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May 2007

Data "Mining" vs. Data "Oursing": On the Integration and Integrity of Data, People and Organizations (Len Silverston)

[The following article was written by my good friend, Len Silverston, founder of Universal Data Models, who is an inspiring thinker, writer and speaker, but not a blogger (yet). It weaves together many threads I've touched on about before -- radical transparency, us vs. them and the business value of openness, integrity, vulnerability and compassion -- and introduces a marvelously evocative and potentially viral new term -- "data oursing" -- that captures the essence of the siloing practices by people and organizations. He graciously agreed to let me post this on his behalf.]

How can we truly develop integrated information? Data management groups have struggled with the realization of this goal. Many of the people in organizations that I have witnessed have said (and I paraphrase):   

“We need to understand and implement best practices from other organization who have succeeded.”
“We need top level management commitment.”
“We need business buy-in.”
”We need to demonstrate value.”
“We need proper incentives in place to motivate people and organizations to share and manage information on an enterprise wide basis.”

It seems like these are all intelligent and appropriate statements that are important in developing more integrated information.

I want to share a hypothesis with you - one of the biggest issues in developing integrated information is data “mining” and what is really needed, at the core of this issue, is data “ours”ing. You may be thinking of data mining as in, “the process of automatically searching large volumes of data for patterns”. I am not referring to this definition, but a new alternative definition for data mining meaning, “acting in a manner where this data is mine”  As an example, John did not share company information as he was “data mining”, declaring that the customer contact information was “his” own personal information that he collected and thus declared “this data in mine – not the company’s or anyone else’s”.

Data “mining” is a root cause of not being able to integrate data – data silos come from people silos.

While there is much written on the need for data integration, it also seems that people and organizations have had a great deal of trouble in integrating data. I have given talks to thousands of data management professionals representing hundreds of organizations and when I ask the question, “Who has successfully integrated their data?”, very few people claim huge successes. Why is this?

According to, the definition of integrate is “to bring together or incorporate (parts) into a whole” and the definition of disintegrate it is “to separate into parts or lose intactness or solidness; break up; deteriorate”. 

When people and/or departments within an enterprise act too often in a manner where “this data is mine” and thus are “data mining”, then people and organizations move towards separation and disintegration. When people move towards disintegration, data becomes disintegrated. Data silos come from people silos.

Consider one common example that occurs in many organizations. A sales person maintains data regarding their customer contacts. Perhaps there is an enterprise-wide customer contact database to facilitate sharing and synchronization to enable data consistency, cross-selling, collaboration, and more effective sales and service.   

Enter data “mining”. The salesperson may think “I understand the benefits of an enterprise-wide customer database but this customer data is mine!”.  I even brought in some of this data from a previous employer and this is how I make my livelihood for my family. I am doing a good thing by providing to my family and by protecting my personal customer contact information. If I share it with others who I don’t even know then they could mess it up, misinterpret it or misuse it.

This type of thinking makes a customer data integration effort very difficult and I believe that it is a core underlying issue that results in lost power for the enterprise. If we each think separately, our data will be separate. I have worked in many organizations where there are over 100 sources of inconsistent customer information and after many years of efforts, they have still been unable to integrate customer information across their enterprise.

This type of thinking happens in many different circumstances. Here are a couple, but this list could go on indefinitely.

  • A department not wanting to share “their” department’s data into an enterprise data warehouse, master data management system, or enterprise data management effort. Sound familiar?

  • Government agencies not wanting to share critical information about counter-terrorism. This illustrates that lives are sometimes at stake if we don’t appropriately share. For example, in the September 11th incident, there were two hijackers that were on the FBI’s most wanted list and another two hijackers who had expired visas and the airlines did not have access to this information. There may have been regulations, privacy, and security considerations that hindered sharing. But could we have shared this data more effectively and were there motivations of not wanting to share?

I want to stress that there are many good reasons and situations where people should not share data freely even in the above scenarios or, for example, in a human resources department that is responsible for securing sensitive information.

Be the change you want to see in the world

What can we do? Mahatma Gandhi said "Be the change you want to see in the world".  If we each share more and consider data to be “ours” as opposed to “mine” more often, then I believe we will move towards data integration as opposed to data disintegration.

Here is an exercise that you can do and that you can share with others to do:

- Identify one of your most valuable pieces of data.   
- Ask the question “Do you completely own it?”
- How willing are you to share it and under what conditions will you share it?

The point of this exercise is to experience the feeling of data “mining” and get a clearer understanding of how data separation occurs, our underlying motivations, enabling us to act wisely and influence an appropriate level of data sharing.

