Posted by Morten Blaabjerg, February 29th, 2012 in Shared stuff
It feels like the internet has made us faster than ever, but are we in fact lagging behind the opportunities presented by technology?
Accepted wisdom has it that internet time moves quickly; that we are living through change at an unparalleled pace; that our modern minutes are but 10 or 20 seconds long. But what if our progress is not as speedy as it seems? What if we are only at the bare beginning of the disruption now underway?
Consider Gutenberg time. The printed book did not begin to take on its own form until 50 years after its invention. At first, printers mimicked scribes, with fonts designed to look like handwriting, while printing itself was promoted as automated writing. ‘They appear not to have perceived the printed book as a fundamentally different form,’ writes Leah Marcus in her essay Cyberspace Renaissance, ‘but rather as a manuscript book that could be produced with greater speed and convenience.’ They simply didn’t see the possibilities.
Nor do today’s media companies – not fully, not yet. Look at how they’re using the web and new platforms such as the tablet. They’re still attempting to replicate legacy forms, content, business models, industrial structures, and control: Old wine in new casks. Newspapers, magazines, and books all remain recognizable as such online.
Just as the form of the book didn’t evolve quickly, neither did society around it. Elizabeth Eisenstein, author of the definitive work on Gutenberg’s impact, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, writes, ‘One must wait a full century after Gutenberg before the outlines of new world pictures begin to emerge into view.’
John Naughton, a columnist for the Observer in London, asks us to imagine we are pollsters in 1472, 17 years after the first printed Bibles (we are only about that far away from the introduction of the commercial web ourselves). On a bridge in Mainz, we ask citizens how likely they think it will be that Gutenberg’s invention could:
a. Undermine the authority of the Catholic Church
b. Power the Reformation
c. Enable the rise of modern science
d. Create entirely new social classes and professions
e. Change our conceptions of ‘childhood’ as a protected early period in a person’s life
‘Printing did indeed have all these effects,’ Naughton states, ‘but there was no way that anyone in 1472 in Mainz (or anywhere else for that matter) could have known how profound its impact would be.’
The internet, I believe, could prove to be every bit as disruptive as the printing press, reshaping not just media – for the internet is much more than a medium – but almost every industry and social institution. Of course, there’s no way to know that for sure. Dan Gardner’s book Future Babble argues that expert predictions are uniformly worthless. But then, the very idea of an expert on the future is absurd.
“The wise course is not to try to forestall change (to slow or stop it through regulation), but to accelerate it through openness and investment.”
Still, we must try to imagine the edges of possibility so we can make better strategic decisions in business, technology, policy, and education. If we assume that the current disruption has already occurred at broadband speed – and so we must be nearly through it – then we will plan based on what we see around us now. But if instead we assume that ‘we ain’t seen nothin’ yet,’ then we will seek out greater disruption and unforeseen opportunities. We will protect flexibility, invention, and imagination so we may pivot as we see the future’s true shape emerge.
Indeed, we may want to hasten change. In a 1998 Rand Corporation paper, The Information Age and the Printing Press: Looking Backward to See Ahead, James Dewar argues that our information age will be marked by unintended consequences, so the sooner we recognize, embrace, and adapt to them, the better. The wise course then is not to try to forestall change (to slow or stop it through regulation), but to accelerate it through openness and investment.
So imagine that change. Start with the idea that technology leads to efficiency over growth in numerous industries. See retail: Drive down a commercial highway in America and you will pass numerous empty big-store boxes that don’t seem like they’ll ever be filled. Chain retail – invented only a century ago by The Great A&P – appears to be losing to the efficiency of internet sales and consolidated distribution. Many companies are unable to withstand the pricing transparency the net affords or bear the cost of redundant staff, real estate, and inventory. The entire supply chain is upended by disruptors from Amazon to Kickstarter.
In the delivery industry, postal services in many countries are facing devastating shrinkage as email and social communication call into question the very notion of a letter; as transactions become too inefficient and expensive to conduct on paper, as marketing finally shifts from mass mailing to targeted relevance. Yet communication flourishes.
Newspapers and magazines are struggling to adjust to a new media economy built on abundance rather than control of scarce time or space. Now news is beginning to mimic the end-to-end architecture of the net as witnesses share what they see with the world. Journalists must ask how they can continue to add value to an information flow that no longer relies solely upon them.
Health, design, marketing, finance, manufacturing, insurance, energy… Every one of these sectors is just beginning to witness the upheaval the net brings.
