Workshop on Pervasive Advertising

It amazes me how non-relevant this topic is, particularly nowadays when there can be little reason to entice a consumer to engage in letting loose of whatever cash they may have. By the time we get out of the current morass of mistrust, misspending and misguided expectations of a world where all the growth graphs go up and to the right, we should be happy to have a pair of trousers that fit and a spigot with potable water running out of it.

But, the topic of pervasive advertising goes further than that. What could the outcome of a workshop be other than..a world of pervasive advertising. I mean, working out the details is all good, but what about a workshop on a world without advertising? Could that even be possible to have without essentially saying you’re going to quit your job as an engineer/scientist of pervasive stuff?

It just turns out that the vision of a near future of pervasively advertised-to humans just comes out all wrong. It’s only ever annoying and bothersome, or a horrid expression of human-database symbiosis.

There’s really not much more of an end game for pervasive advertising than that of the extrapolation of today’s conditions as in the remarkable design fiction of Spielberg’s visual rendering of P.K. Dick’s “Minority Report”. The assemblage of participants in the world of advertising is optimized for itself, which is well-greased linkages between me, my “interests” (to the extent these translate into commerce) and those who have something to gain in economic terms from selling me my interests. It’s optimized to leverage the pervasively networked, databased world and this can only lead to an intensely uninspired, technically awesome, intrusive and annoying world. It can’t really go any other way than that shown in the various compelling and fascistic interpretations in “Minority Report” of the pervasive advertising future – retinal scanning, holographic “pop-up” adverts, yammering cereal boxes with laminated displays and gesture recognition (to know when I’m trying to tell it to stop yammering, which is guaranteed to fail any number of times, as adroitly shown in Spielberg’s film), fascistic large urban screens, etc.

Yet, this workshop sounds pleasantly inviting. I don’t, though, see how the conditions of possibility for a world of pervasive advertising would lead to anything but the nuisance we experience today, times a billion. Who knows. Maybe today’s economic blight will wipe advertising as we know it off the face of the map for something else. What that is, i have no idea but so long as we think of advertising as a “sure thing” along with death and taxes, it’ll be nothing more than what it is today, except with a few network links and even bigger screens. We’ll still have “pop-ups” only they’ll stand in front of us when we try to get from here to there. We’ll still have messages on otherwise blank walls reminding us to give feedback on that Torx wrench we just bought from Callium Carbide Tools of Peoria last week. I mean..sounds wretched.

$100 for the first person who can come up with a compelling imaginary of a world without advertising, and one that renders viable and with a buzzing economy.


1st Workshop on Pervasive Advertising

In conjunction with Pervasive 2009
May 11, 2009 – Nara, Japan

Submission Deadline: February 10, 2009

“The only sure things in life are death, taxes and advertising. Although
pervasive technologies cannot avoid death or lessen the pain from
taxation, advertising is fertile ground for research on pervasive

[[What ninny said this?? What? Did Moses take out a 2 minute spot during the parting of the Red Sea? If this is the principle of pervasive advertising, fatwa on all pervasive advertising workshops! If advertising really is a necessary evil, like death and taxes, lets get to work on making it an obsolete evil thing that has been eradicated, like the Pox and Foot and Mouth disease; get rid of it already. Or get onto something different and inspired and more in keeping with the times. Stop twiddling about with technologized versions of the same old crap. Seriously.]]


Electronic displays have become ubiquitous and replace traditional
posters and billboards. Hence they not only provide a way of showing
dynamically updated content, but also means to react implicitly and
explicitly to the audience in their vicinity. In order to interact with
the target audience, technologies need to be explored capable of
identifying the user or his interests / needs.

[[Well, this is speculative. I see plenty of peeling wheat-paste-ups all over the place. but, okay. Let’s assume that J.C. Decaux is well-positioned to introduce digital displays ubiquitously. Do I want to know that they’re linked to a database of me? Who is J.C. Decaux anyway? Can I tell him to leave my database alone?]]

