Hadoop Day in Seattle: Hadoop, Cascading, Hive and Pig

image from I attended Hadoop Day - a community event to spread the love of Hadoop and Big Data - at Amazon's Pac-Med building in Seattle a week ago. I missed the morning session of the event, but recently became better acquainted with some of the dimensions of this space via the excellent overview and analysis by Mike Loukides at O'Reilly Radar, What Is Data Science? The afternoon "Introductory Track" included presentations about a number of tools for processing large data sets - Hadoop, Cascading, Hive and Pig - by large and small companies involved with big data - KarmaSphere, Drawn to Scale, Facebook and Yahoo. The session was intended as a hands-on learning opportunity, but due in part to poor network connectivity, it ended up being mostly an eyes- and ears-on educational event (but still very worthwhile).

karmasphere Abe Taha, VP of Engineering for Karmasphere, started the afternoon session with 0-60: Hadoop Development in 60 Minutes or Less (slides embedded below), which offered a great general introduction to Hadoop, a preview of the other tools that would be presented in later sessions (from different levels of the Hadoop stack) and an appropriately scaled (i.e., relatively brief and informative) demonstration of the Karmasphere Studio tool.

Abe led off with the motivation behind Hadoop: the need for a scalable tool for discovering insights (or at least patterns) in ever-increasing collections of data, such as logs of web site traffic. Hadoop embodies the MapReduce paradigm in which data is represented as records or tuples, and computing processes can be broken down into mapping - in which some function is computed over a subset of tuples - and reducing -  in which the results of the applications of the mapping function to different subsets are then combined. The power of Hadoop comes in being able to farm out the functions and different data subsets across a cluster of computers, potentially increasing the speed of deriving a result.

image from Simple examples were offered to illustrate how Hadoop works, e.g., computing the maximum of a set of numbers, adding a set of numbers, and counting the occurrences of words in a large text or collection of texts (e.g., The Complete Works of William Shakespeare). After reviewing how these data sets might be represented in Hadoop, Abe provided some Java code to illustrate how the map and reduce functions could be implemented to process them (these code segments are included in the slides). Although the poor network connectivity precluded trying running the code during the session, the clear presentation and simple examples left a relative newcomer like me with the sense that "I can do this" (which I believe was the main objective for the day).

Over half of Abe's slides were on Karmasphere Studio (starting around slide #26 (out of 66)), and the way it can help address some of the problems with overhead in Hadoop, particularly with respect to allowing debugging, prototyping and testing without having to deploy to a cluster of computers. However, only about a quarter of the hour-long presentation was devoted to the tool, and given that the Community Edition of Karmasphere Studio is available for free, I thought he achieved the right balance between covering Hadoop fundamantals as well as a tool for using Hadoop.

image from Next up was Bradford Stephens, founder of Drawn to Scale and organizer of the event, who presented an Introduction to Cascading. Cascading is a layer on top of Hadoop that allows users to think and work at a higher level of abstraction, focusing on workflows rather than mapping and reducing functions. Cascading offers a collection of operations - functions, filters and aggregators - that can be used in conjunction with any Java Virtual Machine-based language. Bradford showed a 15-line sample of Cascading code to process apache web server logs, and an equivalent 200 line Java program to do the same thing.

Bradford offered the most interactive exercise of the afternoon, showing us some Cascading code to process New York Stock Exchange closing prices, and inviting us to help him write the code that would find the symbol and price of the stock with the highest closing price for each of the days represented in the dataset. I cannot find the slides for Bradford's talk, but the code and data he used in the examples are available at the main Hadoop Day site.

image from After a break, Ning Zhang, a software engineer at Facebook, presented an introduction to Hive entitled a Petabyte Scale Data Warehousing System on Hadoop (slides embedded below).

Facebook_logo Ning presented some statistics about Facebook I'd heard or read elsewhere - e.g., 500M monthly active users, 130 friends per user (on average) - along with several I had not known before:

  • 250 million daily active users
  • 160 million active objects (groups, events, pages)
  • 60 object (group/event/page) connections per user (on average)
  • 500 billion minutes per month spent on the site across all users
  • 25 billion content items are shared per month across all users
  • 70 content items created per user per month (on average)
  • 200 GB of data/day was being generated on the site in March 2008
  • 12+ TB of data/day was being generated by end of 2009, growing by 8x annually

In addition to the increasing demands of users, Facebook application developers and advertisers want feedback on their apps and ads. Facebook decided against using closed, proprietary systems due to issues of cost, scalability and length of the development and release cycles. They considered using Hadoop, but wanted something that provided a higher level of abstraction and used the kinds of schemas traditionally provided in relational database management systems (RDBMS). Hive provides the capability to express operations in SQL and have them translated into the MapReduce framework, and provides extensive support for optimizations ... a dimension that is increasingly important for a company with increasingly big data needs.

image from Alan Gates, a software architect on the Yahoo! grid team, led off his talk on Pig, Making Hadoop Easy (slides embedded below) with a motivating example, showing how a 200 (?) line program to find the top 5 sites visited by 18-25 year olds in Java using Hadoop directly could be written as a 10 line program in Pig Latin. Pig represents a middle way between straight Hadoop and the higher level abstractions provided by Cascading and Hive, providing the capability to program in a higher level scripting language (i.e., higher level than Java) while still being able to define elements procedurally (vs. the declarative definitions typical of SQL-oriented frameworks).

Yahoo_logo Alan recently wrote a blog post on Pig and Hive at Yahoo! in which he delves more deeply into the similarities and differences between the two frameworks, both of which have their place(s) in the realm of data warehousing. Data processing typically involves three phases: data collection, data preparation, and data presentation. Pig is particularly well suited to three tasks involved in the data preparation phase (aka Extract Transform Load (ETL) or data factory):

According to Alan, Hive is well suited to the data presentation phase, in which business intelligence analysis and ad hoc queries may be better accommodated by a language that directly supports SQL. It seems to me that an argument could be made that these tasks might also be categorized as research, though perhaps the differentiation between phases lies more in the types of questions one might most easily be able to ask (and answer). In any case, the data and code used by Alan in his talk are also available on the Hadoop Day site.

Alan Gates at Hadoop Day In addition to interesting presentations, there were some other interesting things I noted about the group at the event. I would estimate that 95% of the attendees were male - much higher than the events I typically attend, which focus more on human-computer interaction and social computing - and the proportion of Macs was much lower than other events I typically attend - perhaps 30%, with nearly 50% of the laptops I saw being Thinkpads. The presentations and presenters were great, as was the view and the food; the only downside was the poor wireless connectivity ... which was somewhat surprising, given the site (Amazon), but was probably due to the need to rig an ad-hoc network outside the firewall just for the event.

All in all, it was a very worthwhile day, and I'm grateful to the organizers, the sponsors - Amazon Web Services, Fabric Worldwide, Cloudera and Karmasphere - and all the presenters for putting the event together. There is already some talk about holding another Eastside Networking Event, a technology-oriented event with several representatives from the local big data community (Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Windows Azure and Facebook [Seattle]) that I wrote about in my last post. I don't know whether there will be future day-long Hadoop events in Seattle, but there are monthly Hadoop meetups in Seattle which are also organized by Bradford; the next meeting of the group is this Wednesday.

Wine, Cheese, Technology and Jobs in Seattle

The Eastside Networking Event last night, organized by Andrew Vest, included an interesting mix of wines, cheeses and Seattle area technology companies looking to hire people - primarily, but not exclusively, engineers. At one point, one of the speakers asked how many people in the room were engineers, and only about one quarter or so of the 400+ people in the audience raised their hands, so I'm not sure how well expectations were met among the sponsors and attendees of the event, but I enjoyed meeting interesting people, learning more about the companies and trying some new wines.

image from Mike Whitmore, of Fresh Consulting, talked about the increasing ways that technology is permeating our lives. The company, which integrates business, technology and design, makes extensive use of Amazon's Mechanical Turk and oDesk for outsourcing its work, using 3,000 people for micro-tasks and mini-tasks from these two services ... most of whom, I imagine, do not work in the greater Seattle area. One of the sites the company has created is, which allows users to rate web apps, and then provides capabilities to compare, rank and filter those reviews. Mike mentioned some kind of prize(s) associated with using the site, but I wasn't clear on the details and has kindly clarified the Kindle Contest in a comment below:

  1. Go to and click on the Community tab.
  2. Click the green Quick Signup button.
  3. Follow the process to Create your Account by August 31st.

All who join the CloudSurfer Community by August 31st are eligible for a drawing for a Kindle 3G.

image from My favorite example of new technologies from Mike's talk was Kickbee, a device that can be attached to the belly of a pregnant woman that tweets every time the fetus kicks. There were several articles (including the Gizmodo article I link to above) about this device in December 2008, but the official Kickbee site, and the project page in the portfolio of the device's creator, Corey Menscher (when he was a student at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program), are both currently marked by "This site may harm your computer" warnings in Google. @kickbee reminds me of @PiMPY3WASH, a device connected to a Maytag washing machine that tweets when its load is done [video] ... which seems somewhat less risky than attaching sensors and transmitters to the belly of a pregnant woman. In any case, I agree with Mike that there are many interesting developments in the increasing array of activity streams that are connected to the web, and many exciting opportunities to create useful new services based on the greater awareness and interaction capabilities these offer.

image from Next up was Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon, who was touting Amazon Web Services. Werner spoke of how AWS has drastically reduced the time and costs of developing enterprise software - from 2 years down to 3-6 months - and increases agility by enabling scaling up and down based on actual (vs. anticipated) demand. Werner claimed that 7 of the top 10 Facebook apps are games (I'm not sure how "top" is measured), all of which run on AWS, and mentioned several non-game web services that I know (and love), and included one that I hadn't heard of before, but will definitely use next time I plan air travel: hipmunk. One of my favorite phrases from the event was Werner's reference to the way AWS helps during that one exponential moment when your web site gets a large spike of visitors (I've always thought of this as getting Boing-Boinged, but "exponential moment" is perhaps more general).

