Unfocused Interaction

Reading a bit today from Goffman’s “Behavior in Public Places”. It reads a bit like a sociologist’s take on propriety and protocol which it is. That means Goffman is investigating social behaviors in order to develop a framework for understanding such behaviors and, thereby, learn more about how and why people conduct themselves the way they do. It’s full of examples and notes from the field, and puts a useful architecture around public behavior. He’s setting up a kind of taxonomy of the ways in which social beings interact amongst each other, mostly in public.

The section on “Unfocused Interaction” has a bit on body idioms, involvement and involvement shields. Interesting terms for the ways in which we use our bodies as a kind of language articulator, oftentimes purposefully, but, regardless, our bodily actions become a form of social communication. I was most taken by the idea of “involvement” and the “involvement shield.” One of the examples of the “involvement shield” Goffman uses (this was written in the late 50s and early 60s) is the fan a lady may use to shield a blush (or lack of a blush) or a newspaper put in front of a yawning mouth. This made me think of the ways in which people handle their mobile devices and the ways they may shield their engagement with the device. For instance, texting under a table or cupping a hand over a mouth+phone while trying to discretely communicate. Of course, there’s the opposite — the ostentatious bellowing into mobiles when such volume is completely unnecessary and unsheating a Blackberry with a flourish to dispatch a missive to a subordinate.

This made me think of a project Les Nelson presented ages ago at a seminar on mobile stuff at Xerox PARC. He had what I thought was a brilliant idea for a mobile phone that allowed you to handle a call without having to talk out loud. It’s usage context was something along the lines of being in a place where it wasn’t appropriate to talk (in a meeting, etc.) but for which the call was important. Your device would allow you to say the usual kinds of things you do when just listening to someone else — “uh huh”, “go on..”, “i’m here”, etc. Of course, the spread of SMS mitigates the challenge of communicating where voice isn’t appropriate — but it’s interesting to think about how the mobile device facilitates social communication in a myriad of contexts.

Why do I blog this? I’m trying to work through social behavior insights as a way to encourage my mind to think of some innovative possibilities for social mobile devices and usage scenarios. Understanding social practices broadly will, hopefully, help out.

Processing + GPS

It’s the holiday season, which, since I was about 15, meant it was time to take some time to catch up on the projects I’ve been meaning to do. Terribly alpha-geeky. I’ve been meaning to connect a GPS to Processing (http://www.processing.org) to allow Processing to get some rudimentary context awareness — where it is running, how fast it is moving, etc. One idea that Vince had, which I think is quite fun to think about, is turning a used, cheap-o TabletPC into a screen saver for your car. Might not be the safest app for the car, but a cool idea in that it could be responsive to motion (or lack thereof, if you frequent LAs highways), where you are in the world (in this sense, the idea is kindred of The Path of the Mad Prophet), or, as Vince had originally thought while we were working on Mad Prophet, as a kind of mini-map experience for your car. Gosh, that Vince is a clever fellow..

So, I tossed together a Processing sketch that’ll read most GPS devices. I’ve tested it with a Garmin GPSmap 60cs and a Bluetooth GPS from Socket. It’s also pretty much cross platform.

There are two classes. One’s the ever present start-up class, called GPS. The other is a class called GPSReader that talks to the GPS device and parses out some of the more useful info. Right now it’ll just give you lat/lon, speed (knots) and a UTC timestamp, but there are stubs in there to handled number of satellites in view and other stuff.

You’ll need to modify the serial initialization method to set it to read the serial/bluetooth/usb port to which your GPS is connected. The applet will spit out all the available ports, so if you’re not sure which one it’s connected to, you can just try each in turn.

Problems I’ve had that you might want to be aware of mostly occured with the Bluetooth GPS. It would sometimes hang Processing for some reason. I had to reboot until I discovered that I could go into Bluetooth preferences and click “disconnect” for the Bluetooth pairing and it would let go and I could stop the applet and figure out what was wrong. Cycling the power on the unit fixed the problem.

This is fairly barebones — there are some GPS data that I ignore, although it would be quite easy to insert code to handle that. I’m basically just getting the lat, lon, UTC and some other stuff.

Let me know what you do!

Some useful GPS related stuff is to be found at http://del.icio.us/jbleecker/GPS.

Download ProcessingGPS_0.0.zip

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Co-location and the Familiar Stranger

Nicolas pointed me to some work that Jamie Lawrence and his colleagues have been doing on the topic of what they refer to as “co-location”. It’s a neologism tied to [w:Stanley Milgram]’s [w:Familiar Stranger], someone who is observed repeatedly over the course of time, but with whom there is no interaction.

