A New Generation of Proactive Displays

We launched our new proactive display application at Nokia Research Center Palo Alto two weeks ago. The application - provisionally called the Context, Content and Community Collage - situates online content in a shared physical context to foster a greater sense of community, representing a convergence of the core themes of our Context, Content and Community project and earlier instantiations of proactive displays. The content currently consists of photos that are slowly and semi-randomly distributed across one [or more] of the eight HyTek 46" LCD touchcomputers we've deployed around the lab.


We call these proactive displays because they sense who is nearby - in this case, via Bluetooth phone IDs - and respond - by selecting photos from public Flickr profiles that people have explicitly associated with those Bluetooth IDs. Although the displays support interactivity (people can move the photos or delete them via the touchscreen), their primary mode of "use" is for the system to proactively select and show photos when people draw near, without requiring any kind of direct interaction by those people.

This work extends earlier work on proactive displays in interesting and [hopefully] useful ways. An earlier installation of proactive displays at UbiComp 2003 used RFID tags and readers to sense who was nearby, drew content primarily from specially-created web-based profiles, and were only in use for three days (during the conference).  The new proactive displays use Bluetooth phones for sensing, draw content from other sources such as Flickr, and will be in use, well, for the foreseeable future (I hope (!)).

I was fortunate during our earlier instantiation of proactive displays to be working with a team of three fabulous interns, and was disappointed about unanticipated events that disrupted that trajectory of research (at that time and place). At this new time and place, I once again feel fortunate to be working closely with another group of three fabulous interns - Max Harper, Ben Congleton and Jiang Bian - along with the rest of the NRC Palo Alto Context, Content and Community team, following through on some earlier articulated intentions for working on context, content and community, increasingly wholeheartedly enthusiastic [again] about prospects for proactive displays ... and feeling a certain affinity for the myth of the Phoenix at the moment.

At the two week mark now, early responses - by people to the displays - is very encouraging, and our short term challenges are how to keep up with all the cool new features people are suggesting ... and how to effectively evaluate the impact these displays have on the people here. It's hard to believe the interns will only be here another few weeks, but I'm confident we'll [continue to] make good progress. Meanwhile, I posted some slides I presented at a workshop a few weeks ago at Communities & Technologies 2007 that outline some of our initial plans and goals, and will be posting some new slides after my upcoming talk at Yahoo! Research Berkeley Brain Jam on August 17.

[Update: Jeff Johnson posted a video he took of a proactive display in action during a recent visit to the NRC Palo Alto site, embedded below.]

[Another update: embedding my slides from CSCW 2008, which are based on our paper, The Context, Content & Community Collage: Sharing Personal Digital Media in the Physical Workplace.]

Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you

ClearmindwildheartDavid Whyte's poetry and narratives in the 6-CD collection, Clear Mind, Wild Heart: Finding Courage and Clarity through Poetry, continue to inspire me. The title of this post is taken from his poem, Sweet Darkness, in which he writes about darkness, tiredness, belonging, freedom and coming alive.  This past week, I recognized that I have come alive [again] in my work -- a resurgence, of sorts -- and I was reminded of an earlier period in my research career where I felt very much alive ... closely followed by a period of darkness, tiredness and confinement. Before reflecting a bit more on personal (and professional) history, I wanted to include the poem, Sweet Darkness, (found here) for reference.

Sweet Darkness
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
~ David Whyte ~

In the accompanying narrative that Whyte offers to provide some context for the poem, he invokes the spirit of Dante ("in the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in a dark wood where the way was wholly lost"), and encourages us middle-of-the-roaders to relinquish our clinging to a "climate-controlled existence" and embrace an investigative vulnerability as we cultivate a relationship with the unknown,  with whatever lies over the horizon.

Earlier (in Disc 1, "Our home is so close to us"), Whyte observes that

We're meant to hazard ourselves, to hurt ourselves, to be disappointed, to be on an edge in which you will discover what is you and what is not you.

and later

We naturally gravitate to the corners of creation in which we belong and in which we're supported in doing our work.

Whyte describes poetry as "the art of living at a frontier in life", offering a place of renewal, rediscovery and reimagination. Poetry is as much listening as it is speaking, creating a context in which "you can hear yourself say things you didn't know that you knew." He shares a profound example of this in Sweet Darkness, when he wrote "You must learn one thing..." and wondered, with keen anticipation, just what that one thing would turn out to be.

Further on, Whyte talks about the true nature of humliliation ("to be returned to the ground of your being") and the tendency for many of us to enage in work that we have no affection for, doing it out of our desire for belonging, i.e., doing what we think we should be doing in order to be liked, and often becoming exhausted in the process (reminding me of a recent NPR Talk of the Nation segment on Understanding Burnout, and the high cost of employee disengagement I've written about earlier). A wise Benedictine monk, Brother David, a friend of Whyte's, then shares his insight that

the antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness

Whyte concludes the session with the observation that we're all creatures of belonging, and that by articulating all the ways we feel lonely, we're already on the way home ... reflecting insights shared by others regarding the most personal is the most general, and my own sense that by openly sharing our inner secrets, we are better able to connect with others.

And so, inspired by all of this, I decided to start writing, albeit more prosaically than poetically, wondering what, exactly I would say ... how I would say it ... and how deep I would be willing to delve into some of the shadows of my past. I'll start with some recent events, and revisit a few related events in the more distant past -- and the feelings and judgments they evoke[d] in me.

This past week was a particularly wholehearted nd exhilarating week for me, with a number of engaging meetings with interesting people, and culminating in a personal peak around an internal presentation (at Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto) I gave on the past, present and future of proactive displays. In preparing and presenting the slides, I felt more alive than I have in quite some time ... and was offered an opportunity to reflect back upon a period where I experienced a spiritually deadening blockage in my work.

