tisdag 9 oktober 2012

Big Thinker talk in Bangalore

I was very happy to be invited to Bangalore in India to give a Big Thinker talk about Grounded Innovation, sponsored by Yahoo! I spent a week at Yahoo! R&D in Bangalore and also went to the Indian Institute of Technology Madras in Chennai. The main talk was very well attended and I got a lot of questions and had very good discussions afterwards! Overall I was very impressed with what I saw in India and the technical competence of the local Yahoo! staff as well as the many people other companies and institutions I interacted with.

The slides for the talk are here:

torsdag 14 juni 2012

Grounded Innovation tutorial at Mobile HCI 2012

Want to know more about how to create the next groundbreaking digital product? Come to the Mobile HCI 2012 conference in San Francisco, where Lars Erik Holmquist will be presenting a tutorial on grounded innovation! The tutorial is intended to provide the attendees with the following:
  • General understanding of innovation processes and the role of research in creating new products
  • Overview of the unique properties of digital products, and how they can be leveraged to generate new concepts
  • Practical tools to perform grounded innovation, including user studies and idea generation
  • Detailed insight in how research can feed into innovation, based on case studies of successful as well as not so successful projects and products
Read more at the conference homepage. We hope to see you there!

onsdag 23 maj 2012

Book launch in Austin!

Grounded Innovation was officially launched on May 8 during the CHI 2012 conference in Austin, Texas! The event was hosted at the Museum of the Weird, a landmark Austin attraction which displays oddities from all over the world - freaks, monsters, mermaids, and much more! The author is pictured with King Kong, above (photo by Albrecht Schmidt). As added attractions we had the Pain-proof Man, who demonstrated how he could drive a nail into his own skull (and let a member of the audience pull it out!), and a fortuneteller to give essential advice about the future, digital or otherwise! The place was packed by an enthusiastic audience of CHI visitors and the book was also very well received at the Morgan Kaufmann booth at the conference.

You can also read more about it in the User Interface Engineering blog by Albrecht Schmidt, who was an important collaborator in several projects and features in the book!

tisdag 24 april 2012

Book launch activities!

With the book officially out and in stock, it is time to go on the road! The main event is the official release party at the rather splendid Museum of the Weird in Austin, Texas on May 8 during the CHI 2012 conference - see invitation above!

Additionally, I am speaking at two university events in the upcoming weeks:
I hope to see you there! And if you want to book me for speaking engagements, feel free to contact me at larserik@yahoo-inc.com!

onsdag 18 april 2012

Grounded Innovation is now published!

Ahead of schedule, the paperback edition of Grounded Innovation: Strategies for Creating Digital Products is now in stock at Amazon! Order it today! The Kindle edition will appear on May 15.

torsdag 12 april 2012

Share your latest innovations at SIGGRAPH Mobile!

This year, I am chairing SIGGRAPH Mobile, a new program at SIGGRAPH 2012, the world's premier conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques. Mobile graphics is growing at an incredible speed, and we want you to share the latest exciting technologies in mobile graphics and apps! There are many different presentation formats to cater for all kinds of content, from industry, art, academia and beyond.

Read more about it in the SIGGRAPHITTI newsletter, or go straight to the Call for Participation to submit your work!

måndag 9 april 2012

Tim O'Reilly on the future of mobile sensors

I highly recommend this conversation with Tim O'Reilly, originally published by Forbes! O'Reilly always has great insights, and his views on things like location (dis-)sevices, big data and the future of serendipity are well worth hearing.

torsdag 5 april 2012

Yahoo! Cocktails lets mix your own mobile mash-up!

Several years ago, when we started the Mobile 2.0 project at the Mobile Life Centre in Sweden, I identified the web as the mobile platform of the future. This was before the HTML5 standard had started to become formulated - in fact, it was even before the iPhone and app craze that we are currently seeing! At that stage, mobile development was a total mess, with hundreds of competing phones and no unified channel for users to get access to mobile services. I argued that in the future, emerging web mobile standards will allow you to pull in hardware and sensing features like location, accelerometer and camera, and mix it up with online resources like authentication, maps and media. I called this the age of the mobile mash-up.