So I invite you to conduct this exercise with me. What is one of the most valuable pieces of information that you own? Look at this data that you declare that you “own” and that is “your” data. For example, I have spent decades of my life working on a repository of re-usable data models that my company publishes and licenses called the Universal Data Model Repository. I would consider this one of the most valuable pieces of data that I own. What type of data is valuable to you? Is it personal data, intellectual property, corporate data, confidential data or some other type of data?

Do you completely own it?  I am not saying that you don’t - it may very well be your data. However, is this data really “yours” and not “ours”? Are you absolutely sure that this is “your” data or is it “our” data? Could it be that others own it, for example, your employer? Could it be that no one really owns it? For example, is the Universal Data Model Repository of template data models something that I, Len Silverston, own? Or is it something that my organization owns? Under intellectual property law, my organization has copyrights and trademarks, so there may be legal ownership. However, others have
contributed many ideas to these template models for which I am so grateful. So at a deep level, are the ideas contributed by others owned by me? I must admit, that right now as I write, I feel a certain amount of discomfort (and data mining). Hey, I spent a great deal of my career on this repository of models! I own this. I have paid for this by paying others and with my time. So, data “mining” arises. I do have certain legal rights regarding this data and at one level there is ownership by my company, Universal Data Models, LLC.

On another level, I cannot personally claim ownership to many of the ideas and if I spend too much energy towards these being “my” ideas and “my” data, then they would not be as shared and integrated into the industry where they can be of greater benefit.

How willing are you to share “your” data or information? A thought that runs through my mind is that, ooh, the more I freely share “my” data the more I am at risk of losing power! For example, I may have to trust someone or some organization not to copy these models indiscriminately! 

Some people have said to me, don’t publish your ideas so easy, it is a competitive advantage to offer these through my consulting practice. My personal experience has been that sharing these models through books and publications has been so gratifying to me in so many ways and has benefited so many people and organizations around the world. Sometimes I charge for sharing this work and sometimes I don’t. Data is an asset. So when to charge and when not?  What do you need in order to share your valuable data?

The benefits of information sharing and data “ours”ing can be realized and cultures can be changed to produce extremely positive outcomes. For example, a Fortune Magazine article [Seagate's Three-Day Revolution] told the story of how Seagate Technologies returned to financial health based on a change in culture from being “divided into vertical silos” to “putting group genius to work”, a buzz phrase from Matt Taylor, who developed a collaboration process called DesignShop that was used by Seagate and many other firms to help change culture via Capgemini’s Accelerated Solution Environment.  As a consultant, I have been involved in a few remarkable examples of the power of sharing information and data “ours”ing. For example, in a large financial services organization, the healthy environment that was developed enabled an enterprise wide system where there was appropriate sharing of client information throughout the enterprise, as well as with the clients, resulting in much better service levels.

Invitation to Share

Perhaps the next time someone is reluctant to share their data in a data warehouse, master data management or data management effort, we can better understand the behavior and influence more powerful and collaborative behavior. 

I invite us to share more and be an example of moving towards data integration versus data disintegration. I invite us to see data more as ours and less as “mine”. I invite us to move from people silos towards people integration and thus move towards data integration. I also invite us to share ideas about this topic with each other. I welcome any feedback from you and any thoughts regarding how we can move from data “mining” to data “ours”ing. Thank you.

[Thank you, Len!]

SlideShare: YouTube for Presesentations

I signed up for an account on SlideShare shortly after Mor Naaman told me about this social networking service for slides (after I'd asked him for his slides from Mobile Persuasion 2007). SlideShare is like a YouTube for presentations, with capabilities for creating links to or embedding slides into a web page (such as a blog), tagging, commenting, favoriting, grouping and subscribing.

It seems to me (and others) that any social networking service offers some form of self-presentation (manifestations of Erving Goffman's notions of Presentation of Self in Everyday Life), so it's only natural to have a service devoted to the self-presentation of presentations. Of course, most people don't create and give presentations on a daily basis, so this service may have a more limited set of producers and consumers than, say, Flickr.

I see that there are entire conferences represented [pun intended] on SlideShare. Given that it is an increasingly common practice to post photos from a conference with a particular tag, e.g., "pervasive07", it will be interesting to see whether a conference content aggregator service emerges in the near future.

Although I haven't given any conference presentations recently, I decided to experiment with the site by uploading some older presentations. I hope to have some new presentations (and papers) to share in the near future, and may even experiment with uploading presentations before a conference (er, except that I'm usually, er, "refining" the presentations right up until I take the stage).

Anyhow, a selection of oldies [but goodies (?)] is included below.