Familiar Strangers is a recurring theme in the mobile designed experience world, particularly since Goodman and PaulosFamiliar Strangers project. It’s also topical for a more tragic reason. In 1964 [w:Kitty Genovese] was murdered in the middle of a busy apartment courtyard in Queens, New York City. Many people were “witness” to the event — overhearing it — yet did absolutely nothing. Another side to the promise latent within the idea that, even though we may all be strangers, we may not want to become involved in each others’ lives. (One of my favorite radio programs, Dean Olsher’s The Next Big Thing broadcast a drama called “Ten After Eleven” based on that event. I highly recommend it! Great radio play.)

This is the other side to the promise latent within the Familiar Strangers concept: even though we may be amongst lots of familiar strangers, we may not want to become involved in each others’ lives. We may have familiarity with the strangers we see, but what are the design implications for that phenomenon in the age of social software? How much do we really want to involve ourselves in the lives of familiar strangers? What are the social practices in which a networked public can comfortably engage through the use of mobile, networked terminals? Dating? Sharing? F2F exchanges? Finding someone who speaks your language when in a foreign country?

Lawrence et. al. use the term co-location because “..the meaning of ‘familiar stranger’ is subjective, and highly dependent on the observations of the individual..” There are three essays that I read this afternoon, Exploiting Familiar Strangers: creating community content distribution network by co-located individuals, Making use of Insignificant Interactions, and Communities of Collocation. They describe how the occupancy of physical/geographic space at the same time may be a fruitful site for interactions to occur, or to be considered.

Making use of Insignificant Interactions describes how it may be plausible to use:

“Conventional social relationships fail to capture the incidental interactions that exist between weakly cohesive social groups. Peer-based wireless networks facilitate the exploration of these localised social ties without any explicit intentional behaviour on behalf of the participants. This proposal presents a plausible method to utilise these almost non-existent and seemingly insignificant, social interactions to disseminate localised information and allow us to explore the patterns in daily life.”

Here “weakly cohesive social groups” are the ones that are co-located — occupying the same space — but are probably anonymous in the sense that one individual likely does not know anything about the other individual(s), other than that they are a familiar stranger. Tracking these kinds of social relationships might be interesting — providing some sort of visualization, such as Goodman and Paulos did with their Familiar Strangers project.

Tag/Pin projects do similar, such as Payley, Hahn and Kennard’s Trace Encounters (which, parenthetically, I might be working on for its ISEA06 iteration) and Borovoy et. al. and their Meme Tags, and Paulos’ recent RFID-based Urban Atmosphere’s experiment at SFMOMA.


Conveying that information to users in such a way as to provide them with something that enhances their social well-being is still TBD, I think. In other words, the “making use of..” part of the paper is a candidate research vector that’ll require lots more than good technology. What do people want to do with a familiar stranger? Is a stranger going to take the weak social link and do more than nod recognition? What is the digital, mobile equivalent of that nod of the head that makes sense, but doesn’t necessarily go so far as to get someone a job or take them out on a date, both of which seem a bit hinky.

Communities of Collocation is a short piece that fleshes out what the researchers mean by “co-location.” The challenge for them is to move from the highly subjective character of the “Familiar Stranger” to something that can “..be defined or captured by digital technologies.” So, how do you capture “a man in a wheelchair” using digital technologies and anchor them into your Familiar Strangers system? How do you create a visualization of that so that something useful can be done with that encounter? Hence, “co-location.” With it you can measure when and perhaps where intersections between individuals occurs and represent that digitally. Using such things as Bluetooth fingerprints, or the MAC address of wireless network interface cards — some unique attribute of devices individuals carry with them when they occupy space — should allow one to capture “collocation events.”

An analysis of these collocation events, over a suitable period of time, can reveal the patterns of collocation and the existence of collocation relationships. Since an individual may belong to many different communities (their local neighbourhood, work, sport clubs), these relationships can be seen as a representative cross-section of people from the individual’s various communities. Even transitory, but regular, encounters during the morning commute imply that the individuals are both members of a common community: users of public transport or a particular public space.

The research goal of this theme of representing social co-location relationships is to build a software app to share information within “Communities of [in?] Collocation” and deploy that application experience in a limited field trial, but the researchers note that in making an informed decision about the “dissemination protocols” (how things are shared, what do people do with the shared “stuff”, how to represent the collocation events? etc..i assume) “..it is necessary to understand the characteristics of collocation relationships in the real world.” I wonder about that — how much can be derived from instinct, and how much has to be derived from rigorous understanding “collocation relationships in the real world”? I mean, I really wonder about this balance. Many of the projects that come to mind are often derived from instinct, and they may even get executed, but they’re not well anchored in the experiences of the real world. And for that they may become illegible to a large audience, despite being, perhaps, fun to think about and fun to create. (Hmm..maybe I operate in the hinterlands of the mobile experience design Long Tail?)

