Mobile and Home phone convergence

So, Orange just announced their new Orange Unique service, a convergence of home phone, mobile phone and broadband. The question is, will their customer service match the product?

It’s not that radically different from BT’s Fusion service, though I think you get more. Here’s the Orange Unique low-down:

  • Inclusive calls from home, over your broadband connection
  • Up to six Unique phones per home, and up to three people can make calls at once, even when you’re surfing the Internet
  • Dedicated customer helpline for registration and support
  • Fast broadband connection up to 8 meg. Top speeds vary due to your distance from your local exchange
  • From £50 a month including broadband package and free phone

It’s still not quite a Wi-Fi phone and mobile and landline all in one, but it’s close. I’d like a phone like the Vonage Wi-Fi ones (that can hook into almost any Wi-Fi network) as well as it hooking into my home network and mobile. But it’s pretty close and the multiple phone connections are great news. I wish they had it here in Germany though.

So, a dedicated customer helpline for Unique? Hope it works better than their normal customer helpline and why not just get this stuff right across the board?

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The Brain Behind Del.icio.us

I’m not sure how old this interview with Joshua Schachter, inventor of del.icio.us, is but it’s a fascinating insight into the Wisdom of Crowds. It therefore comes as no surprise that the interview is by Wisdom of Crowds author, James Surowiecki.

Having spent time working on building up several communities, often in an educational context there is such a valuable lesson to be learned by making people’s essentially selfish natures to work for the common good. Says Schachter:

“Im not a big believer in expecting a large number of people to act in an altruistic fashion. You want to rely on people to do what they do.”

There are lessons for education here too, which tends to suffer from the fact that more students = more money but also a worse product (i.e., learning experience) because of the way education is currently structured. There are plenty of situations, communities in particular, where more people make things more powerful:

Schachter has already shown that out of the seeming chaos of hundreds of thousands of independent and eccentric judgments, order and wisdom can emerge. And if you think about del.icio.us in terms of his idea of making memory scalable, he’s also helped create a rather remarkable social memory system, in which all of us are able to find more and better information than we would on our own. As Schachter puts it, “The one who stashes a page doesn’t have to be the one who ends up recalling it. Del.icio.us is a storer of one’s own attention. But it also means you can share it with others.” And that ability will only become more valuable over time. “The better you understand the world, the better you’ll do.”

(Thanks for the original link via Pat Kane at Play Journal )

Google and UNEP Map Environmental Change

Deforestation of Rondonia in the Amazon

Google and the United Nations Environmental Programme last week launched an addition to Google Earth called the Atlas of Our Changing Environment, which allows people to view images of environmental change and information overlaid onto the satellite images.

You can access them from the ‘Featured Content’ section of Google Earth, or you can look at the web version.

I find this convergence of interaction/information design and environmental/sustainability issues really interesting because a large part of the problem is making this stuff meaningful and visible to everyday people and hooks into the work we’re trying to do at the Omnium Creative Network. It goes to show that good visual design (and of course the data) can really have an impact.

I’ve known about the scale of deforestation in the Amazon for years, all the stats on football pitch sized patches being destroyed every hour, etc. But it’s not until you see an image like this (and you can get the 1970’s image overlaid too, to compare) that you really appreciate how awful it is. Most of these images from Rondônia are from about 500 miles up too. From the overlay info:

In 1975, the region was still relatively pristine, with much of the forest intact. By 1989, the distinctive fishbone pattern of forest exploitation had appeared and by 2001 had expanded dramatically.

Shocking. As are almost all of the before and after images.

Be A Good Friend

My Social Fabric

What a joy to discover Steven Blyth’s My Social Fabric project (thanks to Mike Coulter at Digital Agency). Essentially the My Social Fabric project gives all your friends an avatar that gives you visible feedback to the state of your relationship with them. Haven’t been in touch for a while? Maybe they’re giving you a moody look. Forgot their birthday? They turn their back on you.

My Social Scene - close up. Number 8 is not happy

Apart from being a cute piece of interaction design, it also highlights a way of thinking which taps into the human ability to recognise emotions from even the vaguest posture. Most of us have had the experience of recognising a friend’s silhouette in the distance just by their gait. My Social Fabric relies on that to give you a sense of your social network at a glance.

Those of you out there who may be thinking this is all a bit emotionally disconnected and really should we be able to tell or remember by our contact with the real person might have a point. On the other hand it is very easy when travelling a lot or working a great deal or living in another country to forget.

There is more on the design process here and be sure to check out some of the scenario videos.

Insights into Jonathan Ive

Businessweek have a great selection of in-depth articles about Apple’s Senior Vice-President for Industrial Design, Jonathan Ive and they give a real insight into his famously secretive design process.

It seems less that Ive is secretive for the sake of it, or even for the sake of rumours getting out about products, but more that he is intensely focussed on the process of design and doesn’t want the distractions.

I think there is probably another aspect which is about trust. Ive and his small team (there are only about a dozen people in it) work through many, many iterations of any design. For that process to work in a group you have to really pour your heart and soul into the process and trust and respect the critiques of those you are working with so that you can evolve the design further. That means you need to trust that the person telling you your ‘perfect’ design (perhaps the 20th iteration) still needs work isn’t out to get you. I imagine it has taken some time to get the mix right and it is probably quite fragile. Innovation isn’t easy – you need people who trust you to go out on a limb, but also others you trust to reign you back in or push you further.