Pervasive 2007: Approaching Everywhere, Everyone and Everything


I just attended my first International Conference on Pervasive Computing (Pervasive 2007), and I have to agree with many of my friends who have been to both Pervasive and UbiComp that the conferences are very similar, differing primarily with respect to the time of year they are convened. Both focus on computing technology as it migrates beyond the desktop and is increasingly on, with or near us as we navigate the physical world. Among the minor differences between Pervasive and UbiComp that I noticed are a slightly stronger emphasis on sensors and systems (vs. people and their experiences), a larger proportion of PWJs (people wearing [dress] jackets), and most of the people asking questions after presentations were rather senior members of the community (er, including me, though after raising questions about raising questions in my last blog post, I was a bit more self-conscious about raising questions at this conference). I also sensed that there was a stronger European representation, which may have some impact on one or more of the above-mentioned observations.

Everywhere Adam Greenfield, author of Everywhere: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, gave a great opening keynote on the social and ethical implications of ubiquitous computing. After surveying a number of examples highlighting the increasing pervasiveness of surveillance technologies (including a toilet that can survey its, er, “input”), he invoked Bentham and Foucault, noting “the power of the surveiling gaze in society to produce docile bodies” (reminiscent of the notions of infantilism he warned against during his ETech 2007 presentation). One of his most interesting observations was that “the same presentation I illustrated with prototypes at this time last year I now illustrate with commercial product shots” … suggesting the dawn may be closer than we think.

To me, the mark of a good keynote is one that includes elements that are referenced, implicitly or explicitly, throughout the rest of the conference. Adam shared 5 principles that I and others thought about, talked about -- and even asked questions about – throughout the conference:

  • default to harmlessness
  • be self-disclosing
  • be conservative of face (avoid unnecessarily embarrassing, humiliating or shaming people)
  • be conservative of time (be efficient, do not introduce unnecessary complication)
  • be deniable (as in plausible deniability or avoidable)

Adamgreenfieldatpervasive2007Questioningatpervasive1 Adam noted how risk and safety are constructed differently from one culture to another, and suggested that addressing these principles effectively will require attention to the culture and context into which technology is introduced. During his talk, I noticed that many people were taking photos of him (and likely posting them to the Flickr pervasive07 photostream). I was reminded of David Brin’s Transparent Society, and got to thinking about (and questioning [this time captured by Aras Bilgen]) how well these principles can be applied to a world filled with personal mobile surveillance technologies (cameraphones and videophones), in which snippets of activities can be captured – and shared – by anyone, not just anything – i.e., surveillance technologies will not simply be embedded in places and things (as has or had been the traditional focus of ubiquitous computing), but carried by and/or worn by people. Perhaps Adam will address this in a future book, Everyone: The Rise of Radical Transparency .

There were a number of interesting talks following Adam’s keynote. Unfortunately, with my increasingly sore elbow (for which I’ll likely be soon seeking surgical and/or injectionable intervention), my notes grew increasingly sparse over the course of the conference, and I spent a fair amount of time during sessions in hallway and email discussions with other members of the UbiComp steering committee about plans for UbiComp 2008 (about which I’ll post more later). Thus, I was not [fully] present for some talks by some friends, as well as the best paper (and runner-up) talks -- essentially, not bringing all of who I am to attending the conference. So, although far from comprehensive, I’ll try to at least render comprehensible some of my notes on some of the talks that I enjoyed at the conference.

Augmenting, Looking, Pointing and Reaching Gestures to Enhance the Searching and Browsing of Physical Objects: David Merrill (MIT Media Lab, US) presented a system for augmenting natural gestures for physical world search. In one scenario, a user could wear a ring with an infrared transmitter and point at a bar-coded product label on a restore store shelf to get information about that project; lights on the shelf sensor would indicate whether the product was on a blacklist (e.g., a food containing known allergens) or whitelist. In another scenario a user wore a modified Bluetooth headset with an infrared transmitter that could be used to infer the direction in which the user was looking (e.g., at a specific part on an automobile engine), which could then be communicated to a remote expert to help guide the user to a part to be inspected.