WindowsPhone7 Charlie Kindel, general manager for user experience with the Microsoft Windows Phone 7 team emphasized the game-changing approach that Microsoft is taking to this new platform, i.e., how they are changing their game as they seek to compete more effectively in the smart phone market. The Windows Phone 7 is designed to offer integrated experiences, combining elements of the personal and the professional dimensions of our lives through the incorporation of productivity tools as well as photos, videos, music and games (at various points, Charlie talked about "the Zune phone" and "the Xbox phone"). The live demo - using an app that replicated the phone screen on a laptop screen - was pretty impressive, highlighting the "live tiles" interface and the integration with mail, maps and the calendar. My favorite feature was the button on the calendar app that allows a user to automatically generate an "I'll be late" email to the organizer or all attendees of an event. In addition to the user experience, Charlie emphasized the Windows Phone developer experience, claiming at one point that for someone with any software development experience [presumably with Microsoft tools and languages], it can take as little as 2-3 minutes to get a Windows Phone 7 app up and running (!).

image from Barbara Evans, aka Seattle Wine Gal, and Community Manager of Thinkspace, promotes social media for and about wine and wineries, and talked about how she started out with no qualifications, but lots of passion & drive to learn about the social online space. I first met Barbara at the afterparty for a daylong conference in Seattle this past winter, for which she had assembled one of the best selections of wineries to pour at a tasting I've encountered in Seattle. I don't know about her claim of "no qualifications": she has a degree in social anthropology, great taste in wines (and wineries), and I suspect that the Boopsie Effect - wherein attractive women suffer disadvantages due to their appearance in certain professions - does not apply to social media (in fact, I imagine it is more the opposite). She attempted to show a video of how to drink wine in the shower during the presentation, but it did not work; having watched it today, despite the images that might come to mind regarding a shower scene, I can say that it is not NSFW.

image from Bill Baxter, CTO of Cozi, which offers a set of applications to keep busy families organized, offered a blend of "prognosticating and bitching" about the state of web and mobile apps. Citing an "unstoppable juggernaut named Apple", he warned that the current rate of platform proliferation - iOS, Facebook, Windows Mobile 7, WIndows 7/8 (desktop), Android, Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer 9, HTML5, Blackberry OS, Yahoo Connected TV, Google TV - was unsustainable. He predicted that HTML5/CSS3/JavaScript will be the likely winner, but meanwhile, developers will be forced to create native clients for many plaforms, and so skills in many languages and tools - Objective-C, Java, HTML/CSS/JavaScript, as well as backend skills in database and web services - will continue to be invaluable for the forseeable future. Interestingly (to me), Bill's Twitter account has the fewest followers (3), followees (7) and tweets (2) of any of the speakers, and I can't find a LinkedIn profile either - though @CoziFamily has plenty of followers, followees and tweets - leading me to wonder if social media restraint is a strategy intended to promote the simplification and organization of his [family] life.

Windows_azure_logo Bharat Shyam, General Manager of Microsoft Windows Azure, has no Twitter account (that I can find), which is consistent with his opening statement about how little he typically tends to enjoy networking. Just as Windows Phone 7 is a relative latecomer to the smart phone game, Windows Azure is a relative latecomer to the cloud computing game, having been unveiled in January of this year (although in describing Amazon Web Services, which was an early pioneer in this area 4 years ago, Werner Vogels described the field as still feeling like "day 1"). Bharat emphasized the powerful and popular tools available to support developers on the Azure platform, e.g., Visual Studio for Windows Azure, and said there were already 10,000 Windows Azure developers, and 10,000 Windows Azure customers, a number which is "growing at a rapid clip".

EVenues_logo Nic Peterson, CEO of eVenues, whose Twitter account also exhibits restraint, gave a demo of their "marketplace for underutilized space", showing how a user can search for and reserve an unused conference room - or desk, classroom or event space - owned by another organization based on hourly or daily rates. Nic claimed that the "under 50" [person] meeting space market is a $2.5B business, and noted that hotels charge more than 10 times the eVenue rates (and having organized numerous events, I can attest to high rates in hotels). He said they soon plan to release a backend tool for space owners to more easily manage the availability of their spaces on eVenues, and I found myself wondering about potential partnerships with catering and transportation companies.

Facebook_logo Ari Steinberg, manager of the new Facebook office in Seattle, showed a bunch of photos of the new office (in Pioneer Square), and told us about another networking event / party they are holding at their office next week ... which, unfortunately, is already full. In their quest to ensure that the party is populated primarily by clever engineers, they presented a puzzle as a gatekeeper to the event. Engineers who are late to the party (and/or puzzle), may increase their chances for being invited to future Facebook parties - or perhaps even employment - by doing clever things with the Facebook Graph API, which provides access to 20 types of Facebook objects, including people, events, groups, friends, photos, videos, likes, notes, links and - after yesterday's announcement - places.

Gist_logo T.A. McCann, CEO of Gist ("know more about who you know"), was up last, and started off with the contextually appropriate insight that "the key to social networking is wine". Gist was created to deal with the information overload some of us experience with too many inboxes, social networking connections. Gist combines Outlook, Gmail, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, news, blogs, photos, RSS feeds and contact info into a single stream (for each person), making it easier to learn what's new on a person-by-person basis, regardless of the preferred platform(s) through which that person prefers to express him- or herself. According to T.A., Gist already has more profiles than LinkedIn (!), and before ending his talk - and with it, the presentation portion of the event - he noted the company has 20 employees in Pioneer Square, and "we are always hiring".

Last, but not least, I wanted to say a few words about the wine. Tasting tables were setup during the first speaker session, and the wine was flowing by the time of the first break. There was also a table for Maker's Mark Kentucky Bourbon (on the rocks or in a punch made with Reed's Ginger Beer). The wineries represented - and the wines poured - were

  • Bartholomew Winery poured a 2007 Orsa (69% Syrah, 18% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache), 2007 Reciprocity (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 50% Carmenere) - my favorite of the night - and 2007 Cuvee Rouge (a Cabernet / Merlot blend)
  • Celaeno Winery poured a Gewurtzraminer - the most interesting wine of the night (a prominent smokey flavor, almost like drinking bacon) - a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Mount Baker Vineyards poured a Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc blend, a Cabernet Franc and a Syrah (I did not make careful notes of the origins or vintages)
  • 509 Wines poured a Viognier - my second favorite wine - a Cabernet and a Syrah

Steve Miller Band at Chateau Ste. Michelle: a concert review

Steve Miller Band @ Chateau Ste. Michelle We saw Steve Miller Band in our first concert of the 2010 summer season at Chateau Ste. Michelle on Wednesday night. CSM summer concerts tend to include a preponderance of rock stars from the 60s and 70s, some of whom are looking, sounding and performing better than others, so many decades after their heydays. Steve Miller is definitely one of those who is still faring well after all these years. His voice, guitar playing and showmanship are still going strong, and he had a good band - and a number of special guest stars - to accompany him.

He played one long set, with one encore in which he responded to audience requests. Despite our efforts to get him to play Your Saving Grace, he responded to louder requests for Jungle Love (or, as at least one particularly loud requester was referring to it, "Chug-a-lug"). Surprisingly to me, throughout most of the concert, the keyboardist also provided the bass lines. The backup guitarist played bass guitar on a few songs, but it was mostly keyboards throughout (not that I would have noticed if I hadn't seen the players assembled on stage).

As is so often the case at these oldies but goodies (and not so goodies) concerts at CSM, I think SMB could have provided far more opportunities for audience sing-alongs. He did invite us all to sing the refrain during Space Cowboy, but I'm often surprised at how little beloved musicians are willing to engage their long-time fans in a more participatory experience ... especially fans like me who used to play his songs in an amateur rock band years ago. I'm sure the music quality is higher with the professionals performing, but I suspect the people known as the "audience" would welcome more opportunities to share more prominently in the music-making.

Steve Miller Band @ Chateau Ste. Michelle Among the highlights of the concert were

  • Gerald Johnson (bass), a former member of the Steve Miller Band, and Randy Hansen (guitar), a local Jimi Hendrix cover artist, joining the band for some cover songs by Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Slim Harpo and Muddy Waters - shown in the image at the top.
  • Dillon Brown, a young (high-school age) guitarist from the Kids Rock Free program who joined the band for several numbers toward the end - shown in the image at the right.
Here's the set list, as best as I can read my scrawled notes from the concert:
  • Jetliner
  • Take the Money and Run
  • Mercury Blues
  • Hey Yeah
  • Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)
  • Further On Up the Road [Eric Clapton]
  • Ain't No Telling [Jimi Hendrix]
  • Got Love If You Want It [Slim Harpo]
  • I Can't Be Satisfied [Muddy Waters]
  • Shu Ba Da Du Ma Ma Ma Ma
  • Seasons
  • Wild Mountain Money
  • Dance, Dance, Dance
  • Space Cowboy
  • Abracadabra
  • Ooh Poo Pah Do
  • Tramp
  • Don't Cha Know
  • Serenade
  • Living in the USA
  • Rock'n Me
  • Fly Like an Eagle
  • The Stake
  • Jungle Love

Update, 2010-07-27: Just read about ThingLink's photo tagging service; trying it out on a larger version of the first photo above. Mouse over / click on people in the image to see who's who.

Serendipity Platforms, Unintended Consequences and Explosive Positivity at Web 2.0 Expo

webexsf2010 The keynotes on Day 1 of the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco exposed a number of common threads, perhaps best summarized by a quote attributed to Tim O'Reilly by conference co-chair Sarah Milstein:

We're trying to maximize the surface area of serendipity.

The official theme of the event is "Platforms for Growth", and all of the keynotes so far have included observations and insights into the kind of platform thinking and its often unintended - and primarily positive - consequences that Tim and various friends of O'Reilly have been espousing and practicing for some time now.

I'm not actually at the conference but have been following it remotely through the web20tv LiveStream. However, I've been taking lots of notes, and will condense them into a coherent collection below, augmented by links and other embeddable goodies when I can find them. I'll link each of the speaker's names to their profile on the Web 2.0 Expo site, which has - or will have - slides and videos of their talks.

image from Ben Huh, CEO of the Cheezburger Network, spoke about how providing platforms for people to promulgate humor - such as LOLcats, FAIL blog and There, I Fixed It - has resulted in 19,000 submissions per day, 15 million views per month and an immeasurable impact on mutual inspiration and the wealth of networks. He contrasted the construction of Internet culture - a bottom-up process involving hackers, software, subversiveness and co-created and occasionally co-opted meaning - with popular culture - a top-down process that has brought us sitcoms, evening news and Geraldo Rivera. Perhaps due to the humorous nature of the content shared on Ben's platforms, or the occasional dropouts in the live webcast, at one point I wasn't quite sure if he was extolling the virtues of cloud computing or clown computing ... and this prompted additional musing during his talk about other approximate anagrammatical homophones such as subversiveness vs. subservience, and conservative vs. conversative, as well as Victor Borge's quote "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people."

FuseLabs-logo Lili Cheng, General Manager of Microsoft's Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Labs, demonstrated three new web applications created by her team as they confront the challenges of timeliness, unpredictable growth, experimental systems and quality data. Bing Twitter, announced at the Web 2.0 Summit in October, allows users to track trending topics and search for status updates on Twitter., announced at the f8 Facebook Developers Conference two weeks ago, allows Facebook users to share Microsoft Office documents on the web. The newest and most interesting app is Spindex, which Lili acknowledged was a "nerd name" for social personal index, and allows tracking of trending and subtrending topics that are popular among one's friends (her demo tracked trends of a mutual friend, Marc Smith, but I couldn't make out the actual content). Spindex and Docs are both in early beta / invitation-only mode, and Spindex currently requires a Windows Live ID for authentication (Docs requires Facebook authentication). I had previewed her Web 2.0 Expo Powerpoint slides earlier in the day, as they had shown up in her Facebook news feed, and I thought I'd beat the rush by submitting a request for an invitation. Unfortunately, I haven't received an invite code for Spindex or (for which I requested an invite the day two weeks ago), but I'm hoping to try them out soon.