At the outset of the last episode of my assumption of the role of a researcher, I felt very much alive. I had joined a new research lab, I was co-chairing CSCW 2002 (with my dear friend, Elizabeth Churchill), and I would soon be chairing UbiComp 2003 (with lots of help from another good friend, Dave McDonald). In between, I was co-creating a research agenda that would align my passion for using technology to help people relate to one another with my role as conference chair. With the help of Dave, three fabulous interns (David Nguyen, Al "Mamun" Rashid and Suzi Soroczak), and a host of other supporting actors, we designed, developed, deployed and evaluated a suite of three proactive display applications at UbiComp 2003. Our primary goal was to foster a greater sense of community among attendees by sensing people near large displays and showing content relating to those people on the displays. While we encountered challenges of various kinds before, during and after the event, and everything did not go as planned (as anyone who has deployed large-scale sociotechnical interventions "in the wild" can probably relate to), I felt that the project was largely successful, and on the Wednesday night at the end of the conference, I felt like I was at the pinnacle of my career ... and I suppose the next few days, weeks and months only reinforced the perception that that night did, in fact, represent a peak.

I took a much-needed vacation the following Thursday, and when I came in on Friday, I had a meeting with the [now former] lab director and [now former] co-director in which I was told, in effect, that I -- or at least, my work -- wasn't good enough. My approach to research was judged unacceptable, and the work was not well-enough aligned with one of two recently annointed projects, and the goal of the director was to subsume all the research in the lab under these two projects. The proactive display project was cancelled, effectively immediately (to this day, there is no reference to the work on the web site of the lab), and I was told to work on another application, involving the creation and use of place tokens in blogs, that had been largely defined by a [then former] colleague who had left the lab, and that would align with one of the two approved projects. Unfortunately, I didn't believe in the value of the application --  or the project -- and the more I researched it, the less compelling I found the value proposition(s).

The six months following my "success" at UbiComp 2003 was the most soul squelching period of my professional life, as I continued to work on my assigned project, and I finally decided that what I really wanted to do was realign with my heartfelt mission and renew my pursuit of the proactive display agenda, of which I felt we'd only scratched the surface. Although the director would not agree to support the work, I was allocated a grace period in which to explore whether / where / how that work might be supported elsewhere in the firm, or outside of the firm. Unfortunately, while many people were supportive of the idea, no one was willing to allocate "head count" to support me in pursuing the idea. I decided the only way to realize my dream was to create a firm, Interrelativity, Inc., to support its development (with key development support provided by Khai Truong at the outset).

As I've written before, I felt very much alive in my entrepreneurial period, which was filled with fabulous rewards in nearly every dimension ... except the financial one. So, when I joined Nokia last fall, I hoped to achieve a more comprehensive spectrum of fulfillment (pursuing work aligned with my mission ... while getting paid). After six months of devoting much of my time and effort to playing a supporting role with respect to what I would characterize as cultural and organizational development, the presentation last week marked the first time I'd publicly articulated the research (and/or development) agenda to which I aspire, with the help -- and within the framework -- of the Context, Content and Community team.

Listening to Whyte's second CD ("In the middle of the road of our lives") on Friday evening -- for at least the fifth time (I've listened to all the CDs many times) -- it dawned on me that the work I am doing and the people I am working with are helping to bring me alive [again], and that my idealistic initial intuition about belonging -- in a firm whose mantra is "connecting people", a lab dedicated to inventing the future mobile Internet experience, and a team whose mission is to create large scale experimental systems for large scale social change -- increasingly appears to be grounded in reality. In writing this, I am aware that I had similar perceptions and judgments at this stage in my last research position, but I will continue to hope there are some key differences in me (now) and / or the new[er] lab that will enable me to enjoy some time in the light ... and to help me / us bring light to others.

Joining Nokia: Connecting People ... and Helping People Relate

On Monday, I embark on a new chapter in my career, as a Principal Scientist at Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto [Update: I rather prefer Principle Scientist, the title ascribed to me by Anne Galloway]. I'm excited about the opportunities to contribute to a number of strategic initiatives NRC is exploring, and to help this new lab grow into a world-class center of open innovation for using technology for connecting people.

As I noted in an earlier post on purpose and passion, the dream of Interrelativity -- using technology for helping people relate -- remains very much alive, even though the business of Interrelativity, the company I'd founded, had foundered. I see a natural alignment between missions -- or at least the mantras -- of Nokia and Interrelativity: connecting people and helping people relate.

Nokia_logo Interrelativitylogonamemantrasmall

I had the good fortune -- and mixed blessing -- of considering several job offers, each appealing in similar and different ways.  I have mixed feelings about my decision: I feel sad about declining the other offers, but am grateful for having had the opportunty to consider them, and am happy about the path I've chosen. 

As I've done with every important life event decision I've faced in the past 10 years, I re-read Susan Jeffers' book, Feal the Fear and Do It Anyway, and applied her No-Lose Model for making decisions:

Before you make a decision:

  1. Focus immediately on the no-lose model (whichever path you choose will provide learning opportunities … even if it’s learning what you don’t like)
  2. Do your homework (talk to as many people as will listen … both to help clarify your own intention and to get alternative perspectives)
  3. Establish your priorities (which pathway is more in line with your overall goals in life – at the present time)
  4. Trust your impulses (your body gives you good clues about which way to go)
  5. Lighten up (it really doesn’t matter – it’s all part of a lifelong learning process)

After making a decision:

  1. Throw away the picture (if you focus on what you expected, you may miss the unexpected opportunities that arise along the new path you’ve chosen)
  2. Accept total responsibility for your decision (don’t give away your power)
  3. Don’t protect, correct (commit yourself to any decision you make and give it all you got … but if it doesn’t work out, change it!)

I'm not sure what to expect, so it's relatively easy to let go of expectations -- and embrace working without attachments. NRCPA is very young, and I believe that the experimentation and innovation in our research will be complimented by experimentation and innovation in our model(s) of research.  In fact, this multidimensional openness is part of the appeal for me.