Government is already being disrupted, of course. Wikileaks demonstrates the folly of secrecy. The Arab Spring is unseating dictators. Icelanders are rebuilding their economically wrecked society by rewriting their constitution via Facebook comments.
But I wonder whether something even bigger is afoot: Will we rethink even our notion of nations and thus of societies? Does the net enable us to make new societies that cut across boundaries? I wonder whether that is a lesson of the hashtag revolt, #occupywallstreet; that institutions — in which we have less and less trust — are replaced by networks; that society, too, begins to mimic the architecture of the net.
Perhaps I’m going too far. But then again, perhaps I’m not going far enough.
A group of academics at the University of Southern Denmark argues that we are emerging from the other side of what they call ‘the Gutenberg parenthesis.’ Before Gutenberg, knowledge was passed mouth-to-mouth, scribe-to-scribe, changing along the way with little sense of authorship. Inside the parenthesis, with the press, knowledge became linear, permanent, more a product than a process, with clear ownership.
More than five centuries later, they say we are emerging from the other side of the parenthesis. Now knowledge is again passed along, remixed as it goes, with less sense of ownership: It’s process over product. In his upcoming book Too Big to Know, David Weinberger sketches a vision of knowledge that is too big for libraries, institutions, or our heads. ‘Knowledge is now the property of the network,’ he writes. ‘The smartest person in the room is the room itself.’
This change in our mental map of information affects our cognition of our world, the Danish academics argue. So more is changing than merely industries and institutions. Our social norms and societies are up for grabs. How we understand the world around us is evolving, and change that profound doesn’t happen quickly.
Shared via Posterous on February 29, 2012 at 03:54PM
Tags : thefutureoftheinternet
Posted by Morten Blaabjerg, December 17th, 2011 in Shared stuff
By Dave Winer, Dave Winer's "Scripting News" weblog – December 13, 2011 at 03:12PM
I hear it everywhere. The web is dead, apps are the future.
I heard it first on the cover of Wired Magazine in March 1997 and again in August 2010. I was so impressed I added it to my blogroll, as a reminder to all that you’re reading a dead medium.
That was said in jest, of course.
I’ll keep playing here while the rest of you flirt with apps. I’ll be here when you come back. I know it’s going to happen. Here’s why.
Visualize each of the apps they want you to use on your iPad or iPhone as a silo. A tall vertical building. It might feel very large on the inside, but nothing goes in or out that isn’t well-controlled by the people who created the app. That sucks!
The great thing about the web is linking. I don’t care how ugly it looks and how pretty your app is, if I can’t link in and out of your world, it’s not even close to a replacement for the web. It would be as silly as saying that you don’t need oceans because you have a bathtub. How nice your bathtub is. Try building a continent around it if you want to get my point.
We pay some people to be Big Thinkers for us, but mostly they just say things that please people with money. It pleases the money folk to think that the wild and crazy and unregulated world of the web is no longer threatening them. That users are happy to live in a highly regulated, Disneyfied app space, without all that messy freedom.
I’ll stay with the web.
Update: I wrote a follow-up to this piece.
Tags : thefutureoftheinternet
Posted by Morten Blaabjerg, December 9th, 2011 in Shared stuff
By Everett Bogue, Far Beyond The Stars – February 07, 2011 at 06:50PM
Interview by Thom Chambers with Everett Bogue.
Thom has a digital magazine on the future of business on the web at In Treehouses. His two latest stories passed through my filter and into my radar, on how the web is becoming more beautiful with the addition of filter/social apps such as Instagr.am (which I use regularly) and how Colin Wright and Miles Fitzgerald are relaunching Ebookling.
Thom asked me to do an interview on how my platform is becoming multi-dimensional with the addition of my Letter.ly to the already fairly layered existence my second self has on the web.
Here is the interview:
Thom: Letter.ly is still quite unfamiliar to many. What made you decide to start up a letter.ly newsletter rather than putting that content on a blog?
Ev: A few months ago I discovered that I was a member of a group of people called ‘augmented humans’, a term that Eric Schmidt the soon-to-be-ex CEO of Google used at DLD2011 to discuss the future of human evolution. Augmented humans use mental cybernetic technologies, such as Twitter to extend their consciousness beyond themselves — creating personalities on the Internet called second selves, which allow them to unplug from the Internet.
While pre-augmented humanity is tethered to a computer screen answering emails, augmented humanity is having tea –discussing how to let technology do it’s thing, while we do our human thing.