Paul Buccheit, founder of FriendFeed, which was acquired by Facebook, was interviewed by Sarah Milstein, during which he described the recently announced Open Graph protocol as an attempt to simplify the development and use of Facebook applications. Paul championed the widespread provision of lightweight, spontaneous interaction gestures such as liking and quick and easy comments as a way to promote conversations and connections across the web. When asked by Sarah about whether the proliferation of such mechanisms would promote a larger number of ultimately shallower connections, Paul responded that they provide more context for future, deeper conversations to unfold. When asked who he admires, Paul responded that he just follows random links, noting he had just enjoyed reading a blog post by an author he hadn't heard of in a browser tab that he'd opened two weeks ago (reflecting one of my common practices).

Ted-logo June Cohen, Executive Producer of TED, shared the philosophy and practices of radical openness adopted by the organizers of the TED conference series. Despite their concerns about their conscious evolution from conference to media company to platform, their steadfast commitment to their core mission - "ideas worth spreading" - enabled them to progressively provide a model "platform for growth", and she said that all of the unintended consequences have been explosively positive. Noting that taped lectures are not an obvious source of viral content, and providing content for free is not an obvious business model, she reported that the first year they provided their TED talks online (2007?), they increased the ticket prices by 50% (to $6,000), and they still sold out within a week. Although production of high quality videos (and conferences) is expensive, they have found that whenever you have people who are passionate about what they are doing, you can find a sponsor who wants to reach that audience.

A year ago, TED launched the TED Open Translation Project, in which 4,000 volunteers have translated 9,000 videos into 77 languages, and the translated text words / symbols are linked to the segments in the video in which they were originally spoken. More recently, they have licensed the TED brand free of charge to organizers of independent TED conferences; the TEDx series has included 1000 events in 70 countries and 35 languages attended by 50,000 people ... and the original TED organizers are learning from the experimentation carried out by the independent organizers ... demonstrating that a global platform creates a global team. And just today, they announced the TED Open TV Project, with 20 global partners who have agreed to show TED talks without interruptions or commercials. The TED strategic plan: listen - and respond - to what people want.

Buildmeasurelearn Eric Ries, Venture Advisor and evangelist of the Lean Startup, said that we need to stop wasting people's time building products that no one wants and learn how to pivot: building, measuring and learning, being willing to change directions as we learn from customers, and iterating through these three stages as quickly as we can. Arguing that if we really believe the world needs to change in a fundamental way - and many entrepreneurs are driven by some variant of this motivation - we can't afford to rely on faith-based initiatives, i.e., we cannot rely solely on our own intuitions, but rather rigorously validate our "solutions" with real customers as early - and often - as possible. Warning against achieving failure - successfully executing a plan that leads you over a cliff - he emphasized the importance of articulating a compelling vision and building a sustainable organization to support the new product or service in the face of extreme uncertainty, the "soil in which all entrepreneurs live".

I found much of Eric's talk compelling, and yet I also found much of Don Norman's recent arguments about Technology First, Needs Last: The Research-Product Gulf to be even more compelling:

Design research is great when it comes to improving existing product categories, but essentially useless when it comes to breakthroughs [e.g., flush toilets, indoor plumbing, electric lighting, automobiles, airplanes, or modern telecommunication]. ... New conceptual breakthroughs are invariably driven by the development of new technologies. The new technologies, in turn, inspire technologists to invent things. Not sometimes because they themselves dream of having their capabilities, but many times simply because they can build them. In other words, grand conceptual inventions happen because technology has finally made them possible. Do people need them? That question is answered over the next several decades as the technology moves from technical demonstration, to product, to failure, or perhaps to slow acceptance in the commercial world where slowly, after considerable time, the products and applications jointly evolve, and slowly the need develops.

I suppose one difference is in scale, with respect to impact, time frame and return on investment. If you need to actually make some money on your idea in a relatively short period of time, you may want to adopt the lean startup model, and prepare to accept customer-driven compromises along the path toward your grand vision. The next presentation seemed to offer a middle way.

OcarinaSmuleGe Wang, Assistant Professor of Music at Stanford University's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) and Co-Founder, CTO and Chief Creative Officer of Smule, played us out. Offering an example of Don Norman's observation that new technologies inspire technologists to invent things, Ge shared the process of inside-out design behind the invention of the Ocarina iPhone application: he and his team decided that they wanted to build something musical with the iPhone, taking advantage of its various sensors (multi-touch screen, accelerometer, microphone, GPS), but they weren't initially sure what. The Ocarina app allows you to not only play the iPhone as an instrument, but create and share tablature for songs / musical pieces and to see, hear and play with an organic community of Ocarinists around the world, in a global visualization (and auralization?) of imperfect harmony. Among the unintended consequences was the adoption of the instrument by a nose flautist.

LighterArtSmule Another Smule iPhone application, the Sonic Lighter, has also yielded unanticipated consequences. Sonic Lighter creates a real-time visual and aural simulation of a lighter that responds to tilting, blowing into the microphone and being positioned near another iPhone that is running the app (which creates a flamethrower effect). It also creates a dot on the Sonic Lighter Ignition Map whenever it is lit and then blown out, which has led to an entire category of unanticipated effects now called Lighter Art (I love the double entendre ... and enjoy this much better than the darker art represented by the Oil Spill Crisis Map, for which one can also imagine an ignition component). The first known example of Lighter Art can be seen to the right, where someone created virtual graffiti - the word "hi" - by turning the Sonic Lighter on and off while walking around Pasadena in a pattern that sketched out the letters. Other Smule applications demonstrated include the Magic Piano (only for iPad), and I Am T-Pain, a mobile voice synthesizer / karaoke app, both of which include interactive mapping capabilities that enable people - or cats - to spontaneously play or sing duets with people they don't know.

Ruminating on Ben Huh's earlier presentation, and Victor Borge's quote about connecting via laughter, I found myself wondering whether music might represent the second shortest channel between two people ... or among larger groups.

Be Impeccable With Your Word: Confrontation vs. Condescension and Intimidation

TheFourAgreementsI've had a number of opportunities recently to reflect on don Miguel Ruiz' first agreement: be impeccable with your word. Amid public conversations at the recent Coffee Party kickoff meeting, private discussions about reviews of academic papers and proposals, and listening to an interview about the science of wisdom, I've gained a greater appreciation for the importance of making this agreement and adopting this practice. A comment advocating confrontation by my good friend Robb - an ardent defender of the Ruahines Mountain Range in New Zealand and wild places in general - on my blog post about political conversation vs. confrontation in the context of the Coffee Party movement helped me reconsider my opposition to confrontation (the meaning of which is "opposition"), and realize that what I'm actually opposed to is condescension and intimidation. I decided to further clarify my own beliefs about being impeccable with my word in a followup blog post.

I'll start off with the brief description of this agreement on the inner jacket cover of don Miguel Ruiz' book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.

Be Impeccable With Your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

In the chapter elaborating on The First Agreement, Ruiz defines impeccable as "without sin" and suggests that sin begins with rejection of myself, and in the case of the word, manifests in using words against myself. [Actually, Ruiz uses the word "yourself" rather than "myself", but I prefer to use "I" statements wherever possible.] If I reject myself, I am more likely to reject others, and if I use words against myself, I am more likely to use words against others. Or, as is observed in the recently released movie, Greenberg (and elsewhere): "hurt people hurt people".

Ruiz describes the power of the word as a form of magic, through which we can cast spells for good or evil. Impeccable use of words - pure magic - can have a powerful effect on people, helping us appreciate positive qualities and do positive things. I've written before about the power of positivity and appropriate praise (and the perils of inappropriate and profuse praise), and recently encountered psychological studies showing that even the unspoken expectations of others can influence us. Ruiz warns that the invocation of what he calls black magic - sowing seeds of fear and doubt in the minds of others - can also have powerful impact, alluding to Hitler, whose words so successfully demonized and vilified an entire race of people that 6 million were killed.

Given my recent revelation about confrontation vs. condescension, I want to distinguish between using words to criticize a person (or a race, religion or political party of persons) and using words to criticize a person's actions. For example, I can question the truthfulness or logic of another person's statements and still be impeccable with my word. However, if I call another person a liar or an imbecile, I am not being impeccable with my word.

S-JOE-WILSON-large The specific words and tone I use to raise a question or potential criticism also offer an opportunity to practice impeccability. For example, someone may say something like "The reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally". I may question the truthfulness of that statement, but if I say "You lie!" - especially if I were to shout that out in a nationally televised public setting - I am not being impeccable with my word ... though I may be giving that person an opportunity to practice the second agreement, don't take anything personally.

If instead I were to say "I disagree with that statement" - especially if I were to do so at another time and place - I am being impeccable with my word. And, if it turns out that the statement with which I disagree is actually true, e.g., the reforms that person is proposing include a provision that explicitly states that "Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States", then being impeccable with my word may help me preserve my integrity more effectively.

I was discussing the distinction between confrontation and condescension in the context of political conversations with a friend yesterday - over coffee - who suggested some references that might inform my perspective. One site lists two basic types of arguments:

There are basically two types of arguments: Aristotelian or adversarial, and Rogerian or consensus-building. Aristotelian argument is made to confirm a position or hypothesis or to refute an existing argument. Using the techniques at hand, the writer attempts to persuade the reader to a particular point of view. The writer uses logic, appeals to the rational in the audience, and provides empirical and common sense evidence to persuade the audience members to change their beliefs, attitudes, and actions.

Rogerian argument is a bit different—its goal is to develop consensus among readers rather than establish an adversarial relationship. The idea is that a successful argument is a winning situation for everyone. Avoiding all emotionally sensitive language, the writer phrases statements in as neutral a way as possible to avoid alienating readers by minimizing threat and establishing trust. The analysis of the opposition's point of view is carefully and objectively worded, demonstrating that the writer understands the position and reasons for believing it. In preparation for the conclusion, the writer points out the common characteristics, goals, and values of the arguments and persons involved. Finally, the writer proposes a resolution that recognizes the interests of all interested parties.

I believe both types of arguments benefit from being impeccable with your word ... assuming the goal is to arrive at the truth of the matter - or at least a deeper under understanding - rather than simply winning. I'm not so sure that truth is a top priority of some participants in our political process.

Speaking of truth, resolution and evolution, I'm reminded of Gandhi's inspiring insights into truth vs. consistency:

My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment. The result has been that I have grown from truth to truth.

Aristotle, who generally advocated dialectic (logic) over rhetoric (the art of persuasion), acknowledged the pragmatic value of rhetoric in civic affairs, and outlined three primary strategies of persuasion:

  • ethos: how the character and credibility of a speaker can influence an audience to consider him/her to be believable.
  • pathos: the use of emotional appeals to alter the audience's judgment.
  • logos: the use of reasoning, either inductive or deductive, to construct an argument.