The current generation of mobile phones come with high speed Internet
access and built-in location sensing. Those properties make mobile
phones a powerful mediator between the advertiser / advertising platform
and the customer.

[[Good God. That’s just wrong. I mean, who wants an ad to pop up on their phone?? I have enough trouble when I get an SMS. Seriously. Who is it? Am I missing something here?]]

Social networks such as Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn are rapidly
growing. Such platforms include detailed information not only on the
interests of users (based for example on profiles and histories) but
also on their network. This information is placed on the Internet and
shared with friends or even the public.

[[Yeah, but under my own terms. Or should be. Can I opt out of pervasive advertising networks?]]

These technological advances, and others, change the opportunities and
challenges for advertising radically.

[[Not really. It’s the same crap, only with a network and a database and real-time data links. Really. Don’t fool yourself to think that something innovative is going on here. It’s just optimization of an existing schema for knots and linkages between my wallet, my sensibilities and some company some where.]]

Consequently, advertising is becoming one of the major drivers of
pervasive computing technology for many end-users (e.g. mobile ads,
digital signs, context awareness, RFID). Yet we believe that the
attention this topic received in the pervasive computing community does
not equal its immediate impact on society.

Taking a positive view we can envision advertisements that precisely
match a person’s interests and fit the current situation so well that
people enjoy receiving them and see advertising as a pleasant
distraction. On the contrary taking a negative view one could imagine a
world where people cannot escape from advertisement, where we are
continuously tracked and where advertisements reduce the quality of
life. Both views even though very extreme are worthy of further
discussion. Hence we hope to provide a venue for this discussion by
offering this workshop.

[[I’ll be looking for the workshop write-up. I’m dubious. No one in my mind has come up with anything other than that which will lead to the “Minority Report” imaginary. Seriously. As pleasant as it is shown in the PowerPoint, it’s always enormous screens beaming down to me Coca-Cola ads or encouraging me to buy a watch only someone like Sir Edmund Hillary would know, those big, multi-face “chronometers” that look like an exercise weight.]]


We ask potential attendees to submit 2-4 page papers describing their
research interest and particular focus on the workshop topic. The paper
may include the description of ongoing research, results found,
experience gathered, new ideas, future projects or questions on topics
related to pervasive computing and advertising. Each participant is
asked to provide a short paragraph (up to 200 words) on their vision of
advertising in 25 years from now. All submissions will be peer-reviewed.

More information can be found at

All submissions must be sent electronically to
The format for submissions is Springer LNCS, the same as that of
Pervasive 09.
Templates can be found at

Papers should be no longer than 4 pages. All papers must be submitted in
PDF. At least one author for each accepted paper is expected to attend
the workshop.

Non-archival working notes will be produced containing the papers
presented at the workshop. Selected papers from the workshop may be
considered for expansion and inclusion in a special issue of a journal.


* February 10, 2009: Deadline for electronic submission
* March 1, 2009: Author Notification
* May 1, 2009: Submission of camera-ready
* May 11, 2009: Pervasive Advertising Workshop at Pervasive 2009


Jörg Müller, University of Münster

Albrecht Schmidt, University of Duisburg-Essen

Bo Begole, PARC

Aaron Quigley, University College Dublin

Why do I blog this? I dunno. This stuff kinda bugs me, if you can’t tell. It’s pretty clear that the angle is to create something that has commercial viability, rather than thinking things through for an alternative near future of connecting people, interests, ideas and so forth. On the one hand, it’s exciting and futuristic stuff. On the other hand, it’s not a future that I think has particularly exciting prospects in the category of “habitable”, fun, non-invasive, non-bothersome, non-pop-up-in-your-face futures. And, the advertising thing. I’m serious. If someone can’t paint a picture of a world without advertising..I’m listening. And I got your $100 here.
Continue reading Workshop on Pervasive Advertising

Design Fiction / Science Fiction

Spied about while meeting-and-greeting Helsinki colleagues at Nokia House, some materials that I couldn’t help but recognize in the context of the early morning writing I’ve been trying to do, refining the last three presentations I’ve given last month on “Design Fiction.”