I started the letter.ly because I began to realize that talking about advanced mental cybernetics to an audience of 85,000+ people was incredibly confusing for the audience. People were stumbling across the articles, and had no idea what I was talking about. At best this made people incredibly confused, at worst I was ripping people’s brains through the space/time continuum.
I had to make a choice: either dumb down the content for a mass audience, or ask people for a commitment before they entered the time-machine. Once I made this choice, it took a lot of the pressure off me to make sure everyone got it — which is impossible at this point. Augmented humanity is such a fringe topic that explaining it to a small audience is much easier than dealing with all of the backlash that came from proclaiming that there’s a generation of cyborgs living amongst us.
Thom: How hard was it to choose a price point? Have you got any advice for others considering a letter.ly newsletter when it comes to pricing?
Ev: Many people were charging $1.99 – $3.99 for their Letter.lys. My fellow-collective-buddy and augmented human @rosshill and I had a discussion (which for us is like two tweets) about how we could price our Letter.lys at a point where the people who received them felt like they were getting value from them. $25 seemed to be the right price point.
I’m teaching people how to create second selves that take care of them, essentially letting them earn a living without having to be tethered to a screen all day. The value return can be, when applied, many to the power of many times what the small group of people who subscribe are paying for.
When pricing a letter.ly, the biggest concern I had with extremely low price points is simply that it will just seem like an inconvenience to sign up. What is the difference between free and $1.99? Not much, it’s simply a barrier of entry. I think if you’re going to charge, you might as well charge a real amount.
This funds the research, and also creates a more dedicated following/interaction with the people who receive. If someone isn’t interested, they’re going to unsubscribe. This creates a stronger base of support for the work, because disinterested people leave naturally.
Thom: How have people reacted to the decision to charge for your content? In a world of so much free information, do you often find yourself having to justify the decision?
Ev: I don’t feel the need to justify the decision to anyone. If they want it, they can subscribe. If they feel like it’s not worth the value, I’d honestly rather them invest their money in another way. There’s a lot of information on the Internet, and research into augmented humanity really is only interesting to people who are either waking up to the fact that they are cybernetic life-forms, or are interested in becoming augmented themselves.
Thom: Without wishing to be too indelicate about it, how good is the income from the newsletter? Would you encourage others to take it up as a viable income stream?
Ev: The launch has been slow, purposefully. I haven’t been pushing the letter.ly on people, because I don’t think it’s necessary. That being said, while not revealing actual figures, the monthly revenue has quickly risen to become a significant amount of income for my business. It’s a nice bonus on top of e-book sales, occasional 1-to-1 consulting, and once-in-awhile affiliate revenue.
Everything is an experiment. I don’t think I necessarily would have started out with a letter.ly as the first product that I ever launched. It could work, but figure that I launched my letter.ly to a rather large audience with a significant number of extremely dedicated readers. Results will vary.
Julien Smith explains the economics of launching this kind of business in his article: The future of blogs is paid access.
Thom: Letter.ly allows people to unsubscribe at any time. Have you found that your audience is loyal or does the fact that it’s easy to leave make people more fickle, do you think?
Ev: I really hope anyone who isn’t interested in the content I’m writing will unsubscribe, it’s not worth their attention honestly to continue reading. The money, in my mind, is secondary to the attention that people are putting into the content they’re reading.
There’s an incredibly easy-to-click unsubscribe link on the bottom of every letter.ly. I hope everyone’s first instinct is to click it if they’re suddenly not vibing with the content.
That being said, I’ve only had a half a handful of people unsubscribe so far.
Thom: What are the benefits to a newsletter, do you think, over an ebook or a course or a blog? What excites you about the medium?
Ev: Information is traveling faster and faster. I’m noticing that a new idea that I have will be instantly adopted by my collective within a few hours of my writing it — and vis-versa. The internet is bringing us all closer together in our ideas, especially augmented humans. I know to some extent what is going on in the minds of a group of people who my 3rd brain is synced with in Melbourne Australia, and they know somewhat of what is going on in my mind.
This speed means that ebooks really need to be based around information that is timeless, instead of timely. I haven’t really ever taken a course, or given a course, so I can’t comment on that. However, when I look at the blog, I see information that floats just above the surface — enough to puzzle people a little about the possibilities available in their lives. When I look at the Letter.ly, I see a way of transporting people deeper into their understanding of a way of consciousness that’s just beginning to emerge in our culture. When I look at the ebooks, I see a complete story being told from beginning to end that takes your mind from this point to that point, and hopefully by the end you’ve jumped forward in evolution closer to where my collective is currently riding the wave.
