Public Displays

Minority Report and Recent Advances in Pervasive Personalized Advertising

Several recent articles I've read about new developments in tracking and advertising in different countries - most of which reference the science fiction movie, Minority Report - reminded me of a quote often attributed to science fiction author, William Gibson:

The future is already here - it is just unevenly distributed

The articles describe the ways that various technologies - from special-purpose global positioning system (GPS) devices and face recognition software to general-purpose radio frequency identification (RFID) chips and web browsers - can be used to record information about us, and make it available to prospective advertisers in order to provide more contextually relevant advertising in a broader array of contexts.

The success of these increasingly pervasive personalized advertising systems depends, in part, on how they address three fundamental questions:

  • How much control do viewers of such advertising have over the information that is recorded?
  • What benefits do the viewers receive?
  • What risks do they perceive?

The Minority Report analogies refer to scenes in which iris scanning technology is used to identify shoppers in order to present customized messages. In the scene above, John Anderton (played by Tom Cruise) is offered audio and visual invitations to try products and services from Lexus ("the road you're on, John Anderton, is the road less traveled"), Guinness ("John Anderton! You could use a Guiness right about now.") and American Express Travel ("Get away, John Anderton; forget your troubles") as he makes his way through a mall on his way to board a train. People in this advertising scenario have little control over being identified (short of, say, eyeball transplants), do not appear to derive any direct benefit, and the risks of ubiquitous identification and tracking go well beyond potentially irritating personalized advertising: an elite Pre-Crime unit of the police may want to apprehend you before you commit a crime you don't even know you're going to commit. These factors may explain why reviews and reactions to this scenario, including the references in these recent articles, are almost universally negative.

OysterCard On Sunday, the Daily Telegraph published an article by Richard Gray on Minority Report-style advertising billboards to target consumers, describing a system being developed by the IBM Smarter Planet program in which RFID chips - using near field communication (NFC) with a range of about 4 inches (10 cm) - are used to identify people. Few additional details are provided about the system, but the technology suggests that some kind of explicit "check-in" will be required in order for people to be identified. The article alludes to the Oyster Cards used in the London Underground and other transportation systems as being a compatible technology, and the recent announcement that all of Nokia's new Symbian phones will come equipped with NFC in 2011 suggests that the availability of NFC-enabled devices will continue to grow. I can imagine a context in which "check-ins" used for one purpose (gaining access to a train platform) could be used for another purpose (targeted advertising on nearby displays and/or speakers). If customers are given the control to explicitly opt in to such a system, and were rewarded - perhaps by subsidized fares associated with their cards (or phones) - then I believe the benefits would be perceived as outweighing the privacy risks for at least some of the potential users.

NEC_NextGenerationDigitalSignageSolution Sunday's article references another Daily Telegraph article by Andrew Hough earlier this year with a similar theme - and a similar title ('Minority Report' digital billboard 'watches consumers shop') - but with a different technology. NEC is developing a Next Generation Digital Signage Solution that combines large displays, video cameras and face recognition software designed to determine the gender and approximate ages of the person or people in front of the display. An AFP report two weeks ago, Tokyo trials digital billboards that scan passers-by, refers to a Digital Signage Promotion Project in which 27 high-tech advertising displays were deployed in commuter stations in Tokyo. I suspect this is a pilot of the NEC system, although NEC is not mentioned anywhere in the report.

While potentially less invasive than the RFID-based approach - inferring age and gender rather than requiring individual identification - the use of cameras may instead be perceived as more invasive, depending on how people believe captured images are being handled, e.g., deleted, saved for internal use only or potentially sold to third parties. There is certainly less control afforded to potential users, aside from cloaking their faces as they pass by. The proposed benefits described in the earlier Daily Telegraph article appear to be targeted primarily toward the advertisers, who potentially will be able to target advertising toward specific demographic groups in proximity to the displays. However, the more recent Telegraph article suggests that personalized advertising might offer indirect benefits to viewers, in that they "may help reduce costs that are passed onto the consumer by reducing the amount of poorly targeted advertising" ... perhaps reflecting progress toward addressing a problem observed by John Wanamaker, the father of modern advertising:

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.