Again, I believe that being impeccable with your word is an important ingredient in applying all of these strategies. One can establish one's credibility without resorting to the character assassination of one's opponent, although respectfully raising questions about the credibility of statements made by an opponent is consistent with the first agreement. One can also appeal to emotions without insulting an opponent. And, of course, constructing a logical argument can be done with impeccability, as long as one begins with impeccable premises.

A story on NPR yesterday morning, on anti-bullying programs in schools, based on the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, offers an instructive overview of the social culture of bullying that supports and promotes intimidation which has ramifications well beyond the schoolyard.


Olweus emphasizes the social culture that supports, condones or promotes bullying - the dark side of the idea that "it takes a village":

  • Students who bully: These students want to bully, start the bullying, and play a leader role.
  • Followers or henchmen: These students are positive toward the bullying and take an active part, but don't usually initiate it and do not play a lead role.
  • Supporters or passive bullies: These students actively and openly support the bullying, for example, through laughter or calling attention to the situation, but they don't join in.
  • Passive supporters or possible bullies: These students like the bullying but do not show outward signs of support.
  • Disengaged onlookers: These students do not get involved and do not take a stand, nor do they participate actively in either direction. They might thin or say "It's none of my business" or "Let's watch and see what happens."
  • Possible defenders: These students dislike the bullying and think they should help the student who is being bullied, but do nothing.
  • Defenders: These students dislike the bullying and help or try to help the student who is being bullied.

The NPR story notes that "The community can take away the bully's power by refusing to cheer him on, by telling an adult, or perhaps the ultimate step: stepping in to help the victim."

Anti-bullying tactics has a particular poignancy in political arenas outside of the schoolyard, given recent words and actions surrounding the health care reform debate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi alluded to the power of words yesterday, in response to the violence and death threats in the wake of this week's health care vote:

I believe that words have power, they weigh a ton. And they are received differently by people in - depending on their, shall we say, emotional state. And we have to take responsibility for words that are said that we do not reject.

A blog post about American Kristallnacht: Conservative Hatred Shatters the Peace includes an extensive rundown of the powerful, hateful and intimidating words used by various conservative leaders over the last several days, some of which explicitly call for the breaking of windows and the murder of elected officials who voted for the health care reform law. I wish I was surprised to learn that the frequency of death threats against President Obama is 400% higher than against former President George W. Bush.

I believe that with a "government of the people, by the people, for the people", the potential victims of this campaign of intimidation are not just our elected officials but all citizens, just as I believe the ultimate victims of the violent words and actions that crystalized on Kristallnacht were not just the persecuted Jews, but the Nazi bullies and their supporters, the passive or disengaged German citizens, and eventually most of the citizens of the world community.

CP_square So, what can someone who objects to the tactics of intimidation do to step in to help the potential victims? One could start or join a movement to "wake up, stand up and speak up", to re-engage in vigorous and respectful political conversation, to oppose bullying without resorting to the bullying tactics of condescension and intimidation. I'm not sure if the Coffee Party movement will ultimately succeed, but I plan to participate in one of the local National Coffee Summit meetings this weekend, as it appears to be a promising vehicle through which to promote and practice being impeccable with your word on a large scale.

The Coffee Party: Political Conversation vs. Confrontation

Coffee Party @ SoulFood Books, Music & Coffee I attended a Coffee Party kickoff meeting at SoulFood Books, Music and Organic Coffee House on Saturday. Approximately 40 people subdivided into smaller groups to discuss their hopes and fears about the state of the union. Amid the largely liberal perspectives voiced by several participants, I was delighted to discover an unanticipated diversity of opinions in our group. A number of common themes emerged, but I came away most hopeful about the prospect for preserving this diversity and promoting a resurgence of the middle way in American politics.

Among the issues raised by participants were ethics, elections, economics, employment, energy and the environment. At several points, I was reminded of Paul Hawken's book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming, and a blog post I wrote about his systems view of the interrelationships between social, economic and environmental justice. At other points, I was reminded of Doug Rushkoff's book, Life, Incorporated: How the World Became a Corporation and How To Take It Back - e.g., one person championing de-marginalization, another recommending the de-personalization of the corporation (referring to the 1844 U.S. Supreme Court decision designating a corporation as a natural person) and another suggesting a transformation from a me society to a we society.

During the course of the discussions, there were a number of references to the Tea Party movement - whose members tend to be male, rural, upscale, and overwhelmingly conservative - mostly in the context of expressing opposition to or at least distinction from that movement. I believe there are some important areas of agreement between values espoused by the Tea Party and the Coffee Party: an affinity for transparency, accountability and responsibility, and an aversion to abuses of power and other perceived injustices.

There do appear to be areas of differences between the Tea Party and the Coffee Party; among the most significant - to me - are the tactics employed. Based on what I've read and seen, the Tea Party seems to be rather ideological and confrontational whereas my first experience with the Coffee Party suggests a more idealistic and conversational approach to politics. Some members and groups within the Tea Party appear to be adopting the demonizing and spiteful rhetoric that was used so extensively during the McCain-Palin campaign of 2008. The tone and tenor of the discussions and debates within the Coffee Party meeting - in which some people articulated and advocated strong positions - was far more civil and respectful.

In a blog post about coffee, conversation, community and culture at Starbucks, I proposed the possibility of promoting civic engagement without sacrificing civil engagement, noting that others have articulated a tension between the two:

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Coffeehouses: Bringing the Buzz Back, Michael Idov talks about some of the European coffeehouses I first read about in The Grand Literary Cafes of Europe, warning that Americans are "losing the coffeehouse ... to our own politeness". Idov claims that while coffeehouses were once "hotbed[s] of a proudly rootless culture", "seminaries of sedition" with traditions of "intellectual sparring", they have now become elitist bastions of "balkanization". While these coffeehouses may have promoted civic engagement, it appears that they were not well known for civil engagement.

I [still] believe it is possible to have vigorous debate - in the best traditions of the coffee house - without stooping to the vilification of one's opponent(s).

That said, one of my concerns about the Coffee Party is how effective a conversational approach can be at this juncture in American politics. We may come to understand and appreciate - if not agree with - one another better, but will this effect changes in policy and legislation? Especially if other, more ideologically unified parties and movements - and corporations - are more certain, focused and strident about their views. It's hard to have a productive conversation if no one else is listening.

In an earlier post, on conservatism, liberalism and independence, I recounted a classic Doonesbury comic strip:

In the main portion of the strip, Chase [a conservative] sums up the differences between liberals and conservatives: "[Y]ou liberals are hung up on fairness! You actually try to respect all points of view! But conservatives feel no need whatsoever to consider other views. We know we're right, so why bother? Because we have no tradition of tolerance, we're unencumbered by doubt! So we roll you guys every time!" When Mark [a liberal] replies "Actually, you make a good point...", Chase responds, "See! Only a loser would admit that!"

Listening to "The Science of Wisdom" on KUOW Weekday yesterday, I heard Stephen S. Hall, author of Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience, talk about the power of anger as a motivating emotion. While he said that anger and wisdom are not antithetical, the ability to regulate anger and other emotions effectively is one of the hallmarks of a wise person. However, he also observed that many famous wise people have been willing to run the risk of contradicting conventional wisdom and adopt adversarial stances.

The question, I suppose, is whether it is wiser - and/or more effective - to promote alternative perspectives through conversational or confrontational tactics, or to advocate adversarial positions with consideration or condescension. Personally, I tend to prefer coffee to tea.

Some highlights from CSCW 2010

cscw2010_logo CSCW 2010 - the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work - is the first CSCW I've missed since 1998. I tried following along remotely via the Twitter #cscw2010 hashtag, which may have been the next best thing to being there ... but it was a distant second. I was glad to read a few posts on BLOG@CACM (which, unfortunately, does not appear to support tags) and view some of the 400+ cscw2010 photos on Flickr, and am delighted that the entire CSCW 2010 Proceedings has been posted online. However, for a conference devoted to "the design and use of technologies that affect groups, organizations, and communities", I think there is room for improvement in the community's use of social media to more broadly disseminate the knowledge reported in Savannah, Georgia, last month.

As many people know, I am an irrepressible - perhaps even fanatical - promoter of SlideShare ("YouTube for Powerpoint") in any context where people are using slides to present their work. Shauna Causey recently tweeted about her pleasant surprise at the viral nature of SlideShare after posting her slides from a recent Social Media Club Seattle [motto: "If you get it, share it"] educational event on Location-Based Apps

Wow! Just got a note saying my overview of location based apps hit No. 1 on Slideshare. Thx, @gumption for pursuading me to upload it tday.

During the CSCW conference, I tweeted a couple of invitations to authors to post their CSCW 2010 slides on SlideShare. Unfortunately, only three authors have posted their slides (and tagged them with "cscw2010"). Fortunately, these presentations are associated with three of my favorite papers from the conference - in fact, I've already referenced them in comments I've posted on other blogs.

Over the years, I've posted blog entries with notes from CSCW 2004 (Chicago), CSCW 2006 (Banff) and CSCW 2008 (San Diego), and will continue this tradition in somewhat abbreviated form this year, focusing my highlighting on these three papers. Given that Eric, who first commented on my CSCW 2004 blog post, recently commented that he generally prefers to read shorter blog entries - and that more careful and concise editing may help me get more out of my own writing - it seems appropriate that I make this a relatively short post (by my standards).

Note that I do not mean to imply that the collection below represents the best papers from CSCW 2010 in any objective sense  - although one did win a Best Paper or Note award (top 1%) and another won an Honorable Mention (top 5%) - but they resonate with me, and given the extra effort expended by the authors to use social media to share the results of their work, I'm happy to help further promote their research.

Readers are Not Free-Riders: Reading as a Form of Participation on Wikipedia (Page 127)
Judd Antin (University of California - Berkeley)
Coye Cheshire (University of California - Berkeley)

Abstract: The success of Wikipedia as a large-scale collaborative effort has spurred researchers to examine the motivations and behaviors of Wikipedia’s participants. However, this research has tended to focus on active involvement rather than more common forms of participation such as reading. In this paper we argue that Wikipedia’s readers should not all be characterized as free-riders – individuals who knowingly choose to take advantage of others’ effort. Furthermore, we illustrate how readers provide a valuable service to Wikipedia. Finally, we use the notion of legitimate peripheral participation to argue that reading is a gateway activity through which newcomers learn about Wikipedia. We find support for our arguments in the results of a survey of Wikipedia usage and knowledge. Implications for future research and design are discussed.

Highlights: As I noted in a comment on Judd Antin's blog post about the paper, I'm always drawn to work that challenges long-held beliefs and conventional wisdom … especially when it shines a positive light on a previously scorned behavior. They cite numerous other studies that highlight the value of [just] reading: as an indicator of value, as contributing to the formation of an audience (motivating those who create / edit entries), and as a form of legitimate peripheral participation that may represent a gateway to more engaged forms of participation. The authors conducted a study of their own that shows many readers of Wikipedia have incomplete operational knowledge regarding the norms and affordances for contributing to Wikipedia in more involved ways, beyond reading - and linking to - articles.