Speaking of attachments, I'm reminded of Steve Pavlina's post on self-acceptance vs. personal growth (or, perhaps more properly, self-acceptance vs. positional growth):

The underlying problem is that by rooting your sense of self in something that will fluctuate, like the current position of any measurable part of your life, you’re going to suffer in one way or another.
Instead of rooting your sense of self in your position, which is changeable, what would happen if you rooted your sense of self in something permanent and unchangeable?  Stop identifying yourself with any form of positional status, and pick something invulnerable instead… like a pure concept that nothing in this world can touch.  Examples include unconditional love, service to humanity, faith in a higher power, compassion, nonviolence, and so on.

[Other examples may include helping people relate ... or connecting people.]

Sychronistically, I just started listening the David Whyte's 6 CD set, Clear Mind, Wild Heart: Finding Courage and Clarity through Poetry yesterday.  Among the new insights revealed to me, that are related to my current transition, are

  • the connection between momentous and moments (reminding me that there are no ordinary moments, the mantra of -- and sequel to -- Way of the Peaceful Warrior)
  • the distinction between playing the edge and having an edge (over someone else)
  • a poetic expression of the sentiment expressed by Steve Pavlina:

    As human beings, we are constantly trying to find solid ground on which to stand. But from that solid ground, we also want a relationship with the intangible. If poetry is anything, it's that relationship -- the conversation between what is solid, grounded and real in our life and what we long for in the untouchable, the numinous, the eternal.

I will continue to play the edge between the real and the ideal, seeking to bridge gaps between people by bridging the gaps between the real (physical) world and the virtual (digital) world ... and, starting tomorrow, working together with my new colleagues to create new means for -- and meaning in -- connecting people.

Passion and Purpose in Living, Loving, Learning and Leaving a Legacy

Kenneth Lay Stephen Covey A news item appearing in my Google Desktop Sidebar this morning about the death of Enron founder Ken Lay immediately reminded me of Stephen Covey's book, First Things First: To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy.  I don't know much about how well Lay lived, loved or learned, but I have a pretty good sense for the legacy he has left ... and it is very different from the legacy being created by some other famous and wealthy people. On a whim, I decided to see if Dr. Lay and Dr. Covey, both popular speakers, ever appeared on the same program.  Googling for "stephen covey ken lay" did not turn up any such event, but it did serendipitously connect me to Steve Pavlina's inspiring blog post about deciding what to do with your life, which emphasizes the importance of defining one's life purpose and applying the fuel of passion to achieve, or at least contribute to, that purpose, while being open, honest and fully conscious.

In yet another example of when the reader is ready, the blogger appears, I have been very much in the question of deciding what to do with my life lately.  Although it is my decision, it is one that is very much influenced by a number of other stakeholders, including my wife and children, and other potential customers (I still believe that, on some level, everyone's a customer).  I recently discovered that Noah Kagan, a friend I met through the blogosphere, is also exploring this question (when the blogger is ready, other bloggers appear?).  As I posted a comment that included a link to a post I wrote during my last career transition, I became glaringly and uncomfortably aware that I was not being true to myself or my blog, not mustering the gumption to be open, honest and vulnerable about the fact that I am currently in the question, if not a full-fledged transition.  I've been receiving warm encouragement to unfold from Dan Oestreich, another friend I initially met through the blogosphere, and to practice appreciation, especially for myself.  So I will take this opportunity to unfold -- or, perhaps, unpack -- a little about my current state and desired trajectory, in light of all these positive influences.

I have been channeling my passion through the company I founded over a year ago, Interrelativity, whose purpose is to use technology to help people relate to one another.  The mission of the company is a derivative of the personal mission -- I create a world of harmony and love by helping people relate to one another -- that I uncovered, articulated and embraced at a Warrior Monk retreat I attended during the last period in which I was immersing myself in the question of what to do with my life.  As I have noted periodically in this blog, Interrelativity has offered me -- and others -- rich and rewarding experiences along many dimensions, but, unfortunately, the financial dimension is not among them.  I have never felt so alive, and yet I have not earned so little money in over 20 years.  As provider for my family, I feel a growing tension between my lofty idealism and a more grounded pragmatism.  I want to be able to make meaning and make money, and so I have started to explore other paths through which I might be better able to achieve these dual goals.

Friends have asked me what kind of position I'm looking for.  I tell them that I want to find a path through which I can fully engage my passions, skills and experiences to make significant contributions to worthwhile projects while continuing to grow, personally and professionally ... and, of course, get paid.  I have felt fear about articulating this longing so publicly; after all, who am I to want all this?  Doesn't everyone want this?  What would this world look like if everyone was committed to doing work that makes meaning?  Some have suggested that I cloak or modulate my deep sense of passion and purpose, fearing that some potential customers (including prospective employers) may [only] want to pay for the services of someone who is willing to make money without necessarily making meaning.  I share this fear, and I may come to regret being so candid, but having opened up to the possibilities of unfolding radiance -- or what Steve refers to as awareness and full consciousness -- I'm going to risk feeling like a fool, and feel the fear and do it anyway.  It's all a learning experience.

Steve notes that his purpose is to grow and help others grow.  When I first discovered Stephen Covey's books and seminars, and crafted my first mission statement, it was "to foster the growth of my self and others".  The shift to my current mission, "helping people relate", is simply a reflection of the way I go about fostering growth in my self and others -- I'm an irrepressible connector, and nothing makes me happier than helping people relate to other people (and places and things) that they previously either didn't know about or didn't fully appreciate.  More information about some of the specific ways I have helped people relate over the years -- including projects, presentations and publications -- can be found on my home page at the Interrelativity site.