Reach out and touch: using NFC and 2D barcodes for service discovery and interaction with mobile devices: Stavros Garzonis (University of Bath, UK), presented a comparative evaluation of different mechanisms of using physical tags as a gateway to online services. Noting a prediction that 50% of mobile phones will have Near-Field Communications (NFC) capabilities by 2009, and the growing use of 2D barcodes, he and his colleagues conducted a comparative evaluation of how easy it was for users to connect with online services using mobile cameraphones equipped with NFC readers. They performed an evaluation aimed at Adam’s principle of “be conservative of time”, and found that connecting to online services by taking photos of 2D barcodes with a mobile phone is initially easier / faster than using a mobile phone to read NFC tags, but after training, users can use either mechanism with similar ease. However, they did not address the “be conservative of face” or “default to harmlessness” principles very effectively, having found that in a field experiment, users complained about also found that users complained about embarrassing interactions, privacy concerns and security concerns using NFC tags (echoing observations Adam had made about his experience with the joint Nokia / Mastercard / Citibank trial of NFC phone-enabled PayPass in New York City: ‘it is very, very hard to use, gives confounding feedback, and is more irritating than the transaction it was intended to replace”). The study participants developed techniques to adapt to their challenges, such as setting the NFC reader to “always on” and activating the keypad lock. They also offered suggestions, such as using the NFC phones for access control, for accessing mobile services (e.g., electronic payments, ordering a tax, finding out how long until the next bus), and for data storage, retrieval and transfer (e.g., exchanging business cards and bookmarking physical objects or locations). The experiments did not include the use of Bluetooth as a mechanism for connecting with online services; it would be interesting to include Bluetooth in future experiments, especially as the longer range may offer more opportunities for conserving face.

Combining Web, Mobile Phones and Public Displays in Large-Scale: Manhattan Story Mashup [slides]: Ville Tuulos (University of Helsinki, Finland), shared some experiences from Manhattan Story Mashup, a Nokia-sponsored event, which blended the web, mobile phones and large public displays during a 90-minute pervasive game in downtown Manhattan during the Come Out and Play Festival last September. The game attracted 165  web participants, who contributed 271 provocative sentences, from which nouns were selected and sent to the 184 mobile phone users, who were given 60 seconds to snap a photo related to the word, both of which were then sent around to other players who selected one of four possible words (including the target word) that the photo represents. If the guess was correct, the photographer and guesser both scored a point. 3142 photos were taken, and a total of 54,657 game events (including sentence submission, photo taking, guesses) were recorded during the period. In followup interviews, participants expressed appreciation for the immersiveness, fast tempo, creativity, teamwork, competition, thought provocation and freedom (through intentional ambiguity). I’m hoping the game will go on tour sometime in the future.

PersonisAD: Distributed, Active, Scrutable Model Framework for Context-Aware Services: Bob Kummerfield (University of Sydney, Australia), introduced a framework for a linking people, places, sensors and services in a scrutable way, i.e., a way that makes the what and why of context visible. Places are represented with variable resolution (“at work” vs. “Room 313” vs. lat/long coordinates), and people are represented (as part) through their preferences. Bob and his colleagues developed a music mix application that generated group playlists based on music preferences, reminding me (and others) of the MusicFX that I worked on almost 10 years ago; the PersonisAD framework enabled them code the application in 200 lines of Python (far less code than we wrote for MusicFX). I was also reminded of Quentin JonesP3 framework for connecting “people-to-people-to-geographical-places”, and wonder whether there might be synergies there.

An Exploration into Activity-Informed Physical Advertising Using PEST: Bo Begole and Kurt Partridge (PARC, US) noted that advertising is understudied in the HII (Human-Information Interaction) literature, predicted that advertising would be among the killer apps of ubicomp, invoked an economist’s perspective of value in exchanging marketing information (high or low value derived by senders and/or receivers), and highlighted the notion of “advertising as flirtation” recently articulated by James Morris during a PARC Forum presentation. Riffing on the model of advertising based on the context of users typing words into a search engine, Bo, Kurt and their colleagues explored the use of activities to establish a context for advertising. A mobile phone-based Proactive Experience Sampling Tool (PEST) was deployed to 6 people, which periodically asked them to label whatever activity they were engaged in. In one experimental condition, random advertisements were later shown to the participants, and they were asked how relevant and useful the ads would have been when they were engaged in that activity; in another, the self-reported activities were fed to a search engine, and advertisements from the results page were shown. In the most interesting and innovative condition, offering a twist on Wizard of Oz studies, the activities were fed to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk “artificial artificial intelligence” service -- through which people are paid small sums of money to answer questions (providing, in effect, an inexpensive army of 100,000 prospective wizards) -- along with the question of what product or service they would propose with that activity. The answers provided by the respondents (who were paid 10 cents per answer) were then fed into a search engine, and advertisements from those results pages were shown to participants. In analyzing the relevance and usefulness of these approaches, the second condition (keword) resulted in more relevant ads than the first condition (random), but the third (Mechanical Turk) approach did not show any improvement. None of the conditions seemed to generate significantly useful ads. Most interesting to me was their analysis of why Mechanical Turk didn’t prove to be a more effective approach. It turns out that the army of low-paid wizards turned out to be somewhat unreliable, often sending the same response (e.g., “drinking coke”, or [more] random responses such as “ZZ” or “a”) to any query, regardless of the activity labeled. Although the team came up with a two-tiered system for collecting 5 responses and offering those up to 10 other MT workers for votes (which, of course, turned out to be considerably more expensive, as it involved significantly more queries), it does seem that they generally got what they paid for, and demonstrated that any web 2.0 service is vulnerable to “gaming” behaviors. Still, I thought this was a really cool idea, and believe the general idea of utilizing web 2.0 services for HII user studies is vastly understudied (and may well be the basis for killer apps in ubicomp).