Personally, I think the power law of participation that leads to only a small fraction of community members to create or edit content on Wikipedia - or any other online social media site - is more of a feature than a bug. For example, I suspect that one of the largest "mass contribution" episodes ever was Stephen Colbert's Wikipedia stunt, in which he urged viewers of his show to edit the Wikipedia entry for elephants to say that the population of elephants had tripled in the last 6 months.

Is it Really About Me? Message Content in Social Awareness Streams (Page 189)
Mor Naaman (Rutgers University)
Jeffrey Boase (Rutgers University)
Chih-Hui Lai (Rutgers University)

Abstract: In this work we examine the characteristics of social activity and patterns of communication on Twitter, a prominent example of the emerging class of communication systems we call “social awareness streams.” We use system data and message content from over 350 Twitter users, applying human coding and quantitative analysis to provide a deeper understanding of the activity of individuals on the Twitter network. In particular, we develop a content-based categorization of the type of messages posted by Twitter users, based on which we examine users’ activity. Our analysis shows two common types of user behavior in terms of the content of the posted messages, and exposes differences between users in respect to these activities.

Highlights: This paper has already received well-deserved attention by prominent social media sites and gurus, such as Mashable, one of the most popular social media aggregator sites, and Steve Rubel, SVP and Director of Insights for Edelman, the world's largest PR firm... as well as some not-so-prominent sites, such as my blog post on Power Laws and Pyramids: Participation, Gratification, and Distraction in Social Media. (which also mentions the Antin & Cheshire paper). Mor and his colleagues looked at a collection of public tweets by 125,593 Twitter users, and randomly selected a sample of 350 users who had at least 10 "friends" (for which I would prefer to substitute "followees"), 10 followers, and had posted at least 10 messages. Interestingly, Twitter statistics recently reported by RJMetrics reveal some interesting power law properties, showing that approximately 25% of Twitter users (or accounts) have no followers, 40% have 1-5 followers and 12% have 6-10 followers - although as I noted in a blog post on The Commoditization of Followers, there are a number of innovative ways to artificially inflate follower counts - and fewer than 25% have posted 10 or more tweets.

The 3,379 messages were coded into one of 9 categories. The authors distinguish between Meformers - users whose messages were predominantly in the "Me now" category, e.g., "tired and upset" - and Informers - users whose messages were predominantly in the "Information sharing" category, e.g., messages with links to [more] information. They found that "Informers have more friends (Median1=131) and followers (Median2=112) than Meformers (Median1=61, Median2= 42)" and that "Informers also have a higher proportion of mentions of other users in their messages (M=54% vs. M=41%)". This suggests that shining a bright light on others may attract more attention than shining a bright light one oneself ... and as I suggested in a blog post on Co-Promotion Reconsidered: The Recursive Attraction of Attention, there are a variety of techniques Twitter users can use to increase the probability that some of the light they shine will reflect back on them.

Understanding Deja Reviewers (Page 225)
Eric Gilbert (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Karrie Karahalios (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Abstract: People who review products on the web invest considerable time and energy in what they write. So why would someone write a review that restates earlier reviews? Our work looks to answer this question. In this paper, we present a mixed- method study of deja reviewers, latecomers who echo what other people said. We analyze nearly 100,000 reviews for signs of repetition and find that roughly 10– 15% of reviews substantially resemble previous ones. Using these algorithmically-identified reviews as centerpieces for discussion, we interviewed reviewers to understand their motives. An overwhelming number of reviews partially explains deja reviews, but deeper factors revolving around an individual’s status in the community are also at work. The paper concludes by introducing a new idea inspired by our findings: a self-aware community that nudges members toward community-wide goals.

Highlights: This is one of my favorite CSCW papers ever - and it's only 4 pages! Eric and Karrie provide some fascinating qualitative results that complement earlier, more quantitative results about reviewing behavior, e.g., a paper by Talwar, et al., on Understanding user behavior in online feedback reporting, in the ACM EC 2007 conference on electronic commerce. The personality and social psychology behind rating and reviewing is also receiving increasing attention in non-academic circles, e.g., a recent post on Adina Levin's blog about Learning about Web Rating Systems and a Wall Street Journal article last October, On the Internet, Everyone's a Critic But They're Not Very Critical, reporting that the average online review is 4.3 out of 5 stars.

Amazon suffers from a "curse of success" when it comes to online community participation: tens of millions of reviews, so many that the reviews for popular products are overwhelming for many users. Using computational linguistic analysis, they found that approximately 10-15% of reviews are deja reviews: effectively echoing earlier reviews. In their interviews with 20 reviewers of the most popular products, they discovered two general classes of reviewers operating under very different motivations. Amateur reviewers (9 of 20) have posted fewer than 30 reviews and have very few "this was helpful" votes on their reviews; Pro reviewers (11 of 20) have posted hundreds of reviews, have received many "helpful" votes and even have a following on Amazon. Amateur reviewers are motivated by an intrinsic, "almost visceral reaction" to the products; Pro reviewers are motivated by extrinsic goals of building "a brand or identity" within the reviewing community. Pro reviewers include authors of other books who create more links back their own books with every review they post, as well as those who are eager to reach the Top 100 status (or higher) among Amazon reviewers.

While a number of approaches have been invented for helping users wade through the seas of online reviews, the authors propose an interesting idea, based on their work. Invite amateur reviewers to rate deja reviews (those that are similar to their own)since they may see value in similar sentiments expressed in [more] compelling ways. Pro reviewers may be extrinsically motivated to rate any other reviews as low, and so should be excluded. Secondly, noting that the Amazon reviewers constitute "a self-aware community that knows what it wants", the computational linguistic techniques that were used to identify similarities among reviews might also be used to identify features that have not yet been thoroughly addressed, and amateur reviewers could be invited to effectively fill in the gaps.

And speaking of gaps, there are clearly significant gaps in my review of CSCW 2010. In checking the tweetstream for #cscw2010, I see that Mimi Ito has posted her closing keynote on Amateur Media Production in a Networked Ecology, complete with embedded videos that I presume she used in her talk. While the talk looks great - and very relevant to issues of social belonging, identity, and participation that are addressed in the papers I reviewed above - I'm going to end this amateur media production here and now, and take a little time to enjoy some natural ecology on an unseasonably sunny and warm winter afternoon in Seattle.

Notes from @BigBlog meetup at Soulfood in Redmond

I enjoyed attending my first BigBlog meetup last night at Soulfood Books, Music and Organic Coffee House in Redmond. Monica Guzman (@moniguzman) organized the event, and Nick Eaton (@njeaton), who writes the Microsoft blog, was the special guest. According to a tweet posted by Monica at the outset, other bloggers / tweeters / people there include @jimgaynor @gumption @stephaniemcc @ryanbartholomew @luizmarq and @jasonp107; @howardcwu arrived later.

SeattlePI BigBlog meetup @ SoulFood

Since Nick, the Microsoft reporter, was the special guest, we could hardly help but discuss the recent Op-Ed piece by former Microsoft VP Dick Brass on Microsoft's Creative Destruction. The piece kicked off a firestorm of conversation and controversy, online and offline. Nick posted an article about Microsoft has 'dysfunctional corporate culture', ex-exec says that prompted considerable commentary from readers (although Nick says he generally has to wear a virtual flak jacket for every article he posts).

In searching for Nick's article on, I discovered an earlier article syndicated from the NYTimes, by John Markoff in November 2000, about Brass in the Middle of Microsoft's Cultural Shift , which notes Brass' former job as New York Daily reporter, his personal passion and sense of mission around eBooks and tablet computers, and a reference to an earlier [stage of] reinvention:

The tablet computer is one of the best examples of Microsoft's multibillion dollar effort to reinvent itself for the presumed post-PC era.

And, for further multidimensional irony, given that Brass chose the NYTimes in which to publish his recent Op-Ed piece ... and the fact the earlier article appeared in the SeattlePI, which then had a printed counterpart:

Among other impacts, he predicts that The New York Times will publish its last version on paper in 2018.

[Note to self: revisit this article in 8 years.]

I suspect other Microsoft-related topics were discussed at the other end of the table, but we spent most of the time at our end talking about other things. Among other interesting things shared by other participants at the meeting:

Finally, a few people strongly recommended the OmniFocus Mac application for Getting Things Done ... which reminded me of a recent dinner meeting / presentation / conversation with David Allen - after which I wrote a blog post about motivations, conversations and book-centered sociality  ... after which [I thought] I was sufficiently motivated to re-read GTD and re-apply the techniques. In a conversation a few days later, another friend, Jason Simon, had told me "there's an app for that" and strongly recommended OmniFocus ... but it often takes N > 2 recommendations for me to overcome inertia ... especially when the recommendation is for a tool designed to help overcome inertia.

In any case, I've taken the first step, and ordered a new copy of the book - I gave away my first copy of GTD several years ago to my friend, Elizabeth Churchill (who clearly gets a lot of things done) - and if this trial is more successful, I may blog more about Getting Things Done ... if I'm correctly remembering GTD terminology, "there's a folder for that".

Motivations, Conversations and Book-Centered Sociality

I attended talks by three authors last week - Daniel Pink, David Allen and Bryant Simon - all presenting their work in different formats, styles and contexts. Daniel Pink had a conversation with Warren Etheredge at a Biznik event on Tuesday night at Hotel 1000 Seattle about a range of topics, including Dan's latest book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. David Allen, who was in town promoting the release of the paperback version of his latest book, Making It All Work, was interviewed by Buzz Bruggeman at a dinner and discussion event at a cafe in Seattle on Wednesday night. Bryant Simon gave a lecture-style talk about his book, Everything But the Coffee: Learning About America from Starbucks, at Elliott Bay Book Company on Thursday night. Each of the authors offered valuable insights, but the format and style of each event affected my experiences, in positive and negative ways. Given my recent post on place-centered sociality, it strikes me that each of the events offered variation on a theme that I might call book-centered sociality.

Drive-DanielPink Lara Feltin, co-founder and CEO of Biznik, introduced Dan Pink and Warren Etheredge, briefly describing the three main themes of "Drive" - autonomy, mastery and purpose (AMP) - and noting the importance of this kind of social networking event for the independent business owners who make up Biznik: "we're all in this alone, but we're all in this together". Indeed, considerable conversation flowed throughout the event - between Dan and Warren, as well as with members of the audience - which was all the more appropriate given Dan's definition of a book as "a basket of ideas" that spread "conversation by conversation". Sometimes, though, the conversation seemed to veer into areas that didn't seem terribly relevant, or resonant (with me), as when Warren asked Dan whether being a speechwriter for Al Gore was sometimes like being a choreographer for Stephen Hawking (ouch!) and at one point Dan noted that the event seemed like the "poor man's Jerry Springer show".