A brief perusal of Steve's blog tells me I've struck a mother lode for personal growth ... with numerous dimensions of potential connection.  One post listed in Steve's "best of" sidebar that jumps out at me is on self-acceptance vs. personal growth, a challenging issue I've long thought -- and blogged -- about.  Another is on how to make money from your blog, and there are many more that look interesting and inspiring.  However, another issue I've been grappling with is allocating time among input, processing and output (which is yet another theme in which I've received inspiration from Stephen Covey and Dan Oestreich, and another one of my favorite bloggers, Kathy Sierra) ... and so I'm going to apply a disciplined approach to mining this newly discovered wellspring of wisdom slowly ... and surely.

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Social Entrepreneurship at Zino Society

The Zino Society Roundtable meeting had a social entrepreneurial flavor -- or perhaps it would be more accurate to say several such flavors -- this month.  Two of the four companies presenting their plans to the Zino investors (SoilSoup and MadreMonte) had goals of creating greater social and/or environmental welfare, and another (Jookster) was incorporating social and community dimensions into an important technology application area.  Moreover, during the discussion after the presentations, it's clear that new ventures that seek to "do well by doing right" are appealing to this group, which, as one member put it, has a predilection for "noble purposes and high ideals".

One of the best definitions of social entrepreneurship, and some of the most compelling examples of this energy in action, can be found on the web site for the PBS miniseries The New Heroes:

A social entrepreneur identifies and solves social problems on a large scale. Just as business entrepreneurs create and transform whole industries, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss in order to improve systems, invent and disseminate new approaches and advance sustainable solutions that create social value.

Although the ventures being pitched at the meeting may not [yet] have the level of impact exhibited by the examples shown in The New Heroes, some of them offer a local opportunity for socially responsible investing.

Cathi Hatch, Zino Society's founder, CEO and Primo ZINOrina, started things off by introducing Kay Syrrist, Director of Operations and CFO of Small Vineyards Imports (a company I wrote about after attending an earlier Zino Society Roundtable meeting).  Small Vineyards has organized a consortium of small wine producers in Italy that creates economies of scale in a way that offers a win-win value proposition for all stakeholders (producers, retailers, consumers).  There is a social entrepreneurial aspect to their efforts, given their focus on wines that are "customarily hand harvested, earth friendly, and always of superior quality".  Kay announced that, as a result of their presentation at the January Roundtable, they were able to secure investment to continue their efforts to bring "the wine, the stories, and the passion of these Italian winemakers to America", and so represent one of the early success stories for the Zino Society.

The keynote for the April meeting was delivered by Jeffrey Parker, Consul General of Canada for Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.  Jeff spoke primarily about his prior role as Executive Director of Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC), a Canadian government program for providing early stage investment in companies engaged in research and development of advanced technologies.  This seed money is intended to attract later stage private sector investment and eventually produce "tangible economic, social and environmental benefits for all Canadians".  As might be expected, some of the investments have not yielded the desired results, but there have been some notable successes, such as Research in Motion, who was able to use the TPC money to create the Blackberry pager.  Jeff also noted the strong ties across the U.S./Canadian border, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, and his interest in strengthening those ties, especially along the entrepreneurial dimension.

The first company to present was Formotus, which offers a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model to "enable enterprises to easily create and deploy mobile data applications for their employees."  Joe Verschueren, the co-founder and CEO, shared some details about pilot deployments, but as I don't see any information about these on the company web site or elsewhere on the web, I won't say more here.  Formotus co-founder and COO, Adriana Neagu, was one of the creators of Microsoft Office InfoPath.

SoilSoup President and CEO, Ken Hunt, was next up, sharing some of the environmental and economic benefits of their Organic Liquid Compost Brewing Systems.  As an erstwhile homebrewer (of beer), I appreciate the Do-It-Yourself nature of their current product line, and as an environmental advocate, I appreciate the benefits offered through using biology (beneficial bacteria derived from worm castings) rather than chemistry for nourishing soil.  Ken referred to an Ohio State University study that demonstrated the positive effects of using SoilSoup on a field planted with winter squash: a 40% increase in marketable yield and a 50% increase in the percentage of marketable fruit.

Kapenda Thomas, Founder and CEO of Jookster, presented his company's goal as combining the best of MySpace and Google.  Jookster users can identify an interesting/useful site by "jooking" it -- a one-click operation via a browser plugin (the Jookster Toolbar) to add it to a favorites list.  If a user has a community of Jookster friends, their ratings can be used to order the results of a search, as can information about the location of the user (e.g., via geotagged IP addresses) [Update: Kapenda clarified that localized search results were a natural outgrowth of their community-oriented ratings, e.g., if a user's friends tend to jook sites in a particular locale, such as the Queen Anne neighborhood in Seattle, then searching for the term for "Queen Anne" is more likely to return results relating to that neighborhood than, say, a member of the British Royalty] providing what Kapenda calls context through community.  The revenue model is based on contextual advertising, and so they will need to build a critical mass of users; as noted in the Q&A, if they are able to demonstrate better contextualized search results, they may be able to command higher advertising rates.  An interesting exchange on various approaches to -- and assumptions about -- community search, including those embodied in Jookster and Wink, can be found on this post at TechCrunch.

The last presenter was the first presenter, Joe Verschueren, this time representing another venture, MadreMonte Coffee, whose mission aligns most closely with the examples of social entrepreneurship highlighted in the aforementioned PBS series ... and shares some similarities to Small Vineyards Imports.  MadreMonte markets fair trade organic coffee grown by small family farmers in the Cauca Valley of Columbia.  The goal is to foster peace, economic development, sustainable agriculture, food security and organic farming in Columbia, which is the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.  The company seeks to leverage the high quality of Columbian coffee -- Joe said it was finest in the world (I am rather partial to Indonesian Sumatra, myself) -- and a "girl scout cookies" marketing strategy channeled through the Jesuit network (two Jesuit priests are the other co-founders).