Today, many people agree with me that a large portion of mobile applications will in fact be web-based. But HTML5 alone, as impressive as it is, will not be enough to build interactive, cross-platform web apps. That is why Yahoo! has developed the Cocktails suite - a mix of technologies including HTTP, HTML5, Cascading Style Sheets, and JavaScript - that will allow developers to build cross-plattform web apps very quickly. Read the introduction by project leader Bruno Fernandez Ruin' to get an overview of the project, and delve into the Yahoo! Developer Network to find out how it can work for you (and check out other cool Yahoo! tools such as YUI at the same time!)

Various components of Cocktails will be released open source over a period of time, and the first one out the door is Mojito, released this week. This application framework allows developers to write client and server components in the same language (JavaScript), using the same framework. Even more interesting, Mojito applications can run both on the client (in the browser) and on the server (with Node.js). This means that Mojito-based applications can start running on one side (e.g. the server where the service resides) and migrate over to the other (e.g. the browser on the device you are using to access it) depending on the best combination of bandwidth and hardware capabilities. The result is a smoother and more responsive web experience from the get-go, which is already featured in Yahoo! applications such as Livestand.

In Grounded Innovation, the final chapter points to a future where new interactive services are released quick and easy and iterated fast on the mobile web, in a way that the current OS and app-centric world does not allow. It will also become possible to make personalized web services for a small number of users - what I call hyper-customization. As more and more platforms like Cocktails become available, and as the current app-centric mobile development community migrates to the web, I am confident we will see of these mobile mash-ups making a large impact on the world.

tisdag 3 april 2012

Location-based recommnedations with Push!Music

One area of location-awareness that has not been explored very much yet is recommendation systems. The current crop of apps - from Foursquare to Skout - lets you connect with people and places around you. But there is a lot more that could be done with all the data that is generated by local user activity. What if you could get recommendations for music, movies or apps based on the people you meet - even without asking them?

In 2005, we came up with Push!Music, which was developed by Mattias Jacobsson and Mattias Rost. My idea was to extend the ordinary portable music player (and remember, this was before the iPhone and iPod touch, so most MP3 players were very limited) to give it an awareness of the music that the people around you listen to - and use that to give you new music. We introduced the notion of "media agents", meaning that every single song in your collection was an intelligent agent, capable of knowing when you listened to it, if you skipped it over, and so on. Furthermore, the agents (i.e. songs) could use the local wireless network to peek into other players nearby - and if they thought they would be played more often there, they could "jump over" to another person's player! This meant that while you were listening to your own music, songs from other users nearby could decide to come to you and insert themselves into your playlist! You would literally get new music not from some abstract recommendation engine on the internet, but from people you passed on the street, rode the bus with, or shared office space with - whether you knew them or not.

This system was implemented on handheld computers, and my student Maria Håkansson performed a number of studies on Push!Music with up to 10 users over several weeks. One interesting addition to the original idea was the capacity to manually send - or "push" - music to other users. This came out of the observation that people find it just as much fun to recommend music to others as to receive recommendations. So what happened? It turned out that people enjoyed getting recommendations from people around them - it felt "more alive" as one user put it. But Maria also found that people were very reluctant initiate contacts in the real world, even though they had been sharing music and were in the same location - this observation still holds for the many location-based "contact initiator" apps we are seeing today. Finally, an interesting issue arose around the sending and receiving of songs. Getting a song felt like a "gift", and when you receive a gift the polite thing is to thank the giver and tell her what you though - but we had failed to include such a capacity. This made users hesitate to send songs manually, because they did not know what the user would think, and had no way of finding out. However, the automatic recommendations - done by the media agents - carried no such obligation! Therefore, users really enjoyed sharing songs automatically the system - it was both from "real" people around them, while at the same time not introducing the awkwardness of the gift giving. (These are lessons that Microsoft could have used a few years later, when they introduced a similar manual sharing capability in their ill-fated Zune music player.) You can read more about the study in the paper Gifts from friends and strangers: A study of mobile music sharing.

