Category Archives: web

Newly Glassed: Wearables, GPS, and Ambient Data

(Shameless plug: interested in the intersection of GPS, GIS, wearables, and data? You should attend the MapCamp hackathon at ISITE Design — January 10-12, 2014. Register here!)

I’ve been Glassed for the better part of a month now, and I must say I feel fortunate to have an advance look at what the future of interface will no doubt look like. For all the slagging it takes in the press and blog-land for being a needless distraction and encourager of Ugly Tech Behavior, I’ve found Glass to be remarkably unobtrusive and subtle. If anything, Google may have erred too far on the side of demureness, sacrificing some utility in order to keep the interface from being a persistent annoyance. Oddly, the mere act of wearing “glasses” constantly has been the most jarring aspect of the experience for me — I’m lucky to be blessed with perfect vision, and live in 9-months-overcast Portland, where sunglasses are rarely required. So, it feels a little weird to have something on my face all the time. But I’m getting used to it.

Hardware awkwardness aside, the software experience in Glass is quite subtle and pleasant. The interface relies heavily on voice commands, which feels socially awkward in public, but I expect those commands to be replaced by gesture-based controls over time. I’ve been in a number of contexts recently where voice commands were either awkward (public) or impractical (while cycling, when Glass had a hard time hearing me over the wind noise), and this really diminishes the utility of the device. More discreet and reliable gesture-based controls would help close this considerable experience gap.

When unhindered by UX awkwardness, I’ve found the Glass experience to be absolutely magical. One of the biggest drawbacks to the mobile phone as center of the personal-data universe is that, for a typical plugged-in 21st century citizen, the sheer mass of alerts, updates, and bits of communication can be daunting, and can prompt the sort of antisocial, constant-phone-checking behavior that, ironically, many commenters seem wary of experiencing with Glass.

However, the Glass experience does a great job of staying out of the way, only popping up alerts periodically, and only, as far as I’ve seen, ones that are relevant for one reason or another. The screen also sits above the field of vision, not in the way of it, which effectively keeps it out of the way until you’re ready to glance up. This does make looking at anything in particular for more than a few seconds a little straining, but the best use of this kind of technology isn’t really the kind of immersive, attention-absorbing experience you’d get from a game or long-form text — it’s really designed for small bites of information, not whole meals.

And this, I think, is where Glass (and the many, many competitive follow-on products sure to come to market soon) will shine — in the intersection between personal relevance, tiny bits of useful data, and location-awareness. Already, I’ve seen Glass pop up historical points of interest periodically as I pass by them — which is interesting from a casual-observer-of-geographic-history perspective, but pales in comparison to the utility that will be unleashed when this kind of serendipitous, location-based info-popup is tuned and shaped by our interests, needs, social connections, and most importantly, our tolerance for being interrupted as we transit our environment. Imagine shoppers armed with real-time sale information, music lovers alerted to nearby last-minute ticket releases, and car-share users able to scan the horizon for available vehicles. Eventually, this really will feel like having superpowers.

And eventually, it will just feel normal, right? I’ve seen the future, and I say bring it on.


Twitter Etiquette

I know we’re in the infancy of a new communication technology with short real-time burst communication formats like Twitter and SMS, but I really, really hope it doesn’t take us as long to establish basic rules of conduct and courtesy as it did with the telephone and e-mail.

The ubiquity of instantaneous, short-format communication is sometimes used to give sloppy etiquette and inconsiderately-timed interactions a free pass. But, we’ve had phones in every home, on all the time, for generations, and mobile voice communications for decades now. When presented with a clear framework of accepted norms, we’ve proven ourselves (most of us, anyway) capable of respecting personal boundaries and exercising common courtesy.

However, these norms revolve around channels that have always been understood to be real-time. Now, advances in device technology have brought communication formats that we’ve been given to think of as asynchronous to us in real-time. SMS notification of new Twitter direct messages is a great example of this — I don’t receive an SMS every time I get a new e-mail (that would be awful!), but Twitter DMs are infrequent enough — and typically time-sensitive enough — that I usually want to be notified of them right away.

Unless, of course, the person at the other end of the Twitterphone has different standards of conduct, or ideas about what the appropriate use of direct messages is.

With SMS, in particular, standards of conduct are evolving because adoption and use of SMS are still evolving (at least among Americans). Sometimes, when I go to text a family friend regarding logistics — whether we’re going out together for the night, traveling together, or what have you — and my wife will gently remind me that “not everyone texts, you know”. This has largely ebbed as, well, just about everyone texts these days. Still, I was pleasantly surprised when texts started arriving from my father (the Nexus One probably had something to do with it).

So, as we continue to evolve our standards of communication etiquette, I’d like to propose a few simple rules that, I hope, will help keep us all on civil terms. Ahem:

  1. Please, please, please reserve Twitter DMs for time-sensitive, personal communication. If you want me to know about your new book, your company’s product, your band’s gig, or your cat’s birthday, and @-reply will be just fine. Don’t worry — I’ll see it.
  2. If you’re going to DM me, it would be, you know, courteous of you to follow me back so I can reply. Do you know what you are when you can call me, directly, anytime, to tell me about your product, but I can’t call you? A telemarketer, that’s what. Give that a ponder.
  3. If you’re going to send a welcome message thanking me for following you, an @-reply is probably just fine, unless you’ve got a specific, private question to ask. If you don’t bother to follow me back, and your DM-spam arrives in the middle of the night (when I have my phone nearby, you know, for emergencies), you know what that makes you? That’s right — a telemarketer that wakes me up in the middle of the night. Probably not what you intended.
  4. If you use SMS extensively, particularly (as is increasingly the case) in place of voice mail (which, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate), it’s likely a good idea to make sure the person you’re texting has unlimited SMS (I do) or at least an unlimited plan. And a nice rule of thumb is not to text at an hour when you wouldn’t call — they have the same effect, as far as intrusiveness is concerned.

Bottom line — SMS and Twitter are not e-mail, folks. Please stop treating them as if they were anything less than what they are — real-time communication.

Surviving a Twitter Outage

Twitter will be down for scheduled maintenance for a full hour tonight (Friday June 5 2009) at 8PM Now, I know what you’re thinking. “I can’t live without my Tweetz!”, “How will I survive?!?”, “What, for the love of God, will I *do* with all of my opinions if I can’t tweet them??!?”.

Settle down. You’ll be fine, as long as you don’t panic. Panic is the first refuge of the uncreative.

Below are a few suggestions for surviving tonight’s planned apocaly^H^H^H er… maintenance. I certainly hope this is helpful to the more addicted among us:

While you’re wishing you could tweet, you could:

  1. Go out to dinner: I mean really, the outage is planned for 8PM Friday — prime date-night dinner-out time. And it’s rude to tweet from the dinner table anyway. You knew that, right? Right?
  2. Go see a band play and save your review for after the show: Seriously. I hear you can still enjoy a concert even if you can’t tweet the setlist — and how cute the bass player looks — in real time. Try it.
  3. Turn your mobile device off and get in an hour of cardio : This one needs no explanation.
  4. Nap: I mean really — you don’t tweet your dreams in real time, do you? Do you!?
  5. Punt: If you get really desperate, type out or write down all of your tweets, and send them all out in a flurry at 9:01PM. Or, you know, you could just express your opinion to the person closest to you (physically, I mean).

Hope this helps at least a few of you avoid being curled up in a ball shaking and sweating between 8 and 9 tonight…

Got anymore suggestions? Share ‘em here…