I've long been intrigued by intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivations, and found many of Dan's examples to be interesting. Among the tidbits shared during the conversations were:

  • A study of incentives for parental pickup promptness at an Israeli day-care center showed that introducing fines to increase incentives for prompt pickups led to the unintended consequence of more parents arriving late, and this increased lateness did not diminish again once the fines were removed ["A Fine is a Price", by Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini, The Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 29 (January 2000)]. One possible explanation is that market incentives (fines) are less effective than non-market incentives (guilt). Another possible explanation is that the fines ($3) were too low - at least in comparison to the monthly day-care costs ($380) - to offer any real incentives.
  • A study at a Gothenburg blood center provided another example of how the introduction of monetary payments reducing the intrinsic motivation to behave altruistically or perform one’s civic duty ["Crowding Out in Blood Donation: Was Titmuss Right?", by Carl Mellström and Magnus Johannesson, Journal of the European Economic Association, June 2008, Vol. 6, No. 4, Pages 845-863]. Three conditions were setup for offering compensation for donating blood: no compensation, a $7 payment, and a choice to either accept $7 or donate it to charity. There were significant gender differences in the response rates: 52% of women and 29% of men offered no compensation donated blood; 30% of women and 37% of men offered $7 chose to donate blood; 53% of women and 33% of men offered the choice of $7 paid to them or charity (the Swedish Children's Cancer Foundation) donated blood, with 77% of women and 69% of men who donated blood choosing the option to donate the $7 to charity.

One of the most interesting developments during the evening was a debate that arose between Dan and one of the people in the audience regarding Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development, and specifically about the gender differences in responses to the "Heinz Dilemma":

Heinz Steals the Drug

In Europe, a woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to make. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: "No, I discovered the drug and I'm going to make money from it." So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man's store to steal the drug-for his wife. Should the husband have done that?

I'm not sure which study - or studies - were being referenced, but suspect one of them was "Gender Differences in Moral Development", by Geri R. Donenberg and Lois W. Hoffman [Behavioral Science, Vol. 18, No. 11-12, pp. 707-717, June 1988], in which girls were inclined to prioritize care over justice (i.e., more likely to support the husband's decision to break the law in order to procure the treatment to care for his wife) and boys were evenly split, though the priority of justice over care increased in both sexes with age.

One of the most interesting aspects of the debate was entirely tangential to the topic of discussion: shortly after the issue of which studies they were referencing arose, someone shouted out "Who has an iPhone?" Despite having enjoyed the use of some of the most advanced mobile devices produced by different technology companies for many years, the iPhone really is a game changer: with the Internet always in my pocket (or in my hand), there are no more rhetorical question ... and the shout-out at the event suggests I'm not alone in this assessment.

I enjoyed some of the conversations at this book talk, and all of the conversations before and after (Biznik has some of the most sociable, approachable and outgoing members of any networking group I've ever encountered). My interest was sufficiently piqued to put the book on my "to-read" stack (the book was included as part of the price of admission, along with some fabulous appetizers and wine ... reminding me of earlier posts I'd written about wine-centered sociality and people, food and other objects of sociality). Ultimately, though, I don't feel I came away with a good sense for what the book is about - beyond Lara's introduction, where she briefly noted the three themes of automony, mastery and purpose. In the online discussion about the event, I expressed this sentiment, but I appear to be in the minority. I suppose this is not so surprising, given that the main focus of Biznik is to provide business networking opportunities, and the conversational format was more aligned with other types of Biznik events than, say, other book talks I've been to where a longer, lecture-style presentation has enabled me to write a blog post about the book based [solely] on the author's presentation (e.g., as I did for Daniel Gilbert's book [talk] on Stumbling on Happiness). However, it's worth nothing that several people who expressed preference for this conversational format had already read the book, and/or had seen Dan Pink's TED talk (which I include below). [Update: Alan Alabastro has posted some great photos from the event.]

GTD I encountered a variation on the conversational format the following evening, at a dinner and networking event organized by Buzz Bruggeman, to which he'd invited David Allen, the time management guru who created a system for - and wrote the book about - Getting Things Done. I bought and read the book - and experimented with system, several years ago - but I consider myself a lapsed GTDer ... or at least I did prior to Wednesday evening. Buzz composed a set of 10 questions for David, and while there was some dialogue, it was more of a question and answer format than the conversational format I saw the previous night. This somewhat more structured Q&A portion was followed by a more informal session where others who attended the networking dinner were invited to ask questions. Perhaps it was because, in this case, I'd already read the book - or one of the books - but I felt I got more out of this instance of book-centered sociality than I did out of the preceding night's conversation(s).

Making-it-all-work Even though I got a lot out of David's talk, I'm not going to write much about it ... in part because this post is already getting pretty long, but mostly because the biggest thing I got out of his talk was a renewed motivation to give Getting Things Done another go ... in the hope of Making It All Work (which involves doing, not just writing [about doing]). I envision this as a manifestation of another dimension of book-centered sociality, aligned with the notion of book as knowledge object, a topic that I wrote about in my place-centered sociality post:

Knorr Cetina [author of "Sociality with Objects: Social Relations in Postsocial Knowledge Societies"] also speaks of unfolding. Later in her article, she looks specifically at knowledge objects, and how they are increasingly produced by specialists and experts rather than through a broader form of participatory interpretation. She argues that experts' relationships with knowledge objects can be best characterized by the notion of lack and a corresponding structure of wanting [emphasis hers] because these objects "seem to have the capacity to unfold indefinitely": new results that add to objects of knowledge have the side effect of opening up new questions. This perpetual unfolding gives rise to "a libidinal dimension or dimension of knowledge activities" - an "arousal" and "deep emotional investment" - by the person studying the knowledge object.

However my book-centered sociality with GTD may unfold, I will share a few tidbits from David's talk. He said that his two motivations for creating the GTD system were personal growth and laziness: by spending as little time as possible on the things he has to get done, he can free up more time for the more creative things he wants to do. He claims that once you read (and embrace) GTD, you never have another thought twice, you never have to rethink anything. As a chronic thinker - and rethinker - I find this prospect appealing, and yet last time I tried to use GTD, I encountered a great deal of resistance, and felt it didn't fit my style well. I asked David whether he believed in different personality types and/or the theory of multiple intelligences, and if so whether he believed GTD is useful to people regardless of their personality or learning types. He replied that he did, and some of his most creative clients in Hollywood are finding that adopting the structure of GTD is freeing them to be even more creative.

David also spoke about his embrace of social media, especially Twitter, where @GTDguy now has over 1.4 million followers, describing the service as "a global cocktail party". One of the most tweetworthy insights he shared was "A lot of people want to have it right before they express it, but you won't know if it's right until you start to express it" ... I don't know if he's tweeted this, but I have, as it provides a succinct summary of one of my primary motivations for embracing social media.

[And speaking of tweets and getting things done, I can't help but mention an anti-GTD tweet I recently retweeted by TalkingPointsMemo, about a reaction to the election of Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts this week:

Dem Senate staffer: Now they're relieved bc 'they have a ready excuse for not getting anything done' ]

Here's a video of David Allen giving a talk on Getting Things Done at Google about two years ago:

Everything But the Coffee: Learning About America from Starbucks, by Bryant Simon On Thursday night, I attended a more traditional book talk by Bryant Simon, a history professor at Temple University who wrote a book about Starbucks - Everything But the Coffee: Learning About America from Starbucks - that I'd already read ... and used as the launching point for a [long] blog post about coffee, conversation, community and culture at Starbucks (Bryant recently launched a new web site for the book, Everything But The Coffee).  Ironically, in some ways, my blog post had focused on only a subset of the themes that Bryant writes about in his book, whereas his book talk at Elliott Bay Book Company provided a broader overview of these themes (vs. the Dan Pink talk / conversation earlier in the week, which focused on a subset of themes in his book, whereas I was looking for the broader overview ... in order to write about it on my blog).

In a special case of book-centered sociality, I had an opportunity to meet with Bryant the morning of his book talk, along with my friend Jason Simon (@CoffeeShopChat), who writes the Caffeinated Conversations blog. We originally planned to meet at Roy Street Coffee, one of the new mercantile / street-level coffee shops recently opened by Starbucks in Seattle, but he was there the previous evening to meet with / be interviewed by Starbucks Melody (who also showed up later to his book talk). So we decided to a meet at one of my favorite independent coffeeshops, Tougo Coffee, in the Central District, which has one of the strongest senses of community of any coffee shop I've been to in the Seattle area.

To help compensate for the narrower focus in my earlier post about Bryant's book, I will share some of the broader themes that he highlighted in his talk. Bryant's initial motivation was to write a book about place, exploring the differences between Starbucks stores in cities, suburbs and other types of places, as well as differences across different cities, states and countries. But after several years of compiling interviews, observations and analysis from the 425 stores in 9 countries he'd visited, he felt that he really didn't have much to say about these differences ... but he did have a great deal to say about what we wanted in our lives, what we were lacking, and how Starbucks fulfills - or doesn't fulfill - those wants and needs.

He decided to re-organize the book based on where these desires have come from, and how or why they weren't being met - or perhaps shouldn't be met - by Starbucks (and/or other large corporations ... including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting):

  • Our desire for authenticity
  • Our desire for safety and predictability
  • Our desire for real community and connection
  • Our desire for easy discovery
  • Our desire for political correctness, social justice, environmental justice

If I were to summarize these tensions, it would be our increasing preference for homogeneity over heterogeneity: our inclination to stick with the people, places and things we know, and our disinclination to explore new frontiers, e.g., strike up a conversation with a stranger, visit a new place, listen to new music ... and our unwillingness to invest much time or energy in moving outside of our comfort zones.

It's not clear to me how much Bryant sees Starbucks as a cause vs. an effect of these trends. In many cases, it seems that Starbucks is simply giving us what we want. At one point, Bryant read a passage from his book about the legendary cleanliness of Starbucks bathrooms, which included a quote by a New York mayor who once said that the city didn't need to provide more public bathrooms because there were so many Starbucks around. Bryant noted the significant disparity in the relative number of Starbucks in Manhattan vs. the Bronx (i.e., only some parts of New York, and the socio-economic classes in New York, were being served by the growth of Starbucks), but I think that the larger issue is a failure of public officials and public policy, rather than the fault of a private corporation.

Someone in the audience said that she'd been involved with Starbucks since the 70s, and she believes this is the best book ever written about the company. I've only read one other book about Starbucks, Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time; while Bryant expresses rather cynical views on that book (and its author), I was inspired by Howard Schultz' promotion of passion, partnership and perseverance. Although it may seem somewhat incongruous, I also really like Bryant's book, and while I do not share his cynicism about Starbucks (or Schultz), I think he raises a number of really important issues, about Starbucks and about America ... and about culture, community and commerce.

In fact, I hope Bryant's book will help instigate conversation and debate about the broader issues I see as lying at the heart of his book: how do we motivate more of the pioneering / exploratory / frontier spirit that was once such a core part of the American ideal, how do we provide the kind of community support - which involves a mixture of encouragement and dissent - for that spirit, and how do we integrate market and non-market incentives in ways that promote social and economic wealth?  His book offers an opportunity for greater awareness, reflection and discussion about what's really important to us ... and that's the kind of sociality I look for in a good book ... and a good book talk.