Evaluating a Wearable Display Jersey for Augmenting Team Sports Awareness: Andrew Vande Moere (University of Sydney, Australia) talked about the design and use of basketball jerseys augmented with electroluminescent wires and surfaces that signify the point scored and fouls committed by the wearers, along with an indication of time remaining – wearable public displays of effectiveness (in effect). Among the interesting findings was that sports players, while public figures, did not want some data exposed (e.g., physiological data), and that the jerseys turned out to be perceived as far more useful to the non-players (coach, referee, spectators) than the players … and with spectator sports, as with other professions involving public performances, it’s often difficult (for me) to determine who the players are playing for – themselves or their audience.

Inference Attacks on Location Tracks
: John Krumm (Microsoft Research, US) gave a characteristically engaging presentation of results of an investigation he and his colleagues had done into whether / how anonymized location tracks reveal identity, and how much location data corruption can veil identity. One of the most interesting aspects of his presentation was a survey of studies demonstrating the low cost of privacy, with respect to location data (e.g., the median price of revealing 28 days of location data collected about 74 student participants was only US$18, and participants in other studies reported being “unconcerned”) … which is good, because another interesting aspect of their work demonstrated that an algorithm for inferring home coordinates based on 2 weeks worth of GPS data, fed to a reverse lookup service, enabled them to identify between 5% and 13% of the participant’s homes (depending on what kind of service was used). They also found that a variety of obfuscation algorithms could reduce the accuracy of such home-finding “attacks” … but with a concomitant reduction in utility … and, as is so often the case with location-based applications, the utility vs. risk tradeoff will likely have to be determined on a case-by-case basis (for both specific applications and specific users). One of the questions asked after the presentation raised the issue of cultural perceptions of risk (relating to some cultural issues Adam had raised earlier); although the question focused on transnational cultural differences, I was thinking that significant intranational (?) cultural differences exist, and the irony in the USA is that I suspect many people who “flee” to the suburbs are far more vulnerable to GPS-based home-finding “attacks” than city-dwellers (due to higher-density multi-family dwellings) … and yet suburban and rural users may be one of the most likely groups to benefit from GPS-enabled location-based services.

Weight-sensitive Foam to Monitor Product Availability on Retail Shelves: 
Christian Metzger (ETH Zurich, CH) presented a low-cost approach using weight-sensitive foam to enabling a retail store shelf to take its own inventory. Among the interesting tidbits he shared were the high cost of out-of-stock conditions, which are estimated to apply to 5-10% of retail merchandise at any given time; the loss of sales due to out-of-stock products is estimated to be up to 4%, resulting in losses of between $7B to $12B in the US alone. Although some out-of-stock conditions are due to ordering problems and other factors, 38% are due to poor shelf replenishment policies and practices, with periods of out-of-stockness often lasting for many days. The work showed an unusually keen appreciation for the economic factors affecting the adoption of technologies, highlighting the costs of the pain (noted above) and the costs for the proposed solution ($6-12 per running meter of shelf space).

Assessing and optimizing the range of UHF RFID to enable real-world pervasive computing applications: 
Steve Hodges (Microsoft Research, UK) presented an innovative approach to determining the range of RFID readings (a problem with which we wrestled mightily before -- and during – our proactive display deployment at UbiComp 2003). Steve and his colleagues mounted a 14x14 array of tags on a robotic platform which could then be moved around a space. They were able to come up with a graph that only loosely conformed to the theoretical teardrop range boundaries typically drawn for RFID readings, but much more closely representing the kinds of noise that we typically found. Applying an attenuation thresholding method – progressively reducing the power to the antenna until no readings were detected – they were able to smooth out some of this noise to arrive at a pattern that seemed to strike a nice balance between the true readings (with noise) and the theoretical and more simple graph typically drawn for RFID. While the system worked well for optimizing RFID in applications involving tagged objects, I suspect the method would be less applicable to applications involving tagging people … as a 14x14 array of people (or 14x14 array of tags attached to a person) may introduce additional dimensions of noise (and subject impatience must be factored in).

There were lots of interesting demos and late breaking results, but I'm only going to mention two here (my elbow is getting sore again).