Small Town
This paper also made me think about the way mobile designs of this sort often explicitly are designed for urban experiences, which is fine. But I wondered what happens outside of urban space? This led me to think about the following scenario in which the representation of Familiar Strangers were rendered as a small town — maybe the idyllic small town — in which everyone knows everyone else. Create avatars for those familiar strangers, even though you don’t explicitly know who they are or what they are doing “co-located” or “co-pathed” with you. Your screen would show them as one of the cast of characters from the idyllic small town.

Why do I blog this? The Familiar Strangers theme is a powerful one, with lots of potential for mobile designed experiences. I’m also trying to think of a way to flesh out my taxonomy of mobile designed experiences in the “proximity-based interaction” category. Reading these papers helps generate some ideas for that exercise.

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Project Toaster – Blogjects and More

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What’s in the project toaster this holiday season?

Blogjects? What the..?

I am now in the possession of an ADXL203 evaluation kit. Accelerometer from Analog Devices. Pedometer material.

I am patiently waiting for the arrival of a stocking stuffed with microcontrollers to hook the ADXL203 up to. I’m imagining building a pedometer that blogs. It shall be called flavonoid — the health and fitness robot.

I am also patiently waiting on the arrival of a Motorola i415 J2ME enabled mobile that includes the Location JSR. It’ll run Mologogo‘s application that exhibits presence awareness characteristics. (Strange thing — an old chum with whom I once worked named Jason Uechi was, with a colleague, the creator of Mologogo. The world’s the size of a friggin’ postage stamp..)

For that device to become a social device and and a blogject, I’m thinking about how to turn it into a reasonable way to mine for intersecting locales, paths created by others, etc. — without the hassle of operating in such a small interface territory as the mobile device. (And, secondarily, without having to be so purposeful with the device — sometimes, we just amble through the streets or shove through a crowd and aren’t in the best situation or frame of mind to capture an image, annotate, and send an SMS.) Why not turn the mobile with location-awareness / AGPS into a device that tracks and records your paths?

So — the i485 that should be here in a few days will begin an experiment with J2ME’s location JSR.

The other thing on its way is my new desk, which I’m super excited about. It took me — well, a year and a half to get one, mostly because I was undecided about what made for a good desk. It turns out I’ve been working standing up for the last six months or so, so I’ve settled on a desk that I can use either sitting down or standing up — the Biomorph Flexo. Now I’ll be like a normal human researcher.

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Stupid Fun Club

Phase Space

Drove up to San Francisco for the weekend, kind of, to see family and stop in at the Stupid Fun Club‘s Christmas party.

What a stupid, fun place.

It’s a warehouse space with an immaculate machine shop, plenty of robots, and one remote control sofa — a collective collaboratory occupying the talents of Mike Winter and Will Wright. So..there’s that. This is my ideal playground. A space where there are the resources, tools, intellect and spirit of intrepid, iconoclastic innovation!

Mobile Social Software

I started piling up references, links, papers and so forth — my harvest of material on the topic of mobile social software — in a bid to steel myself for the preparation of a short point-of-view document on the topic and to help pour some concrete into the frame I’ve built around this blogjects topic so as to address it at the Lift conference and workshop in February.

And I’ve been feeling guilty about not capturing my thinking in the blog. (I have been doing lots of sketching in the Moleskine, though..)

Where do you begin when trying to articulate a POV on MoSoSo?

Taxonomies? Project descriptions? Literature review? My own projects and a historical sort of sketch of what I’ve done and some reflection on why I did it?


Spatial annoatation

* Socialight
* Yellow Arrow
* Etc.

Proximity-based interaction

* Nokia Sensor
* Mobiluck
* Love Getty
* Pantonic
* PlaceSite
* 6th Sense

Presence Awareness

* Dodgeball
* Street Hive
* Mologogo

Spatial annotation: mark the heck up out of geographic space with “virtual” notes that are coded with geographic coordinates and slurped up by the mothership repository so that they enter into the Internet of Things. Tag locations with descriptions, metadata, coordinates, media, etc. Whimsically and creatively — as in Streetmemes — and also for the sake of efficiency. One can imagine an easy-to-use system for municipalities that allows workers or even ordinary residents to annotate places where, for instance, there’s a water main leak or a cracked sidewalk.