TrySomethingNewWithOmo Another advertising campaign - costing $1M - seeks to move pervasive personal advertising from public and semi-public places into the home. In an article asking Is Your Detergent Stalking You?, Laurel Wentz at Advertising Age reports that Omo Detergent has inserted GPS devices in 50 boxes of new, improved detergent scattered in stores throughout Brazil. Owners of the special boxes will be tracked down in their homes - or, I suppose, wherever the detergent box comes to rest for a period of time - whereupon they will be presented with a free video camera and invited to participate in a special company-sponsored event. I don't know enough about Brazilian culture to predict how consumers in that country will respond, but given that they are not informed whether or not any particular box of detergent can be tracked - it's a surprise - I can imagine reactions that may range from the kind of ecstatic joy expressed by those contacted by the Prize Patrol unit in Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes commercials to the abject terror felt by those who are tracked down by John Anderton's Pre-Crime unit in Minority Report.

FacebookAdsMuffinTop The Wall Street Journal just launched a series of articles on Internet spyware that may be tracking information through your web browser. In the first installment, The Web's New Gold Mine: Your Secrets, Julia Angwin reports that the top 50 web sites installed 3,180 cookies, flash cookies or beacons on computers that visit their web sites, which are then used to either personalize ads shown to the user directly or sold to third parties who aggregate the data. Many users may already be aware of the use of web browser tracking technology, but the extent of the tracking may be disturbing to some, and considerable convenience must be forfeited in order to control the tracking. Perhaps even more disturbing is the potential for the algorithmically personalized advertising to intrude into intimate dimensions of our lives, resulting in psychological harm. The article describes a case of a 17 year old girl whose browsing behavior led to her being [correctly] categorized as someone interested in weight loss programs. Although accurate, the advertising was not always welcome: "I try not to think about it…. Then [the ads] make me start thinking about it." Two years ago, Rachel Beckman wrote a related article for the Washington Post on Facebook ads target you where it hurts, subtitled "My Facebook page called me fat", describing the recurring emotional pain experienced by a user repeatedly exposed to targeted advertising like the Muffin Top ad shown on the right.

The audio and visual advertisements soliciting John Anderton's attention were for products and services that he probably did not mind being associated with - luxury cars, beer and travel to exotic locales. Thinking back to issues I raised about the prospects of personalized, publicly displayed promotions of personal care products in a drug store (represented by OlayForYou screens at WalMart), I wonder what kind of reaction Anderton - and the movie audience - might have to personalized, publicly displayed advertisements for more intimate or personal products and services in a mall - say, Viagra, Hair Club for Men, or WeightWatchers (and as I type these, I can already envision some of the spam comments I'll get on this post).

CoCollage-Trabant Despite my concerns about potential abuses and/or unintended consequences that may arise in an era of increasingly pervasive personalized advertising, I believe that well-designed active environments that can sense and respond to people in contextually appropriate ways can offer benefits that outweigh the risks. My own work on proactive displays has involved the linkage of different sensing technologies - infrared badges, RFID, Bluetooth mobile phones and magetically-striped loyalty cards - to social media sites in order to bring some of the richness of what we share in our online social networks into the physical spaces we share with others. Revealing the interestingness of the people nearby, e.g., through showing their photos on a large display, creates new opportunities for enhanced awareness, appreciation, interactions and relationships. Although some of the users of these prototypes have found them intrusive or otherwise undesireable, many users found them sufficiently advantageous to explicitly opt in, and even those who have not opted in have enjoyed seeing the social media (mostly photos) shared by others on the nearby displays.

One of the challenges we have faced in these systems - which I sometimes describe as bridging the gaps between people by bridging the gaps between online and offline - is how to bridge the gap between cool research prototypes to sustainable and pervasive product or service. The only way I can envision this happening is with advertising revenue streams, which is the path we were pursuing with CoCollage. A few of the other current generation digital signage solutions include user-generated social media along with advertiser-generated media in their mix (e.g., LocaModa and Aerva), but I think there is still considerable room for next generation digital signage solutions to provide increased control and benefits for their users, to help compensate for real or perceived risks ... and avoid the currently inevitable comparisons to Minority Report.