There’s a curious practice here that I don’t think is entirely new, but there are some exciting directions from whence the idea has circulated, drawing me back to the relationship between the science of fact and the science of fiction, and then to the old science-technology-studies principles, and Latour, who taught me to not have anything to do with clearly delineated boundaries between much of anything, particularly any kind of science. This is where it starts.

I can imagine a practice that can comfortably work in between and even be comfortable swapping properties between fact and fiction for the purposes of telling a story that is a materialization of an idea, or one’s imagination. It’s like science fiction made real, without the weight and burden of the whole truth.

Why science fiction? Because it’s a literary genre that can comfortably stretch the now out toward a possible near future world better than other ways of story telling. (I’m perfectly happy to accept that there are others — the symmetry though between the hubris of science fact and the imaginative whimsy of science fiction is too hard to resist.) That practice is some derivation of design probably.

Why design? Because so far it seems to be less inclined to be as disciplined as the other practices I’ve tried, it has a vocabulary that includes the word “people”, it can work with vernacular, everyday, even mundane practices quite well, it implies working with one’s hands and head and even risking a nicked finger, etc.

While a restless graduate student at the University of Washington I worked at a place called the Human Interface Technology Lab, or HITLab. The lab was working quite hard on virtual reality (VR), another (again) of a kind of immersive, 3D environment that, today, one might experience as something like Second Life. The technology had a basic instrumental archetype canonized in a pair of $250,000 machines (one for each eyeball) called, appropriately, the RealityEngine. With video head mount that looked like a scuba-mask, one could experience a kind of digital virtual world environment that was exciting for what it suggested for the future, but very rough and sparse in its execution. As I was new to the new HITLab (still in temporary trailers on a muddly slope by the campus’ steam plant), I went through the informal socialization rituals of acquainting myself to the other members of the team — and to the idioms by which the lab shared its collective imaginary about what exactly was going on here, and what was VR. Anything that touches the word “reality” needs some pretty fleet-footed references to help describe what’s going on, and a good set of anchor points so one can do the indexical language trick of “it’s like that thing in..” For the HITLab, the closest we got to a shared technical manual was William Gibson’s
“Neuromancer” which I was encouraged to read closely before I got too far involved and risked the chance of being left out of the conversations that equated what we were making with Gibson’s “Cyberspace Deck”, amongst other science fiction props. I mean — that’s what we said. There was no irony. It was the reference point. I’m serious. I mean..this is from a paper that Randy Walser from Autodesk wrote at the time:

In William Gibson’s stories starting with Neuromancer, people use an instrument called a “deck” to “jack” into cyberspace. The instrument that Gibson describes is small enough to fit in a drawer, and directly stimulates the human nervous system. While Gibson’s vision is beyond the reach of today’s technology, it is nonetheless possible, today, to achieve many of the effects to which Gibson alludes. A number of companies and organizations are actively developing the essential elements of a cyberspace deck (though not everyone has adopted the term “deck”). These groups include NASA, University of North Carolina, University of Washington, Artificial Reality Corp., VPL Research, and Autodesk, along with numerous others who are starting new R&D programs.


There’s nothing wrong with this — it’s all good stuff. It’s a way of creating that shared imaginary that knits the social formations together. Latour would remind us that this is the socialization practices — this is an instance of the “how” and the “why” of technology. Technology is precisely the socialization of ideas.

It’s refreshing when you come across some good fiction — science or otherwise — positioned to be read, referred back to or just as a kind of badge to mark the contours of that shape and influence. Nothing literal — just literary, the edges of design fiction practices.
Continue reading Design Fiction / Science Fiction

Refinement in Degrees

A scale of design models in these check boxes suggests refinement from basic form to mechanical, color, materials and so forth — stopping at full appearance. Appearance absent functionality, which can only be inferred based on what it is a model of. In the world of mobile phones, the functionality is implicit — making calls and so a design prototype need not concern itself with use and operation.