Thom: In terms of content, have you found that particular themes or styles are more suited to the newsletter – or is it similar to blogging with its time-tested traditions of headlines and list posts?
Ev: I’m beginning to believe that “time-tested” traditions like list posts and impulsive headlines are going away. I want to write a headline that makes sense for my Letter.ly, I want to make a headline that makes sense for my blog, I want a book with a title that makes sense for the book.
This is a shift for me, because I wasn’t always approaching the work this way. I’m just finding that the more I travel into the future and bring information backwards down the evolutionary chain to people who need it, the more it’s not necessary to pad the content with superfluous techniques that they teach you in marketing school.
The web is becoming more intelligent to that stuff, and so are our minds. We won’t be tricked anymore, and we’re seeing that as some of the sites that rely on those techniques begin to fall in relevance.
Thom: Where do you see the newsletter going? Do you have a plan for it or do you run it more out of sheer enjoyment?
Ev: It’s an experiment, it’s also a stopgap. I have a major goal this year of eliminating email from my life completely (in order to show the world that it can be done, and so others can follow.) In order to that, I’m going to need to find another home for the Letter.ly content. I’ve made it clear for everyone involved that it may not be around forever.
Until then, I’m enjoying time-traveling with everyone much farther out than we could ever go on the blog. That’s incredibly fulfilling and enjoying for me, and for the people who are involved in the project.
Thank you Thom for allowing me to cross-post this interview on my blog. You can check out the new issue of In Treehouses on Febuary 14th.
My Letter.ly is here.
My three favorite Letter.lys right now are by Ross, Gwen, and Crystal.
Tags : thefutureoftheinternet
Posted by Morten Blaabjerg, November 29th, 2011 in Shared stuff
By Aayush Arya, The Next Web – November 29, 2011 at 08:38AM
Dartmouth professor Dr. Hany Farid and Ph.D. student Eric Kee have developed an algorithm that rates images on a scale of 1 to 5 based on the level of post production varnish applied to it using tools like Adobe Photoshop, according an article in The New York Times.
Dr. Farid got the inspiration when he read about feminist legislators in Britain, France and Norway who were trying to get legislation passed that required digitally altered photographs to be labeled as such. Similarly, the American Medical Association has a policy which discourages advertisers from excessively modifying images of models, because they “promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image”.
The Dartmouth research is being published this week in the journal The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the university has already made public the before and after stages of some of the hundreds of images gathered for the study that show the various levels to which images are being altered today.
The algorithm is supposed to give an objective rating between 1 and 5 to distinguish between images that have only been slightly touched up to ones that have been given a complete makeover. To make the rankings correspond with human perceptions, the professor and student team brought in hundreds of people and had them rate the many before and after pictures they had gathered from online portfolios for the purpose.
Those ratings were then used to train the software, which its developers hope will one day lead to models being able to say whether they want their retouched photographs to be a 1 or a 4. It may also help with the passing of a legislation in USA that Seth and Eva Matlins, the founders of women’s online magazine Off Your Chests, are trying to gain support for.
Seth Matlins, like his European counterparts mentioned earlier, wants photographs that have been significantly edited to be labeled as such. He says that while he does not discourage the creative use of Photoshop, the widespread practice of completely overhauling the subject’s appearance results in photographs where “what you’re seeing is about as true as what you saw in Avatar”.
While that may be an exaggeration, it can hardly be questioned that a lot of the photographs we see in advertising and media today are so heavily altered that they portray a wildly inaccurate version of the people involved. So much so, in fact, that readers have become jaded by the overly enhanced images and want editors to go back to the basics.
The editor-in-chief of More—a magazine for women over the age of 40—Lesley Jane Seymour, said that due to the increased online publicity of before and after images that betray the real person behind the beautifying mask of Photoshop, readers have become sophisticated enough to figure out the deception involved when photo editors go a little too far with their digital scalpels.
While readers want their celebrities to look good, they also want them to look like real people instead of plasticised Barbie dolls. “Readers aren’t fooled if you really sculpt the images,” Seymour said. “If you’re a good editor, you don’t go too far these days.”
Tags : thefutureoftheinternet
Posted by Morten Blaabjerg, November 29th, 2011 in Shared stuff
By Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation – November 29, 2011 at 08:17AM
Becoming ‘multi-temporal’, rather than multi-cultural: it used to be a very big problem for historians that they supposedly could not divide themselves from the outlooks and interests of their own age. I think we are approaching a situation where the outlooks and interests of our own age make very little sense. They just don’t bind us to anything in particular. We don’t have a coherent outlook or interest that can enslave us. This means we are closer to a potentially objective history than anybody has ever been.