After the presentations, and an investors' discussion period, all the participants were offered a chance to partake of wine and wisdom, and as usual, both dimensions were exemplary.  The wines included

  • Robert Sinskey 2003 Los Carneros Pinot Noir: one of the darkest, full-bodied and long-finishing Pinot Noirs I've tasted (though I admit to not drinking much Pinot, given my preference for big reds).
  • Baer 2003 Ursa: a predominantly Merlot / Cabernet Franc blend that was my favorite (while still in the barrel) during a vertical tasting at Baer Winery of the 2001, 2002 and 2003 vintages a year and a half ago.
  • Kennedy Shah 2004 Auntie Meredith's Picnic Blend & 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon: the Picnic Blend, consisting of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc, tasted like it would be an ideal accompaniment to a picnic on a hot day, but I liked the full-bodied cab, which was a blend that also included Merlot and Cabernet Franc, much better.
  • Marchetti 2001 Rosso Conero Riserva: a blend that I believe is primarily Rosso di Montepulciano, whose name derives from "cherry" and is grown in small vineyards that are typically surrounded by cherry trees ... and thus there is a strong cherry component to the nose and taste of this full-bodied red.
  • Giuseppe Lonardi 1999 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico: my favorite of the tasting.  As Kay was opening up the first bottle, he described Amarone as "sex in a bottle", and so I pointed to the proactive display in the corner and noted that my "ticket2talk" image was a bottle of Amarone, and my caption read "Amarone: Ecstasy in a Bottle" (and I swear I didn't know Kay would be there, nor that he would be pouring an Amarone).

Ticket2talkzinosocietyjoe  Ticket2talkzinosocietyapril

Unlike the earlier Zino Society meetings I attended -- at one of which we deployed our proactive display -- some of the wine was offered as people were arriving and before the presentations began, and so conversations and connections were already flowing rather well by the time the "wine and wisdom" hour rolled around.  We did a better job of highlighting sponsors this time, thanks to the active engagement of Mary Holmes, Zino Society's VP for Business Relations, and I saw some people paying some attention to the display during the event.  However, I'm not sure there was much room for improvement in creating opportunities for interactions using technology: the wine and inspiring presentations offered pretty good tickets to talk.

Coming around full circle, I view Interrelativity itself as an example of social entrepreneurship.  The motivation behind Interrelativity is a fundamental belief that we are all kindred spirits on some level, each interesting in his or her own way, with untapped value we can offer -- and receive from -- others.  Strangers are simply friends who haven't met yet, and so our goal is to introduce technology into settings where it can help introduce people, by revealing interests and passions -- that people have chosen to share -- that go beyond what might be gleaned from faces, names and affiliations.  If this approach and capability to facilitate connections gains traction, it will help transform society in ways that benefit everyone.

Co-promotional Considerations: Customerization and The Brand "Us"

Peter van Stolk, founder, president and CEO of Jones Soda, gave an energetic, inspiring and irreverent presentation at this month's NWEN Venture Breakfast on being relevant and real to, for and with your customers. The official title was "Creating Meaningful Relationships with Customers", but the unofficial title might be better expressed as "Marketing in a time when no one cares". [Note: The MP3 and slides from Peter's NWEN talk are not yet available, but much of the content -- and spirit -- of his talk can be found in the Fast Company article Jonesing for Soda.]

Jones Soda doesn't play by the usual rules of market competition: instead of choosing battlefields where their competitors might be defeated, they look for where their competitors ain't, and channel their energies into those fields of play ... an interesting variation of guerilla marketing, but more aligned with the art of play than the art of war. They particularly seek out people who are passionate about what they do -- musicians, extreme sports athletes, spelling bee competitors -- and sponsor their events and/or set up Jones Soda display cases in businesses that support those kinds of people (e.g., surf shops).

Peter shared a number of ways that Jones Soda creates and maintains emotional connections with its customers.  The one that I found most innovative and relevant was the Jones Soda Photo Gallery, which contains 786,000 of the over 4.5 million photos that Jones Soda customers have submitted as candidates for inclusion on a future Jones Soda bottle label (see an example above, from the January 2006 run). As Peter said, "you don't tell people you're cool, you let others tell people you're cool" ... and what better way to motivate customers to tell people how cool Jones Soda is than to put their photos on the labels?


I don't drink soda, and so while Jones Soda has been customerizing its labels since 2001, this was news to me. I also don't eat snack bars, so when I got home from the breakfast, and told my wife about how cool Jones Soda was, I was surprised when she showed me a Luna Bar that offered a slightly different variation of customerization -- using words instead of photos -- to enable customers to share "a dedication to a special woman in your life".



Yana Kushner, director of Luna equity and advanced product development at Clif Bar (who makes Luna Bars), also invoked the concepts of passion, excitement and connection in a Fast Company article about Brands We Love [note to self: subscribe to Fast Company again]:

A couple of years ago, we started something on the back of the bar called "Luna Dedication," where the women of Luna wrote personal dedications to women who have touched their lives in some way. By giving them a piece of ourselves, they feel part of the Luna family. It's a two-way street. It keeps them excited and passionate, and it also keeps us internally passionate.

I had earlier speculated on the evolving nature of promotional considerations as new social marketing channels arise, noting possible conflicts of interest that may diminish the potential impact of some of these channels (e.g., how much can we trust reviews by people who may derive direct financial benefit from the products or services they are reviewing). What I particularly like about the Jones and Luna customerization techniques is that they are really co-promotional: customers whose visual or verbal content is co-opted for use on labels can promote themselves (and/or their loved ones) along with the product(s) they are telling people about. Neither Jones nor Luna offers any financial incentive to people whose content is chosen for co-promotion on their labels; the wealth they are sharing is attentional rather than financial.

