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May 2004

VeriChip-Implanted People (VIPs): Walking Internet Cookies

I've often heard the claim that the "price" of privacy, i.e., how much people want in return for revealing private information, is a 10% discount. However, it's hard to put a price on convenience. New Scientist reports that some people are willing to have RFID chips implanted subcutaneously as part of becoming a VIP member of the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona. The implanted VeriChips are about the size of a grain of rice and are detectable from a range of up to 10 cm. VIP club members can elect to have either a regular card or the implantable chip; either can be used in-house -- indeed, for VeriChip-implanted VIP members, in-body -- debit cards. The only benefit offered by the implanted chips is the convenience of not having to carry a regular VIP club card, which may thereby eliminate the need to carry a wallet. Remarkably, 9 people have reportedly signed up for the implanted chip option during the first two months. I particularly like the quote attributed to Ian Brown, director of the UK-based Foundation for Information Policy Research, describing such people as "walking Internet cookies." CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion And Numbering), an organization that opposes the use of RFID tags in supermarkets and other retail establishments, is noticeably silent on this development.

(via SmartMobs)

Technorati Adding 12,000 New Blogs A Day

JD's New Media Musings has some notes from Technorati's recent Developer's Salon in which it was claimed that Technorati is adding 11,000-12,000 new blogs a day to the list of blogs it monitors. Disclaimers are made about the fact that some bloggers maintain more than one blog and some people don't maintain their blog at all (45% of the blogs on their list have not been updated within the last three months). It's not clear to me what proportion of this large number represents existing blogs that are newly discovered by Technorati vs. how many are new blogs. In any case, the current list of blogs monitored by Technorati is 2.4 million, which I suspect is only a fraction of the blogosphere (LiveJournal reached the 2 million mark back in January, which was over 1 million blogs-a-day ago based on the 12,000 blogs/day estimate). Of course, now that Bill Gates is promoting blogs, there may be even more people inclined to at least try blogging ... I wonder if Mr. Gates will join the blogosphere himself.

Whither Trepia?

Reading & thinking about the debate about content vs. connections, I was reminded of Trepia's proximity-based instant messaging application, where the "buddy list" is really more of a "neighbor list" representing other Trepia users who are logged in nearby. My initial impression of the tool was that proximity is based on a common wireless access point (or network of APs), but I believe that the notion of proximity was expanded at some point to include larger geographical areas and may even have allowed users to specify a location they want to be associated with (regardless of whether they are in that location). The Trepia client includes a user profile, enabling users to provide some content, besides location, that might help to provide the catalyst for a chat. I can't find many people talking about using it (outside of the period last spring/summer when they received a great deal of press attention). Some commentators have complained that they never saw anyone on the buddy list, and others complained that the geographic expansion was far too broad, showing too many people from too far away. In any case, I tried to visit the site today, and now see "Red Hat Enterprise Linux Test Page". If anyone knows the whereabouts / status of Trepia, or has any recent experiences with the tool, please post a comment. Thanks.

Social Currency: Content vs. Connection

Continuing my effort in catching up (blogging up?) on some recent readings (of "old" material), I recently read Douglas Rushkoff's article in The Feature on "Social Currency" (from September 2003) with great interest. Rushkoff argues that "in an interactive space, content is not king. Contact is ... Content only matters ... because it gives us an excuse to interact with one another." This was exactly what we were after with our proactive display applications: making digital content (photos or phrases from personal home pages) available in physical spaces in order to facilitate connections -- interactions or at least greater awareness -- among people in close proximity.

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Shyness: Psychology & Technology

I saw a reference earlier this week to an article on "Shyness: The New Solution" from the Jan/Feb 2000 issue of Psychology Today that presented some results of a survey on shyness -- high order bit: 48% of people are shy, up from 40% a decade earlier -- and discussed how technology has impacted shyness in the population, by creating a fast-paced, complex, loud & intense hyperculture in which shy people are at a disadvantage. The report says that 58% of shy people are most challenged by the prospect of making introductions, which is precisely the kind of activity we were trying to facilitate through the Ticket2Talk and Neighborhood Window proactive display applications we designed & deployed at UbiComp 2003 (a community which has its share of shy people ... as well as a fair amount of fast-paced, complex, loud & intense people).

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Why a Picture is Worth 1000+ Words

A story on NPR's All Things Considered yesterday ("Vivid Photos Remain Etched in Memory") provided some explanations of why the pictures of the abuse of Iraqi detainees are so much more captivating (and horrifying) than the written reports -- some thousands and tens of thousands of words long -- that have been circulating for many months. Hal Buell, former photography director for the Associated Press and author of Moments: Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographs, attributes the stronger impact of photos to the fact that they are less mediated than textual accounts -- we can see an event more directly for ourselves rather than have to reconstruct the event from someone else's description. Edwin Guthman, a USC School of Journalism professor, cautions that photos and videos can be altered to affect their impact, citing the example of the Rodney King video in which the first part of the video, showing King's initial attack on the police officers, was not included on the TV broadcast (the reporter, Ari Shapiro, notes that many of the photos from Abu Ghraib have been cropped so that they do not include the onlookers). John Gabrieli, a Stanford psychology professor interviewed for the story suggests that since human brains have been processing images far longer than they have processed text, our brains react more strongly to images and we naturally remember photographs longer and in more detail than we remember words.

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U R What U Txt: Mobile Phone Revelations

Tony Connock reports in a Telegraph article, "The Naked Self Revealed", how mobile phones reveal more than many people realize. For example, his mobile phone word dictionary includes terms that he has added such as “Gucci”, “bendy”, “lovey-dovey”, “straighteners”, “fois” and “diva”, which, if perused sereptitiously, may provide a different image of him than that he might choose to portray. Another example of a person revealing more than she expected or intended is a married woman whose camera phone contained photos from her nights out without her husband, who later discovered the photos in trying to help fix a technical problem with the phone. Still more examples of [presumably] unintended revelation, many involving criminal activities, are listed at (which is where I first read about the Connock article). The innocent, of course, have nothing to fear...

Nokia Medallion: MoodNecklace++

On my flight back from Vienna, I read an item in Scanorama (the high-quality SAS in-flight magazine) about the Nokia Medallions, 4096-color, 96x96 pixel, wearable displays (two models), attached to a steel chain or rubber matte choker that can be worn around the neck or wrist. Images are uploaded via infrared, the device can hold up to 8 images, battery life is estimated to be 15 hours and the price is around US$300 (according to This new line of "Imagewear" seems like an interesting new dimension of digital jewelry, more sophisticated than a mood ring and far more practical than a programmable tattoo. One can imagine new forms of GIFt-giving (well, actually, they only support JPEG format) -- a loved one can upload a new image for his or her beloved to display ... of course, I suppose unloved ones might also be able to upload images (redjacking?).

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Think Globally, e-Advertise Locally

FreeFi has announced QwikBar, "a persistent presence at top of the screen which displays ads" and has tabs for the usual suspects (news, sports, weather, etc.). The QwikBar is presumably launched upon connection to a wireless access point provided for customer use. FreeFi plans to share revenue generated from the advertising with the sites that make it available. I can't find any mention of whether there will be any kind of consideration of the traffic generated through specific access points. The more interesting prospect, though, is that FreeFi is offering to customize "location-specific content" for a site, enabling a WiFi-enabled business to brand the QwikBar. While details of much of this service are unclear, it does seem to point toward an interesting new opportunity area for location-enhanced computing ... or perhaps, more precisely, computing-enhanced locations.

[via the telecom-cities mailing list]