Or does it?

What are the ways design can dig below the appearance, into actual use in order to better understand the contexts and vernacular aspects of people and their practices? Can it be done rapidly — quick enough to place things in context so that the freshness of the idea from its inception is decanted into the “model”? What about fictionalizing that experience — making props, instead of prototypes?
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Stifo@Sandberg Moving Movie Industry


I participated with a talk at this conference called Moving Movie Industry for the Sandberg Institute at the lovely new Amsterdam Central Library was a one day series of lectures related to this notion that the movie industry is “moving” onto some new and interesting territory. There were several very intriguing talks, which you can probably glean from the list below.

The people participating at the conference were some heroes already, and some new people who i finally get to meet face-to-face so I can knot them into my network without feeling like a stalker. For example Geert Lovink the well-known media theorist and activist who just introduced Video Vortex a new publication from the Institute of Network Cultures (available for free) and Ton Roosendaal, who is head of the Blender Foundation and showed some of the amazing films created with free, open-source 3D rendering software. It was also nice to hear from Floris Kaayk, who is the creator of the effective documentary Metalosis Maligna, about what happens when metal implants begin to take over your body. He also showed another documentary called The Order Electrus about an species of insects made entirely of electronics components. It’s a nice piece of Design Fiction, in my mind — an imaginative and visually evocative story about a possible future in a world of discarded industrial wastelands. Anne Helmond gave a funny and insightful talk about people and their relationship to their blogs, with some curious examples of people apologizing to their blog (not the audience who reads, but the blog itself — the software or something.) Bruce Sterling gave a talk about the future and ways we imagine it, which had my rapt attention as it helped me think through some of the early Design Fiction material, particularly on this topic of models by which we schematize possible futures worlds. I also enjoyed the talk by the Guerrilla Games guy Jan-Bart van Beek who talked about some of the production techniques and issues for their visceral, carnal hyper violent Kill Zone game. He showed one video of this Hummer commercial by Joseph Kosinski called “Selector” which used video game visual idioms to present the Hummer — a hideous vehicle for knot-headed buffoons with 8th grade mentality — as if it were a configurable vehicle from a video game. Which is about the only thing that piece of crap should be, ever. If even that. But, this selection along with a few others were intriguing as they were described for the way cinema and video game visual idioms cross back and forth (swap properties) perhaps on their way to establishing new visual languages.

The talk I gave changed from the title I originally submitted, which was to be something more related to real-world-analytics-meets-mobile-contexts, but when I looked more closely at the original conference description, I realize how badly I had misinterpreted the “moving” aspect as “mobile”, and I certainly wasn’t going to talk about movies on mobiles, which I think is pretty much the most uninteresting thing in the world. So, I did the third draft of Design Fiction (after Design Engaged at the beginning of the month, and SHiFT 2008 a week or so ago) which hopefully I’ll finish writing this weekend.

Where: Theater van ’t Woord
Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam
Oosterdokskade 143
1011 DL Amsterdam

Time: 9.30 hours – 17.00 hours

Entreance: Free

Reservations via
(obligated due to limited amount of seats)

09.30 – Registration & coffee
09.50 – Welcome by Mieke Gerritzen & Hans Maarten van den Brink

10.00 – Bruce Sterling (USA ) – Science fiction writer Keynote
10.40 – Julian Bleecker (USA) – Near Future Laboratory Mobile Means Mobile

11.20 – Short coffee break

11.30 – Jan-Bart van Beek (NL) – Guerrilla Games 1 Million Manhours : Making Killzone 2
12.10 – Steffen Pauws (NL) – Philips Research Laboratories Eindhoven How TV Watching Will Become An Experience