Proximity-based interaction: I myself think of this as interaction that is based upon the physical proximity amongst things — people to people, people to things, things to things. Where does the range cut off? Maybe at no point — but the interaction syntax relies on an explicit consideration of geographic distance. Oftentimes the scenario uses a short-range RF system like Bluetooth, and so the range is limited by the constraints of the technology. In some cases, like Placesite, the system uses WiFi together with a software + router system that only allows those within the WiFi’s LAN to access the local, place-specific content, which is often, at least, profiles on currently logged on users. WiFi.Bedouin, WiFi.ArtCache and NetMagnet used a similar sort of strategy — relying on WiFi’s built-in range constraints as part of the interaction syntax.

Remarks On Proximity-based Interaction
Considering nearness in geo-spatial terms brings into play the dynamics of how space is occupied by social beings. What are the social practices that occupy physical space? What are the social practices that use relations of physical distance as a parameter for communication, sharing, playing, engaging (in activities, stopping, perambulating, making a diversion from a path, logging, ruminating)? What about not in an urban setting? What about how space is occupied by social beings in non-congested areas? Or during a commute? There are several examples of proximity interaction used as a dating “love getty” scenario — what else? Like..for those who have already gotten love? What about in pragmatic, non-explicitly playful scenarios? How do mobile social beings relate to space and proximity in other idioms?

Presence awareness: Killer app du jour? This interaction scenario makes for fun thinking. It’s a register of social communication and projection of one’s “presence” (of mind, of physical body, of ability to engage in another register of communication..) to one’s relevant social network. It’s the explicit, digital form of reaching out and calling someone, without having to do a whole lot of talking. And sometimes..that’s all you need. (I myself am not a big phone talker, but txt like a teenager.)

Applications that operate within this taxonomy become “social” because they are used to establish, maintain, and manage social formations or to, in some fashion, circulate culture.

They are “mobile” because you do them when you are untethered, out-and-about in the world of things, objects, other people, crowds, mass transit, etc..

(There’s a somewhat unspoken bias in MoSoSo that fetishizes urban experiences. I do that myself, to a fault. I mean, by most empirical accounts, cities are growing at an alarming pace — one that is certainly unsupportable by the existing infrastructures. I think this is a yield toward creating experiences that can be supported by critical mass of users, so that a community is created, so that a buyout or acquisition can be written into the business plan.)

Why is MoSoSo a topic worthy of consideration? Could it be that the alpha geeks are growing weary of doing their thing while tethered to a power plug? Is it becuase architects and urban planners got into the mix because they wanted to be digital and alpha geeks, too? And their occupations depend upon creating social, lived experiences as articulated by space? And if the occupants of that space are indoctrinated into the practice of networked social relations and an Internet of Things, then the thoughtful architect or designer with foresight might consider how movement/motility can leverage those practices?

Why are people hopped up by MoSoSo? Frontierism, certainly. The headaches feel like those I felt back in the mid-late 1990s when you had to build the same content in a dozen different ways to support different browsers, different bandwidth, different browser versions.. Mobile apps, particularly mobile phone apps, require the same kind of diligence (patience..) and are often determined by what carrier supports what technology supports what application set. Otherwise, you loose your audience, and then you loose your acquisition end-game.

When we built PDPal, I had a vague idea that I was building a mobile social software application, although I didn’t know that’s what people would end up calling it. I also didn’t know how deflating it would be when Palm users simply weren’t interested — they used their Palms for, you know — calendaring, scheduling and Vindigo. Vindigo was the mobile app du jour at the time. It still may be. But there was nothing SoSo about Vindigo — you got the listings you got. I thought that a Vindigo that was community created was the real killer mobile app. There was no way that Vindigo was going to have that killer, off-the-hook Vietnamese joint in Queens that was buried down in the barely legible food fanatics web site Chowhound.com.

Combining mobility with sociability is an exciting proposition. One area that I think has yet to be explored is tapping into the Familiar Strangers paradigm, but not so much for the anonymous, yet perhaps informed, meet-up where you’ve coded in your “parameters” that are expected to resonate with a complete strangers parameters because they happen to be nearby. I’m thinking about the Familiar Strangers paradigm that happens “later” when you reflect upon your day by looking at the intersections your paths have taken you on with familiar, even new, events, people, activiites and places.

Aibo Blogjects

Chris Heathcote just dispatched this tasty nugget — the Aibo’s with the new brain? They blog their day. Here’s Pedro chit-chatting and moblogging about what he’s up to. Mostly what’s captured are the things he’s looking up at along with some lilting, aphoristic musings.

Nicolas has some thoughts on the topic, too.

Why do I blog this? I’m drawn to the idea of objects that somehow harvest their experiences from their surroundings and are able to share such in an accessible, legible fashion. The Aibo that blogs is a fascinating instance of this sort of thing. It’s cute — and somewhat chilling at the same time. Objects that blog. Spime-like, I think.