Excerpted from Bruce Sterling:
” There are new asynchronous communication forms that are globalized and offshored, and there is the loss of a canon and a record. There is no single authoritative voice of history. Instead we get wildly empowered cranks, lunatics, and every kind of long-tail intellectual market appearing in network culture. Everything from brilliant insight to scurillous rumor.
This really changes the narrative, and the organized presentations of history in a way that history cannot recover from. This is the source of our gnawing discontent.
It means the end of post-modernism. It means the end of the New World Order, which is about civilizing the entire planet, stopping all the land wars, repressing the terrorism. It means the end of the Washington Consensus of the nineteen nineties. It means the end of the WTO. It means the end of Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’; it ended. And it’s moving in a completely different and unexpected direction.
The idea that history ended, and that the market sorts that out, and that the Pentagon bombs it if that doesn’t work – it’s gone. The situation now is one of growing disorder. A failed state, a potentially failed globe, a collapsed WTO, a collapsed Copenhagen, financial collapses, lifeboat economics, transition to nowhere. Historical narrative, it is simply no longer mapped onto the objective facts of the decade. The maps in our hands don’t match the territory, and that’s why we are upset.
Now, a new master narrative could arise on paper. That would be easy. On paper, if it were just a matter of paper, we could do it. But to do that via the Internet is about as likely as the Internet becoming a single state-controlled television channel. Because a single historical narrative is a paper narrative.
I don’t think we are going to get one. We could conceivably get a new ideology or a new business model that is able to seize control of the course of events and reinstate some clear path to progress, that gets a democratic consensus behind it. I don’t think that’s likely. At least not for ten years. I could be wrong, but it’s not on the near-term radar.
What we are facing over a decade is a decade of emergency rescue, of resiliency, of attempts at sustainability, rather than some kind of clear march toward advanced heights of civilization. We are into an era of decay and repurposing of broken structures, of new social inventions within networks, a world of ‘Gothic High-Tech’ and ‘Favela Chic’ (as I’ve called it), a crooked networked bazaar of history and futurity, rather than a cathedral of history, and a utopia of futurity.
That’s just the situation on the ground. I don’t want to belabor this point. I don’t want to go on and on about the fact that this is a new historical situation. If you don’t get it by now, you will be forced to get it; you will have no other choice.
The question is: now what? Given that we have atemporal organized representations of verbal structures, what can we actually do? Where is the fun part?
Where is the fun part? And I think there could be some, actually. We are living in an atemporal network culture, and I don’t think that requires a moral panic. I think it ought to be regarded as something like moving into a new town.
We’ve moved into a new town, and the first order of business is like : ok, what gives around here? Well, there seems to be this sort of decayed castle, and there’s also a lot of slums…. That’s not the sort of thing which requires a punk ‘no-future’ rage. Like: ‘You’ve taken away my future, and I am going to kill you, or kill myself, and throw a brick at a cop!’ I don’t really think that is helpful.
What’s needed here is like a kind of atemporality that’s like agnosticism. Just a calm, pragmatic, serene skepticism about the historical narratives. I mean: they just don’t map onto what is going on.
So how do we just — like — sound out our new scene? What can we do to liven things up, especially as creative artists?
Well, the immediate impulse is going to be the ‘Frankenstein Mashup.’ Because that’s the native expression of network culture. The “Frankenstein mashup” is to just take elements of past, present, and future and just collide ‘em together, in sort of a collage. More or less semi-randomly, like a Surrealist “exquisite corpse.”
You can do useful and interesting things in that way, but I don’t really think that offers us a great deal. Even when it’s done very deftly, it tends to lead to the kind of levelling blandness of ‘world music.’ That kind of world music that’s middle-of-the-road disco music which includes pygmy nose-flutes or sitars.
The kind of thing is tragically easy to do, but not really very effective. It’s cheap to do. It’s very punk rock. It’s very safety pins and plastic bags. But it’s missing a philosophical high-end, really an atemporal meaning of life. High-art.
And I would like to see some of that. I think there is a large hole there that could be filled, from an atemporal perspective. Not at the lowest end of artistic expression, but way up at the top philosophical end.