Just to round things out on the video dimension, here's a YouTube video of Bryant Simon at the 2007 Taste3 conference:

Notes from UbiComp 2009

UbiComp2009-logo Having earlier posted some notes from the pre-conference Doctoral Colloquium and Hybrid Design Practices workshop, I've finally gotten around to compiling - and augmenting - some notes from the main technical program of UbiComp 2009, the 11th International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, held at the Disney Yacht Club in Orlando, Florida, last week. Before delving into my personal and rather idiosyncratic recollections from and ruminations about the conference, I want to note that there are a variety of other sources of social media around the web tagged with "ubicomp2009", including presentations on SlideShare, photos at Flickr and messages on Twitter (archives of which may be more reliably found on Twubs). I also want to note that I missed parts of some sessions, and missed both Saturday morning sessions entirely, so most gaps are due to nonattendance rather than disinterest.

PA015291 Sumi Helal, General Chair of the conference, began the opening remarks [and has shared the slides from the opening remarks] by welcoming us to the conference, thanking all the volunteers, and reporting on some statistics about attendance at the conference: 255 people registered for the conference, of whom 116 were students. The Program Co-Chairs, Hans Gellersen and Sunny Consolvo, then shared some further statistics: 251 submissions (180 ten-page "full papers" and 71 four-page "notes") - the highest ever submitted to a UbiComp conference (!) - of which 31 were accepted (25 full papers and 6 notes), yielding an acceptance rate of 13.8% for papers, 8.5% for notes, and 12.4% overall.

PA015304 Henry Tirri delivered the opening keynote, "Poor Man's Ubicomp", reviewing the past, present and future prospects for computing in various form factors, and finishing with an invitation to focus on how the mobile computer (aka mobile phone) can have greater impact on people in emerging economies. Henry highlighted 5 important dimensions in which mobile computing is new, that I will characterize through 5 C's (harking back to my own time at Nokia, working on a project with 3 C's):

  • connectivity: mobile computers have at least one radio, and there is a global wireless infrastructure to support them
  • context: they have an increasing number and variety of sensors (microphone, camera, accelerometer, light sensor, Bluetooth, GPS, WiFi and [of course] cellular radio)
  • continuity: they are always with us (although a paper presented at UbiComp 2006 revealed that they may sometimes be farther than we think)
  • consumption: resource tradeoffs are becoming more important [again], e.g., it may be cheaper to compute a bit than send a bit
  • copiousness: there are 1-2 orders of magnitude more mobile computers than desktop computers

Henry presented a number of emerging "supersensing" capabilities, as well as some projects / applications focusing on three primary areas: traffic (e.g., automatic alternate routing), health (e.g., tracking influenza outbreaks) and entertainment (e.g., mobile games and social tagging ... which, of course, can be combined in some cases). However, the part I most enjoyed was his discussion of the ways that mobile computers can help those most in need, e.g., "the next 1 billion" people in emerging economies, or people coping with natural - or unnatural - disasters ... what he referred to as "black swans". Henry's reference to a recent special report in The Economist on telecoms in emerging markets: "Mobile Marvels" - combined with a pre-conference workshop on Globicomp and a number of papers later in the program - suggests that this is an area that is receiving increasing, and well-deserved, attention.

PA015337 Clara Mancini presented "From Spaces to Places: Emerging Contexts in Mobile Privacy", in which she and her colleagues found that it was useful to augment experience sampling methods - wherein users are periodically prompted to provide information about their current or recent activities - by adding a user-specified memory phrase to mark their reported experiences. In an ethnographic study of 6 users of the Facebook iPhone application, they found that the use of these user-generated context cues during followup interviews helped reveal a variety of categories of privacy-related boundaries in the use of this popular mobile application - personal policy, etiquette, proxemic and aggregation - as well as a layer of socio-cultural subjective meaning of a location's function.

Powerful indeed Irina Shklovski and Janet Vertesi presented "The Commodification of Location: Dynamics of Power in Location-Based Systems", in which they reported that the GPS ankle bracelets that must be worn by all convicted sex offenders in California to track their movements are resulting in increased workloads, and [possibly] less effective monitoring, for the parole supervisors who must now incorporate the huge volume of GPS tracking data into their work processes. By having to devote more time to virtual tracking, the parole officers have less time to devote to physical tracking (direct contacts with the parolees) - which is often more effective in policing their movements - and are reporting that their caseloads have shrunk from 80 to 40, and the number of cases they can effectively manage amid the deluge of data is probably closer to 20 (!). Among the new vocabulary terms I acquired during the talk was commodity fetishism, a Marxist concept in which the value of an object, once determined through the social relationship between the producer and consumer of the object, is entirely determined by other means; in this case, the commodity is location, which was once determined through direct communication between parole officers and their parolees, and is now determined through GPS tracking technology that offers questionable "value" (in this context).

Donnie Kim presented "Discovering Semantically Meaningful Places from Pervasive RF-Beacons" in which he and his colleagues improved the accuracy of tracking short, frequently visited places via an algorithm (PlaceSense) that imposes a moving window or buffer on the stream of sensed RF signals, resulting in a more stable detection of entering and leaving events. In two studies using a Nokia N95 as the location tracking device - one involving scripted tours (10 frequented places, 10 visits for each of three durations: 8, 10 and 15 minutes), another involving 4 weeks of real-life data - they demonstrated a significant improvement in the precision and recall of visited places using their algorithm vs. previous algorithms.

PA015387 Andreas Bulling presented "Eye Movement Analysis for Activity Recognition", in which he and his colleagues used electrooculography (EOG) for sensing certain eye movements - saccades [another new vocabulary term], fixations and blinks - via skin electrodes (or, as Andreas put it, "ECG for the eyes"). They developed a wordbook encoding of 24 eye movements, and used a sliding window for detecting patterns, trained a linear support vector machine (SVM), which distinguished among 6 different activities of a user at a computer terminal (with 5 minute durations) - copy, read, write, video, browse, NULL -  with 70.5% recall and 76.1% precision ... though I'm not sure how this compares to other approaches, nor what would represent "good enough" in this context.

Wispgen3hw Michael Buettner presented "Recognizing Daily Activities with RFID-Based Sensors" [I can't find a link for Michael or the paper], in which he distinguished three approaches to activity recognition: location-based (where you are), kinematics-based (how you move), object-use based (what you use). In the paper, he and his colleagues adopted the object-use based approach, and compared the accuracy of the Intel WISP (Wireless Identification & Sensing Platform) - which is powered by a 3-dimensional RFID tag that receives energy transmitted via an RFID interrogator rather than a battery (shown left) - and the iBracelet wrist-worn RFID reader for recognizing activities based on the use of 25 tagged objects throughout various rooms in an apartment. In a study involving 10 subjects performing 14 tasks, they found that the WISP achieved 90% precision and 91% recall, while the iBracelet achieved 95% precision and 60% recall.

Unfortunately, on Day 2, I arrived rather late to the first session, which was composed of a series of shorter presentations (15 minutes) on shorter papers or "notes" (4 pages). I did see - and have some notes on - the last two presentations, and among the many reasons I'm sad I missed so much of this session is that the session chair, John Krumm - one of my favorite speakers (and people) in the UbiComp community - introduced each paper with a joke that was supplied by the author(s). It was a great way to inject some levity - and increase attention - before the start of each talk. John later told me that he'd learned that a dose of humor primes the reception and recall of the next few minutes of a presentation (I've since found a few online resources devoted to humor and presentations, including a research study that suggests that "[t]he effect of the cues produced by humor is interpreted as creating a more distinctive and thus more accessible memory"). I'll experiment below with inserting the jokes before my notes on each of the two presentations I saw from that session.

[Introductory joke: A dog sees a public display advertising for a place that sends dual-tone multi-frequency telegrams. The dog goes in and asks the telegraph operator to send a telegram that says, "Woof woof woof." The telegraph operator says, "There are only three woofs here. You could send another one for the same price." The dog replies, "But that would make no sense at all."]

BlueTone-YouTubeDavid Dearman presented "BlueTone: A Framework for Interacting with Public Displays Using Dual-Tone Multi-Frequency through Bluetooth", in which users can pair their Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones with an appropriately configured public display by renaming their phone, and then use their phone as an input device - entering text, manipulating the cursor and/or selecting menu items - without having to download or install any special software on the phone. The display must have a Bluetooth adapter, and be running an EventServer, BluetoothScanner, DisplayClient and one or more DTMFReader processes. I didn't find the example shown during the presentation - manipulating a YouTube video - terribly compelling, but I imagine BlueTone could be very useful for some special-purpose, large [proactive] display applications that I've been involved with, e.g., the Context, Content and Community Collage at Nokia (which we presented at CSCW 2008) and CoCollage at Strands (which we presented at C&T 2009), and it would be a nice augmentation to the ProD Framework for Proactive Displays by Congleton, et al. (presented at UIST 2008). 

[Introductory joke: An upset woman carried her baby out of the research lab and told the man standing there, "That blended public display just told me that my baby is ugly." The man says, "I think you should tell that blended public display that you’re offended, and if you like, I’ll hold your monkey for you."]

CityLab Joe Finney presented "Toward Emergent Technology for Blended Public Displays", in which espoused a vision in which every pixel on a display is an intelligent, self-organizing device working with others to form a coherent image, enabling any collection of light sources to become a coherent display surface and - ultimately - to provide for pour on (or spray on) displays. The Firefly system is a step in this direction, consisting of a collection of individually addressable lighting elements (LEDs with microcontrollers) and a network of control elements for creating large scale displays. The system was used to create a 5m x 7.5m display of 3000 lights (consuming only 300w of power) during the Christmas 2007 season at Lancaster City Centre. Given the example Joe presented near the start of his talk - a large BBC screen in Birminham, UK, that generated large-scale user (or viewer) acceptance issues - and other examples of objections to large public displays in Los Angeles and other U.S. cities (Joe mentioned that over 709,900 such displays had been deployed in the U.S. in 2008 alone), I hope that human-centered design practices will keep pace with technological advancements that make it easier to deploy large public displays.

[No more jokes :-( ... on to the next session.]

PA025581 Tamara Denning presented "A Spotlight on Security and Privacy Risks with Future Household Robots: Attacks and Lessons" [slides (PDF)], which almost seemed like a work of science fiction, describing how household robots - such as Rovio ("a WiFi enabled mobile webcam") or Spykee ("the WiFi Spy Robot") - could be hacked via unprotected - or underprotected - wireless networks, and used for eavesdropping, minor vandalization, tripping up or simply confusing the hapless human residents ... or band together with other hacked household robots to create larger scale mischief and/or destruction ... creating a whole new dimension of cyber-bullying ... and/or an evil new twist to crowdsourcing. To illustrate the risks, she showed a video of a robot stealing keys that had fallen on the floor (if I can find it, I'll add a link, or embed it here update: video of the remote-controlled multi-robot key-stealing attack now embedded below). One of the issues she raised was that some of these robots are designed for children ... and one can imagine "Trojan robots" given as gifts.