In terms of understanding the importance of the emotional and playful aspect of products, I very much enjoyed this snippet:

During an internship with design consultancy Roberts Weaver Group, he created a pen that had a ball and clip mechanism on top, for no purpose other than to give the owner something to fiddle with. “It immediately became the owner’s prize possession, something you always wanted to play with,” recalls Grinyer, a Roberts Weaver staffer at the time. “We began to call it ‘having Jony-ness,’ an extra something that would tap into the product’s underlying emotion.”

(Via Niti Bahn at the excellent Core77 who has posted the full set of links).

MTV vs YouTube

I’ve been catching up with my blog reading and thought Todd Dominey’s point about MTV trailing YouTube was worth a re-blog as it hooks into what I wrote previously about Apple’s iTV news. Todd’s full post has this to say:

A thought occurred to me watching the opening of the 2006 VMAs on MTV, which included a live rendition of the now famous treadmill video by OK Go. There was a time when MTV could have been responsible for popularizing the video (and the band as well), when the focus of MTV was music. Today however, the tail is wagging the dog, and it’s YouTube that’s breaking music videos. And MTV, once the leader in music video, is left with sloppy seconds. How times change.

If you haven’t seen the video, here it is:

You can watch the live MTV version here.

Steal This Film

Steal This Film

I finally got around to discovering, downloading and watching the documentary, Steal This Film about the MPAA’s attempts to shut down the Swedish BitTorrent tracker site, The Pirate Bay. Of course it’s available for free download at Steal This Film and the Pirate Bay and its method of distribution is, naturally, BitTorrent.

The interesting thing for me is that I decided to not watch TV tonight and watch this on my laptop instead. I unwittingly (well, maybe wittingly) did exactly what I said Apple’s iTV media centre would mean people would do in my previous post. That is, I decided to watch some free, independently produced content instead. Because I downloaded the podcast version, it ended up in (the new) iTunes and it was a pretty seamless experience actually.

So here’s the deal: Independently produced content, distributed for free essentially (because BitTorrent makes use of everyone’s spare bandwidth) and it has already been seen by several thousand people (I’d love to know the actual numbers if someone out there knows).

Lawrence Lessig posted a link to a commentary on the film on Open Business, which makes a couple of key points:

The footage was simply stored on a 250 GB external hard-drive which now costs less than £80. The once-prohibitively expensive HD video cameras were borrowed and editing software, of course, downloaded. All in all the movie surely cost less than £2000 and had been downloaded by over two thousand internet users in its first day of release. While the movie makes some use of copyrighted material to illustrate its points most of it is either news footage from TV or original footage.

Later on the post says:

Remember Tarnation? Its just a year or two ago when this movie made international headlines, because it won a film price and was produced with a budget of 218US $ using iMovie. This was seen then as truly revolutionary.

Well, that was then and for distribution the movie still had to use professional networks to be seen an to get into cinemas. Now a couple of friends could also go with somebody like the Piratebay for marketing and distribution. This is film production completely outside the traditional industry. Its not too far off to see the Piratebay acting like a professional film company.

So combined with the ease of watching this stuff on your TV (and lets face it, sitting in front of a computer watching films is a little nerdy still, even though I do it quite often) and an open distribution model there are many costs that immediately get covered.

The filmmakers also set up the ubiquitous buy the T-shirt site and Paypal donation account so it might also make some money that way to enable them to make the second part. There’s also a wiki if you want to contribute to the process.

The real point is that it opens up the debate about copyright and copyright abuse. Also frightening is the willingness of the US government to put pressure on the Swedish government to act illegally by raiding the Pirate Bay in the first place.

Hidden Gems in Apple’s Announcements

Of course there is the usual commentary on Steve Jobs’ new Apple announcements and no doubt this will add to the slush pile, but I think there are a few hidden gems in there too.

The new iPods with fancier screens and better battery lives are all great, etc. as is less packaging (though I think Apple have a long way to go here, especially with recycling their products). Yes, the new iTV announcement of an Apple-styled media centre is big news too as is downloading full movies from the new iTunes store. But we all knew it was coming and if you had a MacMini you could already do a lot of it.

What suddenly struck as a flash of the obvious was the Podcasting part of that. Okay, so you can share you media across the airwaves and watch them on your TV and many of us have already done this plugging our laptops into the TV. But I’ve never bothered to do it with Podcasts. Maybe because the content hasn’t been so great, but maybe because the equation of effort to hook up the laptop vs the level of quality of the content made it not really worthwhile.

I think the new iTunes with movie downloads are probably the driver to actually purchase an iTV (or whatever they end up calling it) box, especially as it’s pretty cheap. But the real interest is that it may prove to be the tipping point for independent content – i.e. Podcasts. That’s a really big deal hidden away in there. Essentially Apple are providing a very simple (and this is important for sit back TV viewing) channel for independently produced content – the Apple channel, if you like. Except of course it is smarter and you can have all the material downloaded with smart rules, etc. So it’s even better than a TV channel. That means that you can start reaching millions of people in their living rooms, just like TV, except without the networks.

Of course there will be the usual issues of production funding, etc. but some of that model has been discussed elsewhere by the likes of Mark Pesce. There is also plenty of content that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to produce, or content that professional content creators make in their spare time. I think this is bigger news than the movie downloads, which are basically an extension of the iTunes store model.

The other gems are the seemingly small tweaks to the user interface of iTunes and the iPods which are actually quite big leaps. I’m always impressed at Apple’s ability to introduce new GUI elements that simply feel like they might have been there all along and don’t jolt people’s current user patterns.