The Dark Side of Digital Backchannels in Shared Physical Spaces

DarkTwitterBird-reversed Recently, I've been disturbed to read about some significant frontchannel disturbances arising through the use of Twitter backchannels to heckle speakers at conferences. Having finished off my last blog with an example of the beneficial ways that Twitter helps us connect with consequential strangers, I want to revisit some issues that initially arose [for me] 5 years ago, surrounding the use of another backchannel tool in another conference context, and reflect a bit on the dark side of how Twitter can leave us vulnerable to maliciously consequential strangers, even when we are in the same physical place ... and in some cases, especially when we are in the same physical space.

Five years ago, at the first Microsoft Research Social Computing Symposium (SCS 2004), a speaker was in the middle of a presentation when laughter spontaneously erupted from several people seated at different tables around the room. Apparently, someone had made a snarky comment about the presentation in an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) backchannel that had been created for the event, and a few people found the comment so amusing that they could not contain themselves. Fortunately, after a relatively brief period of confusion - for the speaker and for many people in the audience who weren't previously aware of the backchannel - the speaker was able to continue the presentation. Although there were a number of other issues that arose on or about the backchannel (details about which are described in Liz Lawley's blog post - and ensuing vigorous debate in comments - on "Confessions of a backchannel queen"), the event proceeded without further significant disruptions.

CSCW2004 At another conference (CHI 2004) a few weeks after later, danah boyd - who at the time was a graduate student at UC Berkeley and was also at SCS 2004 - and I were talking about how surprised many of the academic and industry researchers were about seeing IRC used as a backchannel at the symposium. We conspired to propose a panel for the upcoming conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2004), in which we would bring this discussion to a larger group of researchers who were interested in innovative uses of computer-mediated communication tools. We also conspired to bring the experience of the backchannel to the conference itself, and succeeded in persuading the organizers of the conference to offer wireless Internet access (a first for CSCW) and to promote the use of sanctioned IRC channels (one for each of the three conference session meeting rooms).

The backchannel attracted varying levels of engagement throughout the conference, depending (in part) on the nature of the different sessions, e.g., the channel was most active during panels, which are generally intended to be highly interactive, and least active during keynotes, which tend to be more like formal lectures (at CSCW). Several people on the panel (e.g., Richard Hodkinson, Liz Lawley and danah) and in the audience (e.g., Jack Vinson, Eric Jurotich, and even USA Today) have written about their experiences during the panel. danah and I later compiled and analyzed the experiences in a CHI 2005 short paper on Digital Backchannels in Shared Physical Spaces: Experiences at an Academic Conference.



What I want to revisit in this context is the various ways that backchannels were brought into the foreground during the panel. In my own blog post about the experience, frontchannels, backchannels and sidechannels at CSCW 2004, I wrote:

In many respects, this panel offered a hands-on, or at least eyes-on, experience.  For example, during Elizabeth [Churchill]'s opening statement, she projected a series of photos of herself, with bubble thoughts (comics-style), creating yet another "channel"; one backchannel participant posted the message "She's talking on one channel, putting up those slides ... evil! evil!" ... After the short position statements by each of the panelists, we decided to project the IRC window onto the main screen, so that everyone in the audience -- not just those with wireless personal computing devices that enabled them to directly participate in the channel -- could see what was going on.  At one point, there was a lively and creative series of posts proposing new names for backchannels such as the one(s) created during the panel, including "crackchannels", "smackchannels", "trackchannels", "hackchannels", "cochannels", "snackchannels", "lackoftactchannels" and "FAQchannels".

It's important to emphasize that the projection of the backchannel into the frontchannel was done with the intention of broadening the awareness and discussion of the backchannel in the frontchannel. After all, the backchannel was the topic of the panel, and its projection on the big screen thus served the goals of all the stakeholders: the panel organizers, speakers and the audience.