How much to bid in Digital Signage Advertising Auctions?: Jörg Müller (University of Muenster Institute for Geoinformatics, DE) shared some early explorations he and his colleagues are doing into a representation and set of algorithms for determining what kinds of advertisements to show on digital signs. The representation includes the number of people in front of the display, the time before an advertised event occurs, the distance to the event, and the user's likely interest in the event. The algorithm is a second-price auction in which the bids are based on a pay-for-impression model. They have 8 screens they are testing on campus, and hoping to test their representation and algorithms on a network of digital signs in a nearby urban center.

Using the Mobile Experience Engine (MEE) to Create Locative Audio Experiences: Geoffrey Shea, Tom Donaldson, Paula Gardner (Ontario College of Art & Design, Canada) presented MEE, a software development kit for creating mobile, media-rich applications. They demonstrated one project, Alter Audio, that was developed as part of the Mobile Digital Commons Network, in which students used MEE to produce a mobile application in which each device has an associated voiced note in the key of C. When another device running the application comes within Bluetooth range, its note is added to the mix to produce a random chord, and chords each device is playing depends on the other devices in the vicinity. Seeing (and hearing) the demo created a very zen-like experience. Geoffrey and Paula told me about another deployment they'll be doing in Toronto in the near future, CitySpeak, that also looks / sounds very interesting.

The conference concluded with an amazing array of tutorials, that I estimate collectively represented hundreds of years of expertise (or perhaps thousands of years, when one considers the experts' students, colleagues and [other] sources of inspiration) into 8 hours. I can't possibly do justice to all the knowledge shared in those sessions, so I'll simply focus on a collection of words I added to my vocabulary, books I added to my Amazon wish list, and videos I added to my YouTube favorites: odometry, trilateration, potentiometer, synaesthesia, piezoresistivity, transimpedance, peaky, unremarkability, emic and etic, hermeneutic ethnography, search for signification, intrinsically incomplete and essentially contestable but plausible stories, taxonomic vs. generative, ethnotechnical, poly-vocal or multiperspectival, transculturalism, "The whole purpose for ubiquitous computing, of course, are the applications" (Mark Weiser), formative vs. summative evaluation, generative vs. discriminative classifiers, maximal margins, middleware as "software sold to people who don’t know how to program by people who know how to program", semantic multiplicity, Herbert Clark’s Arenas of Language Use, Videos of automatic doors from Star Trek and Japan. A book will likely be published in the near future that will contain a more erudite elaboration on the wisdom from that session, but that's about all I can manage at the moment.

[Update: Mark Medley has published a great article summarizing some of the highlights from the conference in the National Post: "Sensors to track your kids and more: The third wave of computing"]

Questioning Questioning: The Performative and Informative Aspects of Public Inquiry

Joeatchi2007a Joeatchi2007b During the CHI 2007 conference last week, I asked a number of questions after a number of presentations during a number of sessions (two examples of which are shown in the photos on the left from Marc Davis' Flickr stream). I usually find it very challenging to muster the gumption to walk up to the microphone stand and ask questions. There are many sources of the resistance I feel: I'm afraid of revealing my ignorance, of potentially exposing a blind spot on the part of the presenters, of judging others, of being judged by others (as judging others) -- the fear of judgment is central to my hesitation. I get nervous each time I approach the microphone stand, and sometimes I think my voice betrays my unease.

Nonetheless, over the past few months, I've been moving out of my comfort zone at each of the conferences I've attended and asking more questions (earlier examples being UbiComp 2006 and CSCW 2006, and to a lesser extent -- due to my unfamiliarity with the conference -- ETech 2007). Part of my motivation is simply to practice more gumption (feel the fear and ask anyway) -- I nearly always have questions at the end of any talk, as I imagine most people do, yet I usually feel "too small" (or feel that my question is "too small" (or both)) to articulate the question publicly. In my last post, I noted that one of the gifts I received at CHI was people telling me they read my blog (and perhaps this helped embolden me to ask questions). Another gift was people telling me after some of the sessions that they, too, had been wondering about the same issues I raised questions about (and an additional gift was someone noting that I seemed to be unnecessarily apologetic in my phrasing of questions, as though I was unduly concerned with offending the questionee).

Now, in addition to this informative aspect of learning more about the work presented during the conference, I will admit that part of my motivation was performative. Each time I introduced myself before asking the question -- "Joe McCarthy, Nokia Research Center Palo Alto" -- it may have helped increase awareness among attendees that we (Nokia) have a new research lab in Silicon Valley. This was not a primary motivation (or at least not a conscious primary motivation), but it may have provided a tipping point for me. Toward the end, I was feeling somewhat self-conscious about the number of questions I was asking (fearing that some may have perceived me as grandstanding ... and remembering the judgments I had about Simon, an attendee at CHI 2000 who asked the first question after every single talk he attended), but I was genuinely more interested in the informative aspects than the performative aspects, and so decided to press on.