Tim Kindberg presented "Authenticating Ubiquitous Services: A Study of Wireless Hotspot Access", highlighting the risks of phishing scams via WiFi hotspots, in which unsuspecting visitors to public and semi-public places might be lured into connecting to the Internet via a rogue wireless access point. Tim and his colleagues investigated three different "physical linkage" vehicles through which people could be notified of how to connect to a wireless access point in a cafe - a leaflet on a table in the cafe, a printed poster on a wall or a plasma display mounted on a wall - and three different "virtual linkage" mechanisms through which access to the network could be gained - password, interlock and synchronization. They found that the perceived strength of physical linkage (bolted to a wall vs. loose on a table) and virtual linkage (number of transactions or steps) were associated with a higher confidence in the security of the access point. They also found that usability was a significant factor among their participants (customers of the cafe). Based on my personal interactions with dozens of cafe owners and staff about the adoption and use of technology (for CoCollage), I suspect that adding any extra complexity to the wireless access process - which may increase questions, requests for assistance or other demands on the staff - would be resisted or rejected by most owners (even more than their customers).

SatanismoWaltDisney Susan Wyche presented "Broadening UbiComp’s Vision: An Exploratory Study of Charismatic Pentecostals and Technology Use in Brazil" [and has since posted her slides (!)], in which she described some of the ways that Pentecostals perceive and use information and communication technologies (ICTs) as part of their religious beliefs and practices. Charismatic Pentecostals - who now make up 28% of the Latin American population - believe in biblical inerrancy and miracles, and report experiencing both the divine and the demonic through ICTs (an example of which is shown to the right ... and I'll embed a close-captioned YouTube video by Pastor Josue Yrion on Satanic Disney [which I discovered after the talk], in which he describes an incredible array of purportedly hidden agendas in various Disney movies that violate one or more tenets of the pastor's belief system, below).

Susan argued that in order to be truly global, ubiquitous computing needs to take account of non-normative belief and value systems outside of the Global North. I agree that it is important to take account of such systems, and that we ought to think carefully about what kinds of practices we want to support. As I mentioned in my notes from CSCW 2006, I think that many of the examples that Susan had earlier presented in a paper on "Technology in Spiritual Formation: An Exploratory Study of Computer Mediated Religious Communications" offer some intriguing insights into design issues that include not only the religious / secular spectrum, but power paradigms such as "command and control" vs. "listen and participate". Toward the end of her talk (slide 17, to be precise), Susan posed a couple of provocative questions:

  • What if individuals want to use ICTs to support activities that contradict some technology developer’s personal value systems?
  • Whose user needs are marginalized at the expense of furthering a western normative agenda about appropriate ICT use?

I think it's important to be sensitive to other value systems, and to be aware of our own [often implicit] agendas, and I was fascinated to learn more about the alternate realities of Charismatic Pentecostalism ... but I found myself thinking about a dark side of non-normative western belief systems - a pervasive system of belief in Africa involving HIV/AIDS, the virgin cure and infant rape. I don't believe that Susan, her co-authors or any others in the ubiquitous computing community would propose supporting this belief system, but I do believe that, generally speaking, we ought to design ICTs that promote more rational practices ... or at least, given some of the more playful applications I saw at the conference and elsewhere, practices that are not considered harmful (within the context of our western / Global North value systems).

Nithya Sambasivan and Nimmi Rangaswamy co-presented "Ubicomp4D: Infrastructure and Interaction for International Development—the Case of Urban Indian Slums" [slides], which offered another opportunity to learn more about the practices - and predicaments - of large groups of people outside the Global North. They defined UbiComp4D as the application of ubiquitous computing to address poverty-related issues (riffing on ICT4D, Information and Communication Technologies 4 Development). After outlining some of the characteristics of "the slum ecologies" in Mumbai and Bangalore, they presented three vignettes highlighting the ways ICTs - mobile phones, televisions and DVD players - are used to support family ties, work and entertainment. They then recommended a number of design considerations: look for opportunities for inserting people into the loop(s), design for failures and other disruptions in the ecosystem, accommodate varying levels of literacy (e.g., support oral or auditory information exchange), and explore ways that ICTs can enhance and/or interlink existing technologies and be appropriated in new ways ... and places. Nokia phones played a prominent role in these ecologies, reminding me of some of the [other] ways that Nokia helps empower people through mobile technologies in developing regions that I'd discovered in preparing a presentation for a Pop!Tech 2007 session on "The Future of Mobility". Toward the end of the talk, the authors suggested that informal community gathering spots may offer opportunities for large public displays, reminding me of the Big Board public display application and associated SnapAndGrab interactions that Gary Marsden and his colleagues have worked on in South Africa.

David Nguyen presented "Encountering SenseCam: Personal Recording Technologies in Everyday Life" in which he and his colleagues conducted experiments to determine how people who encounter a SenseCam - a wearable device with a camera and sensors that can take periodic photos of the wearer's environment (including the people in that environment) - feel about the prospect of being passively photographed by the device. The 19 SenseCam wearers in 4 locations across 2 countries encountered 686 people, of whom 413 were willing to take a survey, and 15 of them were interviewed. Among the issues that arose were the quality and quantity of photos (lower = more acceptable), visual vs. audio recording (audio recording = bad), and different stages at which they may want to be asked for permission - e.g., before the SenseCam takes a photo and/or before the photo is shared. Participants seldom reported being willing or able to take action about the use of SenseCam (despite their level of discomfort), and there seemed to be interesting differences among different populations, i.e., people in the U.S. were generally more concerned about attractiveness and image management, while people in the UK were generally more aware of the issues (perhaps because of the greater prevalence of CCTV cameras in that country [which may soon be used in a "game" - Internet Eyes - in which voyeurs viewers can monitor CCTV cameras and earn prizes by reporting crimes, possibly leading to greater success than Texas Virtual Border Watch Program]).

David Nguyen @ UbiComp 2009 What was particularly interesting about this work - for me (aside from the fact that several of the authors are close friends) - is that one of the intended uses of SenseCam (a relatively uncommon camera platform) is to assist people with physical or mental disabilities, and yet throughout the conference, I was encountering similar issues among able-bodied people in response to more common types of cameras (including cameraphones and video cameras), suggesting that these privacy concerns are far more prevalent than might be anticipated. I've posted several photos from the conference on Flickr, and I've labeled some of them with the names of the people who are in them. Some of the photos from Mario Romero's fabulous Flickr set for UbiComp 2009 that I've used here (with permission) have people's names embedded in the photos themselves, e.g., the ones of Sumi and Henry near the top of this post. I wonder how many of these people would object to these labeling practices ... um, or how many of them might object to my blogging about them.

Michael Weber moderated a panel on "Achievements, challenges, obstacles, and perspectives – where shall we be in another decade of ubicomp research". The slides from the four panelists have been posted to SlideShare [thanks!], so I will restrict my notes here to a single sentence about each of their opening statements. James Scott [slides] complained that much of the work at UbiComp is carried only far enough to enable writing a paper (or three) about it, and suggested ways we might encourage larger-scale, longer-term deployments. Tim Kindberg [slides] asked "what kind of tribe do we want to be?", positioned ubicomp research somewhere in the middle of the "magic" of custom experiences (represented by Mickey Mouse) and the sea of common APIs and platforms (represented by City Mouse) and suggested we collaborate with other tribes. Shwetak Patel [slides] proposed that we push beyond the lab, toward commercialization (engaging with other tribes, such as entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and other businessfolk), which may eventually loop back by providing "off-the-shelf" technologies for future ubicomp research[ers] to use. Jeff Hightower [slides] rhetorically asked "what are our widely adopted Ubicomp success stories?" and then provocatively answered "None!", but he did note that we are only 10 years "young", and despite his indictment, he believes there may be opportunities for future wide adoption success stories in persuasive technologies and life-assistive solutions. If I were to summarize the common themes in the panel, I would say that to achieve success in UbiComp, it takes a village of interdisciplinary people and tribes.

Sandy Pentland @ UbiComp 2009 I missed the morning sessions of the next (and last) day - it was the only day I could visit a Disney World theme park for free, and I'll post a separate entry about my semi-structured field exploration of Epcot Center that day - but I did make it back in time for the closing keynote by Sandy Pentland, "Honest Signals from Reality Mining", based on a similarly titled book. Due to time constraints, Sandy condensed his talk down to 30 minutes, but I'll embed a 50-minute video of a similar talk he gave at Google below (there is also an 8-minute version). Sandy and his colleagues have mined the data from mobile phones, wearable sensors (sociometric badges) and other devices to track - or infer - certain individual, group and organizational behavior patterns. He talked about neurophysiological systems and what they indicate about our internal states and how they influence behavior in others (this is more succinctly captured in the slide I fuzzily captured in the photo shown on the left, a clearer version of which can be found around the 8:00 mark in the 50-minute video). He also referenced work on task roles (giver, orienteer, follower) and social roles (protagonist, supporter, neutral, attacker) by Bales, and claimed that computers are as good at identifying these roles as people are.

Some of the most interesting applications of reality mining are in the workplace, where signals can be used to infer such things as face-to-face proximity, identification as peers and group affirmation, which have been shown to affect group interaction quality, common task performance and homogeneity of opinion. The feedback provided from these signals in a meeting context (via a Meeting Mediator device) can help participants recognize when one or more of them are dominating a discussion ... which may influence subsequent behavior by the participants. Noting a study that showed that increasing face-to-face cohesiveness can lead to a 10% increase in productivity, Sandy suggested that capturing and sharing these signals can have significant impact within an organization.

While I can imagine that measuring and showing visualizations of these signals can have positive impacts, I can also imagine unintended negative consequences. As a chronic loud mouth who frequently speaks up at meetings, I have sometimes spoken with people who have been more quiet in meetings in which we've jointly participated, and some have told me that they prefer to have one or more people play a more vocal role in meetings, as they tend to be more inclined to post-process the interactions and information shared during a meeting, and respond or [re]act more effectively afterward. The theory of multiple intelligences suggests [to me] that diversity in thinking and interaction styles can be a good thing for an organization, and the measurement and display of interaction patterns may produce a Hawthorne effect, encouraging more people to speak up - or pipe down - when that is not their natural style, which may ultimately yield suboptimal results.

Well, I've done my best to mine and synthesize some of the signals I detected at the conference. I want to finish off by thanking Sumi Helal for doing such a great job in organizing the conference, and thank all the other organizers, reviewers, authors, presenters and attendees for co-creating such an engaging experience!

[Update: The Miami Herald - the paper that Dave Barry calls "home" - published an article by technology reporter Bridget Carey about some of the demonstrations and posters, helping to fill a[nother] "gap" in my coverage of the conference: "Technological devices offer glimpse into future: Researchers from universities around the world gathered in Orlando last week to present technology that can better people's lives"; discovered via Chris Jablonski's ZDNet post, Ubicomp 2009 and the fusion of our digital and physical worlds]

[Update: videos from the UbiComp 2009 Video Program have been uploaded and are now available for viewing.]