12.50 – Lunch break

13.30 – Matt Hanson (UK) – Film Futurist Swarm of Angels
14.10 – Ton Roosendaal (NL) – Blender Free and Open Content media production with Open Source, presentation of a successful case study
14.50 – Floris Kaayk (NL) – Film director / artist Metalosis Maligna

15.05 – Short coffee break

15.15 – Luna Maurer / Roel Wouters (NL) – Designers Jubilator
15.30 – Geert Lovink (NL) – Institute for Network Cultures VideoVortex: The Politics and Aesthetics of Online Video Platforms
16.10 – Anne Helmond (NL) – Blogger Blogging, Software Standards and Template Culture
16.40 – Drinks & snacks

Moderator Koert van Mensvoort

Continue reading Stifo@Sandberg Moving Movie Industry

World's Slowest Instant Messenger

I’ve been fixated on a story my wandering mind told me many months ago about a little theory object that forced me to think about how the connected things in the era of IP networks always do their thing as fast as possible, approaching speeds that are imperceptible to normal humans. Almost without question, this is seen as a good thing. But I wondered what it would take to disrupt that assumption. How hard would the apparatus of connected things fight back? Would it be hard to write slow networked communications software? What is “slow” in the era of connected things? Can their be a slow instant messenger device?

I decided the best way to figure these questions all out was to sketch out what a super slow communications device might be, how it would operate, what it would create in terms of affect for those participating in the messaging, and what it could be “good” for.

Naturally enough, I ran up against all kinds of brick walls. Most people thought I had definitely gone completely misheggeneur. Why in the world would I want something that communicated really, really slow? Everything is supposed to be faster, quicker, more instant that last year’s instant. I mean, processor speeds keep flying through the roof. Broadband gets thicker and quicker. Rates go up when it comes to speed, not down. And I had no clear way to explain why I was drawn to this idea, other than trying to do the opposite of the dominant trend for the sake of seeing what other possibilities for connected digital networking there might be.


This may not be as weird an experiment as it sounds, particularly in an age where the Internet is splitting up into all kinds of tiers of service, with for-pay super high speed networks and bottom-tier, low-rent slow networks. Is it really safe to assume that we’ll always have fast networks available to us? Suppose you had to make a choice for economic reasons – you can send this E-FedEx for $43 and it’ll get there in 1200 milliseconds, or send it E-Postal for $3.19 and it’ll arrive sometime early next week, probably. I mean, it wouldn’t surprise me if this were a likely near-future world. It really wouldn’t.

So, how can slow be good? In my wandering mind I imagined a little device that slowly, very slowly, spilled a message out one letter at a time. Like a slow-scan signal from an interplanetary probe, feeding back a nice galactic photo over the course of 32 hours. Some of those messages might have a certain enjoyable anticipation to them — that’s a good thing..affect in messages where we’ve perhaps re-oriented our sense of affect for communication because we’ve been learning how to expect our communications faster or we expect less from our communication because most of the electronic kind gets all gummed up with crap and spam?

I’m also sort of speculating that this experiment might teach me more about how the “weight” of pre-digital interaction rituals can be re-invested with their pre-digital semantic heft even in the age of electronic mail. That is, can the momentum and weight (of time, of material things moving so as to make connections between people, of haptic/touch/proximity connections based on material coming in contact with things) imbue digital communications with something other than the transfer of information?

Boy, that’s out there. What I’m wondering is — what happens when I have to invest some material energy to get a message between (or from) someone and myself? That’s all this is — it takes three things to get the message going and finally delivered in its entirety.

1. Time, lots of it.

2. Commitment — the thing only works if I keep it close. If it’s off on its own, it slows down its delivery to glacial proportions.

3. Movement — I basically need to carry it with me wherever I go. And if I don’t go anywhere..if I sit at my computer all day, kind of like I did this entire afternoon and evening? That message just isn’t going to move anywhere.

At the end, perhaps a week or so, the message will start revealing itself, one character at a time.

Obviously, this is for the dedicated communicator, who enjoys the anticipation of a message from someone extra special.