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Blogjects — Perambulation, Locale Harvesting, Presence

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Anticipating my participation in a Blogjects workshop at the Lift in February, I’ve begun thinking about what a Blogject prototype might be like. Will and I are working on a kind thing that shares your perambulations with yourself, your network, the world finding intersections with other locative or place-based “goo.”

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Your perambulations are logged and the intersections with other “things” are captured. The Blogject is smart enough, and resourceful enough, and context aware enough to figure out how to communicate with and capture other Blogject goo.

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It’s also resourceful enough and smart enough and context aware enough to know how to disseminate what its found along the perambulation and, thus, is able to “blog.” (Here, the idea of blogging is a trope that is roughly meant to convey that the Blobject “disseminates” based on its experiences in the world. It might not literally be a Movable Type or Drupal blogging entity — but it might. Until there’s a better, richer more socially connected mechanism for circulating culture.) We’re thinking of a less purposeful/more casual model for capturing perambulations than the kind of scenario wherein you stop, capture a moment with some annotation or psychogeographic mark. Rather than that, we’re interested in what happens in slow-time, afterwards, as a kind of post-facto replay that makes legible unseen or lightly-seen “things” in the pervasive Internet.

MobHappy kind of riffs on this theme of tying mobile moments to some sort of dissemination network that may be tied to place, but is mostly tied to “state” in the presence mode. What am I doing? Am I available? Um..I really admire the MobHappy bloggers and their work. I would only say that, you know — finding “another use for Mobile RSS” is probably not the best approach to designing compelling mobile experiences that mesh well with existing social practices that are, a priori, not assuming some bit of technology or a kind of syndication protocol. With due respect and general collegial admiration, that’s kind of like buying a door knob and then buying a house that it looks good on.

Why do I blog this? I think Presence is a fruitful area for research & development, and I think that dissemination is the easiest part of that. It’d be “cool” to jettison some feed and, like..of course it is RSS. But, like..what else? What beyond the little applet that publishes an RSS feed that says “I’m driving..can’t talk.” Can the “thing” blog or disseminate on its own, based on context, location, paths?

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ISEA 2006 Workshops

ISEA2006 Call for Workshop Proposals

This is an invitation by the ISEA2006 Symposium and ZeroOne San Jose: A
Global Festival of Art on the Edge to groups and individuals to submit
proposals for part-day and full-day hands-on workshops, during
ISEA2006/ZeroOne San Jose. August 7-8, 2006.

This Call is an invitation to artists, designers and technologists to
propose workshops under the banner: At the Crossroads. The aim of the
workshop program is to present new and interesting crossroads by
intersecting technological approaches with unique settings and diverse
communities; unveiling insights and interests; and sharing impact and

The deadline for proposal submissions is January 31, 2006.

For full CFP, go to: http://isea2006.sjsu.edu/workshopscall/

Why do I blog this? ISEA has a lot of promise this year, particularly with this idea of linking it to a potential biennial electronic arts/emerging technology festival in the Bay Area. I’m also thinking about proposing a workshop on objects that blog, perhaps a follow on to what Nicolas and that posse are doing for their Lift conference in February 2006.

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Alavs Flocking Blimp Whales at Art Center College of Design

Jed Berk, an MFA student over at Art Center College of Design, graciously offered to show us Alavs (Autonomous Lighter Than Air Vehicles) — the flocking blimp project he and his colleague Nikhil Mitter have been working on. The blimps are kitted out with a small SunSpot — a Sun made sensor platform with some processing power, accelerometers and uses 2.4GZ multi-channel 802.15.4 radios.

Enabling JavaTM for Small Wireless Devices with Squawk and SpotWorld is a paper published on using SunSpots. Evidently there’s a new version of the device in the works with additional robust functionality.

The blimps have behaviors that include indicating that they are hungry. They bellow a call that’s evocative of whale calls. (A cellphone vibrator is attached to the helium filled envelope. Sound travels faster and with peculiar resonance when it propogates through a mylar envelope filled with helium, so it’s quite a resonant call. Each is somewhat unique.)

You feed the blimps (all of which are named, although I don’t recall them), using a feeding sculpture composed of a fiber optic bristle that vibrates and blinks when the blimp is feeding. A trailing LED on the blimp goes from blue to red when it’s done chowing down. It then goes on its way.

More images are here:


Video documentation is here:



Why do I blog this? Really well-thought out and executed project! There’s more on Phil Van Allen‘s blog — he facilitated and taught the class. Also, Regine has recently blogged it here.

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