Then there are things like that increasing vogue we have for ‘lost futures’: steampunk, atompunk, dieselpunk. You’re finding earlier methods of production, pretending that they’d never become defunct, and then adding on to those. I would add to those: you could do a lot of good work with the materiality of dead regimes and also with colonialism.
These have been hobby activities, and even sci-fi fan activities, I think they could be classed up very considerably.
Then there are other elements which are native to our period that didn’t really work before, such as generative art. I take generative art quite seriously. I’d like to see it move into areas like generative law, or may be generative philosophy. The thing I like about generative art is that it drains human intentionality out of the art project.
Say, in generative manufacturing, you are writing code for a computer fabricator, and you yourself don’t know the outcome of this code. You do not know how it will physically manifest itself. Therefore you end up with creative objects that are bleached of human intent.
Now there is tremendous artistic intent — within the software. But the software is not visible in the finished generative product. To me, it’s of great interest that these objects and designs and animations and so forth now exist among us. Because they are, in a strange way, divorced from any kind of historical ideology. They are just not human.
There are potential and new forms of collaborative art that have no single authors. Open source arts, multiplayer arts, multimedia collaboration. Online world building is of great interest. That was not physically possible before. It’s something we can do that nobody else can do.
I am listing these methods; some of them will work, some of them will turn out to be dead-ends. The thing that interests me is that they could be done from this particular perspective, and they can be fresh.
The ‘pre-distressed antique futurity’. William Gibson wrote about this when we was writing about atemporality, associating it with his ‘Zero History’ novel that he is working on. Gibson was saying that if you have a genuinely avant garde idea, something that’s really new, you should write about it or create about it as if it were being read twenty years from now. In other words, if you want to do this, you want to strip away the sci-fi chrome, the sense of wonder. You want it to be antique before it hits the page or the screen. Imagine that it was twenty years gone into the future. Just approach it from that perspective.
No longer allow yourself to be hypnotized by the sense of technical novelty. Just refuse to go there. Accept that it is already passe’, and create it from that point of view. Try to make it news that stays news.
Refuse the awe of the future. Refuse reverence to the past. If they are really the same thing, you need to approach them from the same perspective.”
Tags : thefutureoftheinternet
Posted by Morten Blaabjerg, November 26th, 2011 in Shared stuff
By Paul Sawers, The Next Web – November 26, 2011 at 02:07PM
“I’m better connected to people I deliberately lost touch with over the years than to the people I really care about.”
With 15+ years experience as a multimedia producer, Stuart Arnott has done everything from making science documentaries for the BBC and producing TV commercials, to creating corporate videos and websites. He’s even got a few ‘industry firsts’ under his belt: “I produced one of the world’s first PAL DVDs”, says Arnott. “And I’ve picked up a fair few awards along the way too.”
The Next Web was at the PowerOfOne Conference in early November, one of the many events that constituted Internet Week Europe. Whilst we reported on a couple of stories relating to the event, involving Jason Calacanis, and Yosi Taguri, it was Stuart Arnott‘s pitch that really caught our attention.
Stuart has been working on an interesting new product called Mindings, which he presented to the audience at the Power of One conference after winning a competition to pitch his product. In the simplest terms, Mindings strives to harness the power of social technology and connect people with family members who are dissociated with the digital age.
Part of the appeal of Stuart’s pitch at the conference was the real human element he brought personally – he’s developed the technology on the back of his own experience of keeping in touch with family who live in Scotland, while he resides in London. Here’s his story.
“Just before my daughter was born, in March 2008, my Mum was diagnosed with cancer”, says Stuart. “As she and my dad lived miles away, I realized she was not going to see my daughter – her only granddaughter – more than half-a-dozen times. So, I wanted to give her as much of ‘the grandmother experience’ as possible.”
At first, Stuart printed out a bunch of photos, stuck a stamp on them, wrote his mum’s address on the back and posted them as though they were postcards. “After a while I thought, ‘I’m a geek, surely I can do better than this?’”, says Stuart. “So after searching the Web I discovered one of the first wireless picture frames that you could email pictures to. It was very poor quality, a pain to use and when I visited I had to manually remove the old photos.”
However, it was the ability to send photos in this manner – without the hassle of printing photos and posting them – and his mother being able to see her granddaughter every day that really amazed Stuart. “I looked around for a better solution, and there wasn’t one”, says Stuart. “So, drawing on my background as a multimedia producer, I decided to make something myself. And it has developed since. I’ve been working on Mindings as it currently stands for almost a year now. I pretty much devote about 80% of my working life to it.”