A few days after the NWEN breakfast, Biznik co-founder Dan McComb implemented a new feature on the Biznik web site that might be viewed as offering attention in return for attendance: showing photos of bizniks who were at an event (e.g., the Biznik Happy Hour). Although he could have simply listed the names of people who were there, showing the photos adds an extra dimension of recognition and acknowledgment, and I suspect this will provide more incentive for bizniks to both attend an event and to go back and review the events. It would be interesting to study the motivational differences between listing people's names and listing their names + photos in different contexts.


And, speaking of promotion, motivation and photos, I would be remiss not to comment on how Interrelativity offers a mechanism for co-promotion through our proactive display application -- most recently deployed at the Biznik Happy Hour -- which provides new opportunities for people to connect with one another by showing content from people's profiles on a large computer display when they are detected nearby. We interleave the display of sponsor profiles with attendee profiles -- providing each sponsor and attendee 10 seconds of fame in a revolving window of attention -- so that people can learn more about sponsors while they are learning about each other (examples of sponsor profiles for the BalMar and Biznik, with an attendee profile for me in between, are shown below).

Balmar_1 Joe_1 Biznik_1

Each time we have deployed our system, surveys have shown that people have learned new things about both people they hadn't met as well as people they already know. And, although we haven't explicitly asked this question, observations and informal interviews suggest that people enjoy seeing their own profiles shown on the big plasma display as much as they enjoy seeing other profiles. Our latest surveys have also been investigating whether people are also learning things about the sponsors ... who, at least in the current business model, are the ones who will be paying for the co-promotional considerations.

Bizniking at the BalMar with a Proactive Display

Biznik is "an urban tribe for business, a supportive business network that encourages creativity, radical thinking, and community" ...  The BalMar brings "cocktails, conversation and comfort" together in "a unique space with exceptional service and adventurous food and drink" ...  It's hard to imagine a group or place that could be better aligned with the mission of Interrelativity, which is "helping people relate" by using technology to bring the best of online communities into physical spaces.


I first met Biznik co-founder Dan McComb through a comment exchange on a blog post about Social Networks and Emergent, Ad Hoc Collaborations by our mutual friend, Shelly Farnham.  Soon afterward, Dan and I had lunch, and discovered many mutual passions, perspectives and principles, and I was excited about checking out his (and co-founder Lara Feltin's) new business networking group.  I joined Biznik, but until recently, my participation was restricted to the Biznik blog, where Dan regularly posts fabulous profiles about members, and other gems of interest and relevance to a progressive businessperson.  I finally got to last month's Biznik Happy Hour (an event to encourage conversations about "combining business with pleasure in a way that's profitable and fun") -- at the BalMar lounge -- but due to other events I was attending that night (including the Dorkbot Seattle Movie Night), did not stay long.  But I was there long enough to confirm that bizniks embody the Biznik philosophy (i.e., they are creative, radical-thinking and community-oriented) ... and that the BalMar is, as advertised, a unique space for cocktails, conversation and comfort.


I had an additional motivation for attending that particular Biznik Happy Hour: I really wanted to meet Andrea Martin, co-owner of the BalMar and founder of Space City Mixer, "a Seattle social and networking club that plans fun and engaging events for its [12,000] members" (Dan had mentioned Andrea and Space City Mixer in a blog post about BalMar is so Biznik a couple of weeks earlier).  As synchronicity would have it, Andrea was not at the BalMar that night, but I sent her an email, and we were able to get together the next night to talk about our mutual passions, perspectives and principles ... and as with Dan and Biznik, I felt I had found another kindred spirit in Andrea and Space City Mixer ... and the Balmar (which was reinforced during my experience of the Space City Mixer Lock and Key event I attended a short time later).

So, on Sunday night, when I first read that this month's Biznik Happy Hour was coming up on Wednesday, and being held at the Balmar again, I sent an email to Dan and Andrea about deploying a proactive display at the event, and both were very supportive.  After verifying that my friend, Scott Axworthy, would be available to help out again, and visiting the BalMar Tuesday night to verify the wireless network connectivity, we made it a definite plan ... with less lead time (20 hours) than any previous event.


Last month's Biznik Happy Hour was held the back area of the upper level of the BalMar (shown above).  One of the biggest challenges we face in each deployment is where to place the proactive display, and its associated radio frequency identification (RFID) antennas, so that we can find a balance between being in the flow of people without interfering with that flow.  We decided to set things up against the back wall, with the display in the middle, and the antennas in each corner.


Over the course of the evening, I estimate there were about 40 bizniks who attended the event, 32 of whom created Interrelativity profiles.  It seemed like the proactive display was having a positive impact, but I also think that bizniks are generally very effective networkers, and so I'm not sure how much room there was for improvement.  One of the Biznik mantras is radical self-promotion, and so the proactive display -- which provides a new channel for self-promotion by showing contents from a person's online profile on a large plasma display when that person is detected nearby (using RFID tags associated with those profiles inserted into name badges) -- was well received. 


Bizniks are very open and candid about providing feedback, so we learned a lot about people's experiences with the proactive display, and the registration process, during the event.  We'll be conducting a followup survey so that we can better assess the impact the technology had on the people and their interactions, and identify areas for ongoing improvement ... and I'm looking forward to continuing the conversation(s) with Andrea, Dan and other bizniks about possible ways that this kind of social technology can lead to both fun and profit!

Almost Famous

Kristi Heim wrote a nice article about Interrelativity (and me) in The Seattle Times, entitled Using High-Tech to Help Break Ice, that appeared in today's paper.  As with Kristi's' great article about Amal Graafstra and his RFID agenda, she really captured the essence of what Interrelativity -- and I -- are all about.

I felt quite honored (and, perhaps, somewhat self-important) to be invited in for an interview.  The hour with Kristi flew by, and we spoke about so many interesting topics, I was looking forward to seeing which aspects she would choose to focus on.  When the article came out this morning, I could not have been happier ... except that I [now] recognize that I was looking forward to some "atta boy's" from people who might read the article.  To my surprise, I didn't receive much acknowlegement that anyone I know -- aside from people I'd told about it -- had read the article ... and, as with most surprises, this represents a learning opportunity.