Today, people are sharing media in close circles through apps like Path and Instagram, but I believe there is still a lot of room for recommendation-based systems based on the people around you. Wouldn't it be cool, for instance, if you could see what movies your neighbor was watching on their tablet (provided they allowed you, of course) and get it to your own device, maybe even start a conversation around it? Or if you could share music recommendations with the people in the bus on the way to work in the morning? As technology advances, I am sure we will see a lot more happening in this space!

Skouting for location

In the previous post I talked about the many location-aware services that have been introduced recently, and why the do not seem to get much traction. One happy exception seems to be Skout, which started out as a general location service but morphed into a youth-oriented dating/flirting app. Skout just received a $22 million round of funding, which indicates that the race in location is far from over! One unique aspect of Skout is how they make money - not from the advertisement or coupons that many others are targeting, but from in-app purchases of gifts, avatars, etc. Furthermore, by focusing on a particular demographic and domain they seem to have gained traction where many other, more general-purpose location apps have failed. After overcoming their rough patch, Skout now claims to be growing with 1 million users per month - the same rate as Foursquare! And of course, even though the company is based here in Silicon Valley, I am particularly happy in the knowledge that the founders, Christian Wiklund and Niklas Lindström are Swedish, just like me!

fredag 23 mars 2012

Ambient Awareness - still not quite ready for primetime

I just returned from the South By South West Interactive festival in Austin, where I was reminded of one of my earliest research projects. The Hummingbird (above), presented in 1998 and developed together with Jennica Falk and Joakim Wigström, was an "Inter-Personal Awareness Device" (or IPAD for short, no relation to Apple's product!) Originally, the idea was to connect you with people who had a similar interest, so that you could for instance get a notification if somebody who liked the same movies or music was nearby. However, we realized that we could not build many devices (we only did 4 of the first version) so we changed tactics, which turned out to be a good thing. Instead of introducing you to strangers, the Hummingbird would tell you when your friends or colleagues were nearby. It worked by having a radio transceiver constantly send out a unique identity, and listening for other Hummingbirds at the same time. If another user was detected, their identity would turn up on the display, and the device would emit a low humming sound.

The idea was to give you a kind of "super-sense" - a background awareness if people were in the vicinity, even if they were in another room or another floor of a building entirely. We used it in a number of settings, including a rock festival, a work group and a big conference. It turned out that this "one-bit" piece of information - merely knowing if someone was nearby - could be both useful and comforting. There had been other location services before it, most notably the Active Badge developed by Cambridge University and others. However, the Hummingbird was different in that it gave you a constant sense of which other people were nearby, and it also worked without any kind of infrastructure, which meant that it could be used outside of an office or campus environment. You can read more about it in our paper Supporting Group Collaboration with Inter-Personal Awareness Devices. Also, Alexandra Weilenman did an interesting study of ski instructors using the Hummingbird, documented in her paper Negotiating Use: Making Sense of Mobile Technology.

Fast-forward to 15 years later, and at SXSWi, the issue of "ambient location" or "ambient awareness" was everywhere! A large number of apps were presented that were supposed to give you an indication of when interesting people were nearby, including Highlight, Glancee, Sonar and many more. Unlike check-in based apps such as Foursquare, these services run in the background of your phone and constantly look for other users nearby. However, rather than keep you in touch with your friends, the idea with most of them was to introduce you to new people - just as we originally intended with the Hummingbird, but later abandoned. The difference of course being that while we had to build hardware from scratch, these apps were merely a download away for standard smartphones.

So did it work? Apparently not, according to a number of reports afterwards! These apps all drew a lot of battery (a problem we encountered with the original Hummingbird), and seemed to provide very little added value. In particular, it seemed to me when I used them, that they were not good at giving motivation for actually getting in touch with anyone who popped up. "User X is within 500 meters of you and also likes music and books" is not really enough of a conversation starter, especially in a crowded party with hundreds of people around! The closest I got to communicating with somebody was some random messages that were sent to me by people I did not have much in common with - and by the time I saw the messages, I had no way of knowing if they were still nearby. Very soon, I prioritized keeping up with people I already knew through Whatsapp, SMS and Facebook, and uninstalled all the background apps to keep my battery alive a little longer.