Web2expo-logo Flash forward 5 years (almost to the day), and I was disturbed to read about a resurgence of "lackoftactchannels" in Rude Tweeters Take Over Web 2.0 Expo, describing "a roomful of content co-creators who, along with their status as members of the audience, have also shed their human decency". The author, Nicole Ferraro, references an earlier post on "Twittering a Distraction During Twitter Business Panel", and goes on to talk about her most recent encounter with Twitter-fueled distractions at the Web 2.0 Expo in NYC last month:

A similar situation just occurred here at the Web 2.0 Expo during a keynote given by Microsoft researcher danah boyd, who was apparently speaking too fast for the Twitterati -- how ironic. Throughout her entire presentation -- entitled "Streams of Content, Limited Attention" (also ironic) -- boyd stood in front of a giant screen of Tweets, most of which were attacking her presentation skills

Actually, in reading and watching danah's talk (which I highly recommend), I'm struck by the many other elements of unintended irony that can be found throughout the themes and topics she presents: the "flow" state described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; living "with, in, and around" information; adding to, grabbing and redirecting streams; "the law of two feet"; the non-democratization of attention; our addiction to gossip; the unhealthy cycle of manipulation for stimulation; and the prejudice, intolerance, bigotry, and power promulgated by homophily in networks ... to name a few.

My two favorite - and most ironic - insights from her talk (which was written before she went on stage) are given at the very end:

  • Advertising is based on capturing attention, typically by interrupting the broadcast message or by being inserted into the content itself.
  • Y'all are setting the tone of the future of information. Keep it exciting and, please, recognize the power that you have!
I wasn't at the conference, but after watching the talk, and reading numerous accounts of it on blog posts and comments, I would say that some members of the audience clearly recognized their power, and were setting the tone by using the backchannel to insert content and thereby interrupt the message. And they were, in effect, advertising themselves, offering an example of the impact of negative advertising.

danahboyd I was tempted to add a comment on Nicole's post noting an additional irony, that danah had, once again, though unintentionally, "sparked a broad conversation about the implications of turning the backchannel into part of the frontchannel", but I was hesitant to write about this event, as I didn't want to focus any [additional] attention on the whole affair. However, a few days later, danah herself wrote about the "spectacle at Web2.0 Expo... from my perspective" (starting with the description about sparking conversation that I quoted in the preceding sentence), and a day later, in response to an outpouring of support through various channels, she tweeted "there's nothing like being publicly vulnerable for starting convs. THANK YOU for the digital hugs." So I felt it was OK for me to talk about it, too.

danah notes that she was surprised by a number of factors: she was not allowed to use a laptop, nor a properly angled podium for her notes, she was blinded by the lights and unable to see or visually connect with the audience, and she hadn't realized until shortly before the talk that a live twitter feed would be projected on the screen behind her. She started out a bit flustered, and then things got worse:

within the first two minutes, I started hearing rumblings. And then laughter. The sounds were completely irrelevant to what I was saying and I was devastated. I immediately knew that I had lost the audience. ... The more people rumbled, the worse my headspace got and the worse my talk became. I fed on the response I got from the audience in the worst possible way.

Afterward, when Brady Forrest, co-chair of the conference - and one of the most innovative and engaging conference chairs I know - explained what had transpired on the Twitter stream (and how they had shut it down temporarily a few times when things got really ugly, creating even more rumblings), she was surprised that she had misread the feedback - even though it was all going on behind her - and noted yet another dimension of irony: the unseen "feedback" (if it can be called that) about her going too fast had actually prompted her to go faster. In her final analysis, though, she nailed the core issue:

The Twitter stream had become the center of attention, not the speaker. Not me. ... The stream was not a way for the audience to communicate to the speaker, but for the audience to communicate with itself.

I have written before about my view of Twitter as a witness projection program, in that it addresses our fundamental human need to matter or to have a witness, and even adds a layer of witnesses to our publicly articulated witnesses. I had been focusing on the online implications of projected audiences and witnesses, and hadn't specifically considered the prospect of a physical projection of the "witnessing". Unlike the CSCW 2004 panel, where the backchannel was the intended focus of attention (for all stakeholders) - and was shown on a screen that was visible from both the stage and the audience - at the Web 2.0 Expo, it appears that the projected backchannel was serving the needs of only a subset of stakeholders, offering a vocal minority an irresistible opportunity to literally - and publicly - talk behind the speaker's back. 