Cindy, a friend in the neighborhood, brought by a copy of the article, but I had seen her yesterday, and mentioned the article, and [so] I am not sure whether she would have noticed the article ... or thought to drop off a copy (though I suspect she would, given that she is an incredibly kind and generous person).  Dan and Scott, other kind and generous friends, sent emails -- as did my mom -- but I had alerted them about the upcoming article, too. I received an email from Anthony, at 3:30am, who had read the online version after it was posted around midnight and had some great suggestions about other potential applications of proactive displays ... and also noted that the email link on the web site was broken (which I hastened to repair). I received another email from Adam, who kindly offered to help me find office space for Interrelativity, an offer I'm not in a good position to take advantage of now, but perhaps will be able to, if / when we grow beyond my home office in the future.

All of these acknowledgements were welcome, but I felt some disappointment that I didn't hear or read from more friends (or acquaintances ... or strangers).  Recognizing this disappointment has, in turn, helped me realize that, despite my best intentions, I have not [yet] succeeded in living without attachments.  I will continue to work on this issue of attachment to outcomes, but I also want to take the opportunity to muse a bit further.

There are several possible explanations to this low level of response, among them:

  • Few people read the article
  • Few people who know [of] me (or Interrelativity) read the article
  • People read the article but were not impressed with the article or its topic (or both)
  • People read the article and thought it was a good article and/or topic, but didn't think it was worth mentioning [to me]

While this seemed like a big deal to me, perhaps it doesn't seem like a big deal to most other people ... not the first time I've experienced mismatch between my perceptions and those of others. It reminded me of Noah Kagan's recent observations about the joy of receiving comments on a blog post , my own observations about filling buckets online and offline, and Don Miguel Ruiz' first agreement to be Impeccable with your Word, as one's words -- or lack thereof -- can exert a strong influence (positive or negative) on others.

I feel a bit self-conscious in writing about this, as one possible outcome is that people might read this blog post and submit comments ackowledging the post and/or the Seattle Times article.  However, one of my explicit goals in maintaining this blog is to detach from any expectation that anyone else is reading it, much less willing to take the time to comment.  I now recognize that I was applying a different perspective to the newspaper article ... and I recognize all the more poignantly the value of detaching from outcomes ... especially those involving [near] fame and fortune.

The Practicalities, Perils and Promise of RFID

Dorkbot Seattle offered a multidimensional opportunity to learn about and experience different facets of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology last night, under the provocative title "RFID - Identity That Gets Under your Skin".  There were three presentations and two types of opportunities for participation by attendees ... each requiring a significantly different level of commitment.

I led things off with a presentation entitled "The Practicalities, Perils and Promise of RFID" [embedded below], providing a high-level overview of how RFID works, a whirlwind tour of a number of its applications, and finishing off with a focus on one particular application near and dear to my heart: proactive displays.  I didn't focus too much on the "perils" part, because Doug Klunder, Privacy Project Director of the ACLU of Washington, was next up, and he did a great job in presenting some concerns that he and his organization are raising before the public and the legislature, highlighting how this new technology can threaten privacy and present new risks to our liberties.


Amal Graafstra, CEO of txtGroups, Inc., and author of RFID Toys, went third, and was the headliner for the evening (Kristi Heim, of the Seattle Times, wrote an excellent article about Amal -- "Man grips future with microchip implants in hands" -- that was printed yesterday morning).  Before his presentation, Amal, who has RFID chips implanted in each hand, narrated a live RFID implantation procedure performed by Dr. Virginia Stevens, M.D., a cosmetic surgeon with Seattle Health and Beauty, on Phillip Beynon, a college student and robotics -- and RFID -- enthusiast from Vancouver, B.C.  There were local three television affiliates -- KPCQ (Fox), KING (NBC) and KOMO (ABC) -- and Jenny Asarnow of local public radio station KUOW, on hand to cover this event.  The reporters and camerapersons were also there earlier, and although the cameras and audio recorders were rolling during the earlier presentations, and I saw some other interviews taking place before the main event -- and even participated in a brief, impromptu interview with Darren Dedo of Q13 Fox News -- I suspect all the media coverage will have focused on the live implant procedure ... which, I have to say, was pretty interesting to watch.  [I'll post a link to any photos / videos I discover later. Here are some links to a video of the implant procedure on the Make blog (thanks, Scott!), audio and transcript of the KUOW report, and Phillip's notes on the event.]

Unfortunately, though, the media all left before Amal's presentation, and he had alot of interesting information to share about how and why he selected the RFID chips he has implanted in his hands (an EM4102 in his left hand and a Philips HITAG 2048 S in his right hand), why he would never use VeriChip tags (due to the ease with which they can be hacked), and how he uses his RFID implants to unlock his computer, his house and his car.  He also raised a number of serious concerns about the security of RFID technology (not just Verichip ... although they were the primary target of criticism), while also downplaying some privacy concerns -- at least with respect to their RFID-specificity -- noting that RFID technology is not so different from other technologies used to identify people ... all of which can be used to track people if data is collected from different sites and/or stored over a period of time.

[Photo above is courtesy of Dan McComb]

Philip Beynon was not the only one to have an opportunity to gain a first-hand [pun partially intended] experience of RFID.  We also deployed a proactive display at the event, and had over thirty people create profiles and wear RFID tags -- inserted into their name badges rather than their hands.  Dorkbot is a loose-knit organization whose membership includes some of the most creative and curious people I've ever encountered; their tag line is "people doing strange things with electricity" and their monthly meetings include electronic artists of all stripes (sound/image/ movement/whatever), designers, engineers, students and other interested parties ... and the events are "free to all ages and species".  The images that people chose to share in their Interrelativity profiles were some of the most unusual and provocative of any I've seen in any previous deployment.  It was an honor and a pleasure to have an opportunity to share some knowledge and technology with these folks ... and to enjoy the content they shared, both on the proactive display and in the great questions and comments they made (during my presentation and afterward).