There have been a number of suggestions on how to make these services more appealing, such as having a useful "single-player mode", but ultimately, I think these startups need to take a step back and re-consider what kind of value they are really providing. Introducing people to each other can be fun, but it is also very easy to step over the line and become creepy. More importantly, to just match people by what they "Like" on Facebook is a very crude approach, and we would need something a lot more sophisticated before I would approach a complete stranger based on an app's suggestions. As seen in our research with the music-sharing service Push!Music (which I will post about another time) it is not easy to make the "jump" from online communication to the real world. But I am sure the underlying intuition about ambient awareness is sound, and eventually somebody will get it right!

torsdag 22 mars 2012

Transfer Scenarios: From lizards to robots

One important aspect of achieving grounded innovation is to manage the two dimensions of inquiry and invention. But how do you go about making inquiry about a product category that does not even exist yet? Sara Ljungblad developed the Transfer Scenarios method to do exactly that! The idea is that you look at an existing practice that is in some way analogous to the technology that you are interested in. You can find more about Transfer Scenarios in our article Transfer Scenarios: Grounding Innovation with Marginal Practices, and in Sara's Ph.D. thesis, Beyond Users: Grounding Technology in Experience.

For instance, in one project we were developing new forms of autonomous agents and robots. To get around peoples' preconceived notions of what a robot can do, we did a study on owners of unusual pets, such as snakes, spiders and lizards. These people have a very strong relationship to their pets, event though the animals themselves have a fairly low cognitive ability - much like robots! The idea was not to build new robotic pets, but to capture the essential qualities of the relationship and base new user experiences on that. For instance, a number of users were interested in developing new forms of patterns on lizards, and in interacting with other owners. This led to the idea of GlowBots, developed by Mattias Jacobsson and others. These are small robots that autonomously develop colorful and dynamic patterns, which in turn influence the robots around them. Users can interact with the robots by taking them up and shaking them! Shake the robot up and down to show that you like the pattern it is displaying; then it will set off to try and spread it to other robots. But if you shake it sideways, the robot will abandon the pattern it is currently working on and generate a new one, hopefully more pleasing. GlowBots generated a lot of press and were exhibited at several major events, including SIGGRAPH and Wired NextFest. The full story of GlowBots can be found in the article GlowBots: Designing and Implementing Engaging Human-Robot Interaction.

tisdag 20 mars 2012

Amazon buys robot warehouse company

Amazon has just purchased Kiva Systems, the company that provides fully automated robotic warehouses. The deal is expected to bring more automation to Amazon's warehouses. Kiva's technology is remarkable because it shows how it is possible to have physical places that are completely run by digital principles! In a Kiva warehouse, the humans stand still while robots put away and fetch inventory as needed. In fact, no human can fully understand how the inventory a Kiva warehouse is organized, but it makes perfect sense for a computer. In the future, as more and more sensing makes it possible to track the everyday things around us, we can start to apply computation like this to the everyday world - perhaps one day doing a "Google search" for a lost sock in the bedroom!

måndag 19 mars 2012

Identifying objects without barcodes

In the book I talk about digital products that do no information processing of their own. For instance, an electronic subway card does not actually do any computation, but is still a digital product since it allows you to interact with a digital payment database.

An easy way to identify products has been to use visual codes, such as the classic barcodes that you see in supermarket checkout counters. However, I argue that barcodes have many disadvantages, and for many tasks they are not really necessary! Image recognition technologies are becoming so good, they can identify objects without any specific codes.

Case in point: Toshiba has developed a supermarket checkout counter that identifies fruits by sight - no barcode needed! While this is still an early system, it points the way to a near future when every object around us will be recognizable and potentially part of a digital system.

Look inside the book!

Grounded Innovation is now up for pre-order at Amazon, and you can get a sampling of the content by using the Look Inside feature!