Part II Is Here

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The Blind Camera – Sascha Pohflepp's "Buttons" Series

Ever sense Sascha started talking, quite animatedly, about this project — ” The Blind Camera — I became almost as excited as he. A camera..that takes someone else’s photo. The semantics are tricky — it doesn’t take a photograph of someone else, but take’s (as in, borrows or copies or “snags”) a photograph that someone else has captured, somewhere else in the world, at that same moment.

So cool.

I mean..that’s kind of brilliant in a playful, thoughtful way. The project captures all the amazingly promising characteristics of a world of sharing and circulating culture and experiences. And the most engaging part of the project, in my mind, is that it’s an object, a tangible camera — an actual camera – and not just a bit of code, that you can download for free or whatever, and put on your laptop to play with for a few days and then discard or foreget about. It’s an object – a physical affordance or whatever you want to call it. And that makes all the difference in the world for this project.

And another reason why I think Things that are networked matter. The idea of a general purpose computational device like your laptop has much less appeal in this regard. Or even the idea of the mobile phone being the one device you carry with you.

How, conceptually, from the perspective of design or even practicality, can we expect that this idea of one mobile device will sustain itself? There are so many things wrong with the mobile phone as an address book, for instance, or a game interface, or even as a telephone. Even the simplest of annoyances seem beyond the capabilities of the common phone to avoid. For example, how can you get people to stop shouting into their phone? People talk louder than they do when they’re just having a normal human conversation — from inside my house on a nice pedestrian street, I can hear the phone conversations of neighbors walking their dogs as if they were sitting right here in my office.

Anyway, I am very fond of the idea of a diversity of devices at our disposal, whether or not we have them all the time. A baroque assembly of various instrumentalities, one of which is a camera that takes other people’s photographs, another of which allows me to carry my online persona out into 1st Life so it can interact with other, offline objects, another that reminds me how to get where I’m going, etc. One device for everything seems positively impossible to achieve, practically or even conceptually speaking. And there’s heuristic proof out there — my Treo is great because it has QWERTY. My Treo stinks cause it has Sprint. My Treo is great because it has a decent camera. My Treo stinks cause it weighs a ton and strains the seams of my pocket. My Treo stinks cause it has Sprint. This Nokia E61 I have is great cause it has QWERTY. This Nokia E61 stinks cause it has no camera. Etc. I think it is a conceit driven by corporate avarice and design hubris that there is One Thing that will embody all the interesting things we could do in our mobile lives.

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Theory Objects & Design Patterns

This “Theory Object” business — I’m trying to work out what it might mean through practice, through the activity of making things. As Bruce Sterling said in his wonderfully rabinical talk at SXSW just the other day, “A Theory Object is a kind of Theory Object.” It’s got that geeky recursion, like GNU — GNU is Not Unix.

I’m going to try and parse that for a spell — A Theory Object is a kind of Theory Object.

I think there’s a good reason for a Theory Object being a kind of Theory Object, and it’s about design patterns for design itself, another recursion. But this isn’t a recursion puzzle land for the sake of geeky fun. There are important stakes in this approach, that operate at a number of levels, but mostly around the area of creating a world that won’t ruin itself any more than it already has. How do you do that? Maybe there’s a design pattern that’ll help — an approach to making things that matter.

Jystar, a computer science grad student down at UC Irvine, wrote a post on the topic of Theory Objects that made me think about the “frameworks” used to make things, like software-based systems. In the software engineering idiom, where I have some stakes and a bit of background, one often hears about frameworks or design patterns as models to help get things done. They’re super useful, and they help move from an idea to an articulation of that idea because some of the larger pieces of the software design as well as the small glue have been throught through in the form of “design patterns” and such all.

Design patterns create standard frameworks for solving problems. They provide a common language for sharing approaches to work , which makes getting things made easier. You can convey a whole lot of information by referring to patterns when your colleagues know what you’re talking about.
Continue reading Theory Objects & Design Patterns