RFID Dorkbot Seattle 2006-03-01

Wine and Wisdom ... and Interrelativity

There were lots of insights and experiences involving entrepreneurship, investing and wine flowing at The Rainier Club during last night's Zino Society Roundtable meeting.  As with the last Roundtable meeting, the event offered a unique combination of business and pleasure, with a short keynote address and four investment pitches by entrepreneurs, followed by a wine tasting.  Unlike last month's meeting, Interrelativity deployed a proactive display to help people connect before the meeting started and during the latter portion of the event.  [And due to my focus on this aspect of the event, my notes from other aspects are not as thorough as last time.]

Cathi Hatch, CEO of the Zino Society, led things off with some introductory remarks about the presenters at the Roundtable, as well as highlights from other events organized by the Zino Society, whose mantra is "Connecting investors, wine professionals and enthusiasts—from A to ZINO".  Cathi noted that many of the entrepreneurs who have presented thus far at Roundtable meetings have commented on the "intensive coaching" they received as part of the screening and preparation.  I have been increasingly attentive to various kinds of advisors and advice, and can see the positive outcome of the efforts of the volunteer coaches on the quality of presentations I've seen thus far.

Tom Hedges, co-proprietor of Hedges Family Estate, shared an "Insider's Scoop" about some differences between "old" and "new" styles of winemaking, which I would characterize in terms of elegance and refinement vs. exuberance and [fruit-]forwardness.  Among the trends that are shifting the marketplace toward the new style are the drop in wine consumption in Europe (where the "old" style is dominant) and the rising influence of Robert Parker: Tom suggested that a single 100-point rating from the editor of the bi-monthly Wine Advocate would enable a winemaker to retire. Winemakers often face a choice between producing for profit and producing for love ... a perspective that contrasts with the notion of "do what you love, the money will follow" that I've blogged about recently ... although I can't say that I have been able to demonstrate a linkage between passion and profit in my own venture.

I imagine that the four entrepreneurs who gave their pitches are hoping to establish a linkage between their passions and future profits.  Judy Johnston, CEO of Blue Lake Children's Publishing, shared the story behind the Tessy and Tab Reading Club, a children's magazine offering a fresh approach -- with respect to content ("genuine preschool life experiences") and presentation (lots of images) -- that contrasts with older approaches represented by Highlights for Children, for the 2 to 5-year-old market.  They have already achieved a renewal rate that is twice the industry average, and have a number of other publications in planning of production for older children.

Doug Perednia, M.D., founder and CEO of Kietra Corporation, talked about the pros and cons of paper vs. digital medical records, and showed how Kietra's eXtensible Practice Record (XPR) seeks to take advantage of the best of both worlds, enabling doctors to use paper forms during their interactions with patients, and then applying scanning technology to digitize some of that information (e.g., the diagnostic codes) for later processing, storage and retrieval.  Doug noted that they do not market directly to doctors, who are feeling increasingly pinched, but instead market to medical billing companies, and to medical billing software vendors (whose customers are medical billing companies), who in turn encourage their customers (ultimately, doctors and their staffs) to use the specialized forms by passing on some of the cost savings.

Chad Stevens, president and CEO of Signature Destinations, talked about the motivations behind this regionally-oriented resort club: offering greater availability than most time-share programs (a 6:1 member to property ratio), and fewer hassles and restrictions than owning multiple homes.  Another distinguishing characteristic is their focus on regional "hubs" -- destinations from which a number of short excursions are possible.

Fred Ledbetter, CEO of CourtTrax Corporation, presented their vertical content search solution for a horizontal market, offering a single user interface to a variety of professionals seeking information from the 4500 database systems that underly the 80 court systems across the United States.  Given the range -- and age -- of these systems, individually querying them can be extremely time-consuming.

After the presentations were over, Tom and Anne-Marie Hedges poured samples of all of the Hedges Family Estate current releases, and Ron Yabut of Austin Robaire Vintners was pouring his 2002 Ryson Reserve Cabernet and "4th Street" Syrah.  I wasn't able to sample as much as I would have liked to, given my focus on and near the proactive display -- which, unfortunately, was on the opposite end of the room from the wine tasting stations -- but my two favorites were the Austin Robaire Ryson Reserve and the Hedges' Two Vineyard Reserve.

And last, but certainly not least: the proactive display triggered a number of conversations that I was able to observe (and in some cases, participate in, so this is hardly an unbiased account).  As has been the case with every deployment, the technology itself -- especially our radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, reader and antennas -- is the topic of some conversations, and I overheard other conversations that were clearly triggered by images that people had provided in their online profiles (given that I could see the images that were on the display while the conversations were underway).  I hope that we can do a full survey to learn more about what kind of impact we had on Zino Society members' experiences at the event.


Scott Axworthy was once again willing to help out in this deployment.  One of the things we learned from our recent deployment at the Seattle Games Conference was that a power imbalance may diminish the inclination of people to seek connections with those around them, e.g., many of the students at the earlier event were primarily interested in connecting with the sponsors (who were potential employers), and not so interested in networking with each other.  At the Zino Society event, there was a similar sort of dynamic (entrepreneurs seeking investment, and investors), but I think that the fact that the two groups last night represented different demographics, who may have better recognized the value of networking (and for whom, in fact, networking may be more valuable), may have led to a stronger inclination on the part of the participants at last night's event to create profiles (though there were definitely some attendees who had no interest in creating a profile).  Also, the fact that there was a time slot explicitly reserved for wine and conversation may have helped provide more impetus for some people to create profiles.  And, of course, the influence of the fine wine itself cannot be understimated.