipped me into a level of activity-stress that translated into too little sleep and various physical ailments. These aren’t complaints at all — just a note-to-self to either learn how to manage multiple concurrent fun commitments, or spread them out like butter on a baguette.

There was a Skype lecture between here and Seoul given for a design seminar at Art Center Nabi. That was a curious thing — to lecture with the audience *sort of* there. Basically akin to talking to yourself, or rehearsing a lecture. I’m not sure I could do that again, comfortably. Aside from the challenges of dialing back my weird circumlocutions and the litany’s I dispense midtalk while trying to remember what my next point should be, or might’ve been had I not forgotten it moments earlier — it’s just a bit impersonal. Or maybe it was just the fact that it was 11 in the evening after a proper day in the studio and I just wanted to have a belt and fall asleep.

It was a roilingly active week in the studio, with this sense that there was an intense and focused round of design work on the horizon, and the sort — systemically speaking — that Nicolas and I had pondered would be an ideal way of working, especially after we both made a turn from academic and formal approaches to making things. Looking at the world obliquely, learning from new perspectives and points-of-view, redefining or differently defining what *success and *achievement might be — not just up-and-to-the-right. Somewhat in line with this talk at Lift in 2008 7.5 Rules for Working Together. I’m quite excited by the prospect this bit of work allows for a more skunky/stinky untoward refrain to the normal ways in which things are done. A bit — tip-of-the-spear actions.

Via our weekly Skype, forward progress continues on the iPhone edition of The Drift Deck, with Jon Bell and Dawn Lozzi taking that bull by its horns. Of course, we’re all excited by the prospect of a second life for The Drift Deck — and curious by the translation of a physical deck of cards into its electronic kin. There are a couple of iterations already. Engaged simplicity is the goal. There were discussions that I prompted around game mechanics — don’t know why I, in particular, would be bringing this topic up — and I think the conclusion is that it is what it is. The deck, is the deck.

The Apparatus for Capturing Other Points of View was sent to LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial, where it — and the material produced — will be in an exhibition next month. ((More on that in the appropriate week note)). That was an epic undertaking — I mean the operational mishegoss of sending an 8 foot pole to Spain. DHL took it in stride..literally.

@ibogost was a house guest as he had some weird lecture to do, and that meant snifters of Port in the kitchen talking about #OOO, the shapes of things and a discussion of knob-turned-to-11 materializations of social practices, which is something I’m trying to figure out how to talk about beyond just saying that and, as it turns out — it might make more sense to materialize the “talk” about that than to just talk about it. And he’s on this *Carpentry thing, which I think would be our point of contact on this whole Object-Oriented Ontology vector he and his 12 friends appear to be all hopped-up about. ((They had a seminar on it last week — I hope it was captured in something ≫ 140 character tweets. ((That’s the 12 other people all hopped up on #OOO, and I might be number 13 based on our boozy conversation.))

Saturday April 10 17:30 Ver.1.01

This actual week — all that except @ibogost’s visit was the week before — started off with performing the duties of guest critic for the Art Center College of Design’s Media Design Program’s thesis year projects. That was a completely full day — almost 10 hours — of crits. Good work all around, with some curiously strong failures and seductively tenuous successes. Despite the work, which I certainly enjoyed in total, the crits were lots of fun, tiring and engaged. That culture of this sort of design critique was something sorely missing at the Interactive Media Program, leastways when I was there and I reflected on that contrast in the back of my mind. It’s something that is a way of working in the studio, frankly and only adds to the work. Patient, mindful intervention; conscientious and respectful criticisms; hard intellectual and creative framing that is only meant to make the work better.

The rest of the week consisted of some low-key efforts to have Design engage Research differently. We’ve been doing roughly monthly, completely casual, completely self-initiated link-ups with the Research part of the organization, mostly because there are friends there and it’s nice to share and discuss projects. Never really looking for *actionable points of collaboration — the collaboration is in the discussions. For me professionally, The Laboratory is much more interested in finding ways of working than specific things to work on, although sometimes specific things to work on are the ways you understand how different disciplines do what they are disciplined to do. Later in the week when there was another link-up, I found myself a bit sensitive to these different ways of working — Research wants a particular kind of action to unfold rather than action-as-reflection. It’s all sorted out somehow — we just need to make it, and that will be that. Rather than the *crit and the conversations that wonder in the first instance — why this and in this instantiation? Or — let’s throw out all that *work and start fresh with the possibility that we will come back to it at some point. Or, the journey rather than the finalé.

It all ended with a confidential review and excitement about the approaching National Pretzel Day, as well as the book launch of Digital Blur at The Architectural Association on Tuesday evening.