Asid_a_sm Asid_b_sm There was certainly a performative aspect to the behavior we witnessed when we deployed the AutoSpeakerID proactive display application at UbiComp 2003. This application showed the name, affiliation and thumbnail image of a person asking a question on a large screen at the front of the room, based on detecting a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag in the person's name badge that was linked to a simple online profile for that person. Our intention was simply to visually augment the common oral practice of introducing oneself before asking a question, and this was the primary effect of this sociotechnical intervention. However, a few people took some liberties with their profiles, including one questioner -- not shown above -- who adopted the digital persona of Ted Kaczynski when asking one question, and the digital persona of Bill Gates when asking another question (actually two different Bill Gates personae during two different questions, but who's counting?). Despite the obvious performative nature of these acts of questioning speakers, the questions -- and answers -- were quite informative ... so perhaps this questioner also believed he was primarily engaged in an informative vs. performative act.

On a separate but related topic, one of the things I've been ruminating on lately is whether bloggers are more likely to post comments on others' blogs than non-bloggers ... or whether people who have posted photos on photo-sharing sites are more likely to comment on photos (than non-photo-posters) ... or whether people who have generated online content in any format are more likely to add content to others' content. My hypothesis is that once someone has revealed or exposed something about his or herself on some kind of social media site, it becomes easier to to risk commenting, favoriting (?), reviewing or otherwise augmenting others' revelations and exposures. I have no quantitative data on this [yet], but I was wondering if this applies to the offline world as well, i.e., people who have presented papers at CHI are more likely to risk publicly asking questions of others who are presenting papers at CHI (for the record, I have never presented a paper at CHI, but have presented papers at UbiComp and CSCW ... but given that CHI 2008 is in Florence, Italy, I'm hoping to join the initiated!).

Oriah and Buber, I and Thou: Bringing All Of Who I Am to Blogging

I’ve been listening nearly exclusively to (and occasionally blogging about) David Whyte’s inspiring words in his audiobook, Clear Mind, Wild Heart, on my iPod for the past several months. Having finished my sixth cycle through [my rip of] his 6 CD set, I decided to listen to Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s audiobook, Your Heart’s Prayer  … which was inspired, in no small part, by David Whyte.

I have written before of how Oriah has inspired me. This evening, on the flight from San Jose to Seattle, I listened to a segment that helped me understand why it is I participate in the blogosphere. Oriah was talking about Martin Buber, and his book I And Thou, which she says is “about all of life really being about bringing yourself into full relationship with the other.” She goes on to elaborate in a way that I map directly onto my experience with reading and writing blogs:

When you engage in a creative act, you bring yourself into relationship with that form, and if you give yourself completely to that process – you bring all of who you are to it – what happens is that you are changed, and a work is created – it could be an object, it could be a piece of music [Ed.: it could be a blog post] – but something is created, which to the receptive beholder, will give them the opportunity to have a direct experience of the form.

So when you write a piece of music [write a blog post] – let’s say if you’re a composer [a blogger] – and you bring yourself entirely to something that is larger than you, and you hold none of yourself back, you create a piece of music [blog post], which someone who listens to it [reads it], if they too bring all of themselves to it, they are able to directly experience that which is larger than themselves in their own way – it will be different than perhaps the composer [blogger] did  – but there will be a similarity in terms of what they engage with.

So my job – your job – as human beings, is to bring all of who we are to every moment.

I know this because the easiest place for me to do this, in some ways – and it’s not always easy, but the place where I feel compelled to do this, I should say – is when I write. There’s something about writing, for me, which compels me to try to include all of it … to hold nothing back … and I’m changed in the process of writing.

The other thing that happens is I produce a book [blog post] that other people come to and get something out of that I never could possibly anticipate. …

All I can do is bring all of who I am to that writing, and then that allows the opportunity for something else to come in, when someone else, who is a receptive beholder, uses that work … and that’s not me, it’s something that’s larger than me that comes through this.

… whatever I am, and whoever I am, all I can do is offer that, and feeling inadequate is not a reason not to offer that.

I often feel inadequate, in all my affairs, and the practice of blogging helps me feel the inadequacy and write anyway (invoking the wisdom of yet another inspiring author, Susan Jeffers, and her invitation to Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway). One of the many gifts I received at CHI 2007 this week was learning that a number of people enjoy reading my blog (at least on occasion). I never check my logs [well, I did once, when I signed up for syndication via Newstex], and I never check for references to my blog at Technorati, so the only way I learn that anyone has read my blog is when someone posts a comment, sends an email, or sends a trackback ping from their own blog ... or says something to me in person.