Mindings is a bootstrapped company, which means Stuart still dabbles in the multimedia production game to help ends meet. “I have Angels in the wings though”, adds Stuart. “But until we have a product that a sufficient number of people are using, or a hardware manufacturer that wants to do a deal, I’m resisting accepting money. Or maybe until my credit cards say ‘no more’.”
So that’s the back-story. But what, exactly, is Mindings?
Mindings: Connecting families
There’s little question that many of you reading this will know of someone who would benefit from being better connected to the wider world – whether it’s an auntie, grandparent or an old best friend. But what exactly does Mindings do to help connect people?
“Mindings is a Web app and a back-end service”, says Stuart. “As well as my Dad having prototype number one on his mantlepiece, we have Mindings Android app on some tablets – the Binatone 705.”
The integration with the device seemingly came too early though, and it’s not really being supported at the moment. But alas, people were buying the device as an Android tablet first-and-foremost, not as a device to place in their grandparents’ livingroom, so Mindings’ guest appearance in the app world has been a brief one so far.
“When people start using Mindings, they will become dependent on it”, says Stuart. “They’ll start trusting it – it will most likely be given to a vulnerable person. I want to make sure that this is something that works. Even if I say ‘don’t use this to remind granny to take her medicine’, people will do that – and I have a sense of personal responsibility about that.”
Stuart’s immediate goal is to have Mindings integrated with digital photo-frames that sit on a relative’s mantlepiece. There is a website that administrators can log-on to change the settings remotely – the administrator would likely be the person who bought the device for the relative. But there’s scope for a branded Mindings device too. “We have the technology in place now, and we’d like to do a deal with a hardware manufacturer to make a bespoke Mindings device”, says Stuart. “We have already been speaking to a company which discussed re-skinning an existing Android e-Book device to do just that, as re-tooling an existing device is much cheaper than making one from scratch.”
The key Mindings offering at present is that it enables a device to receive and display captioned photographs, SMS text messages, Facebook Statuses & photos, and a calendar. “We plan to include all manner of other applications in the future, such as Twitter, Flickr, Instant Messenger etc”, says Stuart.
Although there is an existing Android app which allows Mindings to run on tablet devices, access is limited to a small number of testers until, he says, it’s ‘rock-solid’. “We’re currently focused on our other product, ‘webMindings’, which is a browser-based version of the product”, says Stuart. “We have been asked so many times ‘can’t you just make it run on a computer or laptop we bought mum/dad/granny last Christmas, for which we had broadband installed’. We realized just recently that this would be an easy win for us, to get people using Mindings. Instead of having to persuade people to buy an Android tablet and get broadband installed at granny’s house, we’d just offer it to people who already have the kit and connection.”
Stuart thinks there are enough people out there in that situation to really start getting the product some traction. “How many people have an old laptop kicking around?”, asks Stuart. “I know I have at least three I can think of, plus the shop down the road sells refurbished models for less than a hundred pounds. Add to that the fact that half of UK households have wireless broadband – which means that most people have a wireless connection they can ask their neighbor if they could leech, to send granny some pictures. Who’d say no?”
Still, there’s room for clarification here in terms of how the actual interaction works. Remember, we’re not talking about standard tablet devices or picture frames here – we’re talking about a two-way interactive device that sits as part of a livingroom’s furnishings and is always on, displaying updates from somewhere else in the world. But it’s largely passive, and no real technical expertise is required.
“We have a big thumbs-up graphic on the bottom right of the screen, which is called GotIt!“, says Stuart. “This appears when I send my dad a new text message. If he touches the graphic I receive a text message in return, so I know that he got my message.”
In terms of Facebook, if you upload a photo to the social network, this will appear on the Mindings device along with a GotIt! graphic. If the recipient touches the graphic, it then shows up in the user’s Facebook Page that the person has ‘Liked’ the picture. “I call this ‘Active and Passive Nudging’, says Stuart.
“If I’m sending dad a text message, I’m specifically sending it to elicit a response, one that basically says ‘I’m alive’. I’m uploading content to Facebook all day long for anyone to see. If dad ‘Likes’ a picture, he doesn’t know what ‘Like’ is in the context of Facebook, he just thinks he’s letting me know he received the picture. I get the notification that dad is okay, and I’m passively getting that piece-of-mind even when I’m not actively seeking it.”
It really is a great concept, one that really resonates with me, and no doubt with millions of other people around the world. They are also planning games such as Noughts and Crosses, as a way of generating a regular stream of “I’m alive, well and interacting with the world” feedback.
Future incarnations may include the ability to send a text message from the device too, perhaps pre-written such as ‘call me when you have a moment’. But Stuart is keen to stress that this isn’t simply a tablet device. It is all about simplicity, so it’s not likely to be extended much beyond that. This isn’t meant to be an iPad.
Mindings as a healthcare platform
Whilst Mindings is still in its infancy, Stuart sees a much bigger potential for the technology, and he’s building the technology with one eye on the future. “I have a Senior Developer here in London with who I work closely on a daily basis, and I have a development team in the Philippines”, says Stuart. “I also have a team of advisors, in financial, marketing and strategy roles.”
Stuart’s broader ambition for Mindings is for it to move into the consumer telecare device market. “When my Mum passed away, dad was left living alone”, says Stuart. “Ironically, my dad had bad health, and he’s virtually housebound and my mum, despite her cancer, was my dad’s carer. We got in the local health authority who assessed dad and we were told that, yes, he was sufficiently disabled to qualify for a stair lift, a panic alarm, a daily health visitor wake-up service and a whole bunch of disability aids. This was great, except that the local authority’s budget had run out.
“After a lot of fuss and numerous visits to our local MP, we got the wake-up service but we had to buy the stairlift ourselves. It turns out that other monitoring devices can only be installed and run by health authorities. I thought that was crazy – I can buy a burglar alarm from Argos, why can’t I buy a TeleCare system to look after my family? With Mindings, I want to fix this wrong.”
So the GotIt! feature would become part of a home monitoring system. “You can either fill your loved-one’s home with webcams, motion detectors, trip-switches and remove their dignity and belief that they are able to live alone”, says Stuart. “Or you can buy Mindings, send them pictures and messages that will brighten up their life, and get the same regular stream of feedback that they are well. Next, I hope to be connecting health devices, so my dad takes his blood pressure reading and it appears on a simplified graph in the Mindings stream of content. Simultaneously, I get the same graph. Dad knows he’s okay, I know he’s okay. I can then let the doctor view the data at his next appointment on a secure Web page.”
Furthermore, Stuart told me about an interesting study that took place with Mindings recently. “During the summer, we did a clinical study at a major brain injuries unit”, says Stuart. “If you’ve had a brain trauma, the patients can be in there for anything up to 9 months. We had a number of patients use Mindings for a period of 5 weeks, the full data is being presented shortly. But the reaction, I can tell you, has been amazing.
“We set out to see if we could improve people’s memories, and what we discovered was it did – but not in the way we expected. If we showed them a photo, and it was on all day by their bed, when we tested them on things like ‘what color of jacket was the person wearing’, there was no improvement. But their recall of the event was amazing – and it was in such detail too. So we’d have a photo of a birthday party, or wedding reception and the detail they could recall from that was amazing.”
“I want this to be a consumer telecare device”, added Stuart. “But that’s the next step. We’re not trying to be like Tunstall, in making home telecare devices, like big ugly medical devices that sit in the corner of the room frightening people. Mindings is a social device.”
So…when can I start using Mindings?
The technology that can be integrated with photo-frames, tablets and such like is pretty much good to go, though you’ll not be able to access it quite yet. “We hope to be testing connected devices in the New Year”, says Stuart. First up is likely to be what’s known as ‘Web Mindings’, which will be a Web app that can run on any old computer. With more users on board and armed with some impressive stats to take to interested parties, Stuart hopes to lure some manufacturers on board to build a bespoke Mindings device.
Finally, the one stand-out line from Stuart’s pitch at the PowerOfOne conference a few weeks back seemed to resonate with a lot of people at the event:
“I’m better connected to people I deliberately lost touch with over the years than to the people I really care about.”
“I constructed that line”, says Stuart. “It was one of these moments where I was trying to drill-down Mindings to its very essence. Is it a product? Is it a service? That’s the line that gets everybody though.”
Check out the official Mindings promo video here:
Tags : thefutureoftheinternet
Posted by Morten Blaabjerg, November 6th, 2011 in Shared stuff
I think I've seen a slice of the future of the internet. More details on http://ifttt.com – If this then that – which I predict is going to change how we think about the internet, and put users back in the control seat in their use of online services
ifttt blog – ifttt the beginning…
ifttt the beginning… I’d like to humbly announce that the first beta invites for a project I’m incredibly excited about are out the door. The project is called ifttt, shorthand for “if this then…
Tags : thefutureoftheinternet