There’s a part of me that is embarrassed about enjoying learning that other people enjoy reading my blog – after all, that would be an example of taking something personally (and thus, in opposition to Don Miguel Ruiz’ second agreement, to which I generally like to subscribe). And, in fact, in the passage quoted above, Oriah even says, in effect, it’s not [entirely] about me, it’s [also] about the reader. However, she also emphasizes the interconnectedness among us, and so if blogging is bringing myself into full relationship with the other[s], well, then, I guess I won’t try to deny the joy I feel when I learn about instances of such interconnectedness … or, might I even say, interrelativity.

I usually refrain from using second person references in my blog, but I’ll make an exception here, to thank those of you at the conference (and at other places and times) who offered the warm encouragement I need to unfold.

Marketing, Monitoring, Mattering

Watchingx USA Today ran an interesting front-page article on Monday about Marketers Take a Close Look at Your Daily Routines, detailing some of the ways and means that companies have employed to better understand the everyday use -- and potential use -- of their products. Much of the article focused on the monitoring tools and techniques used in market research, but what I found most interesting was the motivations of those who agree to be watched, which I would summarize as mattering (or, at least, wanting to matter [more]).

The article describes a number of examples of market research:

  • Microsoft, which has 300 people now devoted to observing people in the home, spent a few hours every three months videotaping people using Vista in their home.
  • Procter & Gamble, which spends $200M each year on consumer-focused research, has videotaped men (in swimsuits) showering in their homes, and followed women at home (including into their closets), at the office, shopping and dining out.
  • Kimberly-Clark uses a Consumer Vision System (mini video cameras mounted to visors and linked to a recording device) to better understand how people change diapers.
  • General Mills, which has shifted focus from focus groups to individuals, used artists in REI stores to visually depict [prospective] customers' vebal descriptions of ideal energy bars, and opened a Corner Market in Plymouth, MN, in which shoppers are paid to be observed while they shop (the term Panoptistore comes to mind).
  • Arm & Hammer sent teams of researchers and videographers into homes to investigate the contents and use of refrigerators and litter boxes.
  • Nissan took hundreds of photos of the trunks and interiors of the cars owned by young people.

Kimberlyclark I suspect the fact that this article was published on the first day of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems (CHI 2007) -- that I'm attending (and will blog about later) -- is entirely coincidental. CHI is one of the premier venues where companies who are willing to be open about their research present and/or demonstrate their innovative tools and techniques for gaining consumer insights. Microsoft has a significant presence here, but I can't say that I've encountered anyone from any of the other companies listed in the USA Today article, and it was difficult to track down references to most of the systems and sites listed in the article -- the photo to the left was from a Brandweek article on the Consumer Vision System -- and those companies don't appear to have [m]any unsanctioned externally facing blogs, or otherwise score high on the radical transparency scale ... even though they are, in effect, inviting their customers to be partners ... but I digress.

What I found most interesting about the article is a topic I've blogged about before: mattering. Microsoft offered free pizza and a free computer to the participants in its observation studies, Nissan paid its participants $50 for their time and efforts, and I'm sure the other companies offer participants some kind of financial or other tangible reward for their service. But what really mattered was mattering. Having some influence on the development of products and services is a significant motivation for those who agree to be monitored. The family observed by Microsoft affected the decision to rename "tools" to "folders" in Vista; a woman whose car was photographed by Nissan helped persuade Nissan to add more storage compartments (front seat CD holder and trunk separators) in its 2007 Sentra.

In addition to these examples of direct influence, I also suspect that simply being the subject of a study -- being videotaped, interviewed or otherwise being the object of focused attention -- also feeds people's natural desire to feel like they matter. This is probably a big factor in the popularity of YouTube, Flickr and other social media sharing sites ... including blogs ... er, including this one, which, despite my originally articulated goal of blogging for myself as a form of practice, does occasionally gain some attention ... and I will admit that I enjoy [that] attention ... I just don't want to be driven by it.

In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz talks about how we humans get "hooked on attention" at an early age, and how that desire for attention is what renders us susceptible to "domestication" -- subsuming, and in some (many?) cases even submerging, our dreams, desires and delights in order to please others (rather than our selves). I regularly struggle with issues of acceptance, interdependence and the tension between wanting to be true to myself and wanting to please others (especially those who are important to me). I suppose that one of the appealing aspects of mattering through monitoring by market researchers is that subjects are asked, insofar as possible, to simply be themselves and go about their daily activities, so that new products and/or services can be better designed to support those activities. Seems like a mutually beneficial arrangement to me.