ScottBerkun danah says she can imagine how, with the right kind of event, the right kind of speaker(s) and the right kind of audience, the projection of the backchannel into the frontchannel could be a positive influence. Scott Berkun, who recently wrote a book about public speaking, also spoke at the Web 2.0 Expo, and has offered his views on how to meet the challenge of visible twitter at conferences. He also suggests that the projection of tweets may be beneficial in certain contexts, with appropriate support, but also asks an important question:

What problem are you trying to solve?

Jeremiah Owyang has written about an "audience revolt" via Twitter at SXSW 2008, about how the tweeting audience influenced his own moderation of a panel at Web 2.0 Expo 2008, and more recently offered a compilation of lessons that he and others have learned about How Speakers Should Integrate Social Into Their Presentation. [Those who want an even more comprehensive guide may be interested in Olivia Mitchell's 62-page eBook on "How to Present with Twitter and Other Backchannels", or in Nancy White's compilation of backchannel resources.] While I agree with some of Jeremiah's recommendations - regarding greater preparation of presentations and better knowledge of the audience - I don't agree with his general assertion that "speakers, panelists, and moderators must monitor the back channel" [emphasis added], although he does provide some examples that suggest such monitoring can be useful in certain cases. Whileh he doesn't generally recommend projecting tweets on a screen behind the speaker, he suggested in a comment that:

A displayed back channel on stage behind a speaker should be used when the message from the organizers clearly say "the audience is of equal importance as the speaker" It's right for some conferences --but not all.

I'm trying to imagine conferences in which "the audience is of equal importance as the speaker". Speakers are typically paid - or at least invited - to present, whereas audience members typically pay to hear and see what the speakers have to say and show. The relationship is, by definition, unequal, which becomes evident when one considers the relative impacts of an attendee not showing up vs. a speaker not showing up. Attendees in the audience may have considerable expertise and experience in the topic(s) the speaker is talking about - in fact, ideally, there is such an alignment - but that does not give the audience the right to be rude, and certainly doesn't give them the right to gang up to tear down the speaker.

The most extreme example I've read of a cyberlynching by a Twittermob [at a conference] didn't involve a projection of the tweetstream. In an article by Marc Parry in the Chronicle of Higher Education on "Conference Humiliation: They're Tweeting Behind Your Back", he offered a word to describe the practice:

Tweckle (twek'ul) vt. to abuse a speaker only to Twitter followers in the audience while he/she is speaking.

[a commenter on his article later posted a reference to an earlier tweet that allegedly defined tweckle]

Highedweb-homepageopenconnected Parry describes a mob-like "virtual lynching" that arose in the Twitter backchannel of the HighEdWeb 2009 conference in October, which had the ironic theme, "open + connected":

Perfect conditions propelled this Twitter torrent: a speaker who delivered what was apparently a technically flawed and topically dated talk to a crowd of Web experts who expected better. They reacted by flaying him with more than 500 tweets in one hour. The onslaught grew so large that it went viral—live. The conference became one of the most popular topics on Twitter, meaning strangers with no connection to the meeting gaped at [the speaker]''s humiliation when they logged onto their home pages. One consultant who coaches academics on public speaking now uses the disaster as a what-to-avoid case study.

And it all started at 11:59 a.m. with one measly, harmless, innocent tweet, a dig at [the speaker]'s hard-to-read PowerPoint slide: hella drop shadow.

[Since I have not read anything about the speaker's response to the event, I've elided the speaker's name throughout this post.]

Parry goes on to share other examples of collective cyberbullying in other conference contexts, and notes some of the strategies employed to thwart the attacks - publishing social-media “courtesy” guidelines or publicly calling out the twecklers (i.e., cybershaming ... or perhaps reverse cybershaming). The comments on the article comprise a mostly civil and engaging discussion of a variety of related topics, including civility, engagement, protocols, preparation, propriety, mutuality, reciprocity and transparency, as well as references to positive and negative uses of backchannels at other conferences, and other recommended strategies for moderating the backchannel, e.g., an "audience ombudsman". One comment references a fascinating analysis of the HighEdWeb Great Keynote Revolt of 2009 (measuring the "snark factor" in the tweetstream on a scale of 1 to 5), and another describes a #positweet-worthy story about using Twitter to band together to replace a laptop that was stolen from an attendee. [Interestingly, while examples of #positweets abound, I couldn't find any examples of #negatweets ... that is, until I #negatweeted a link to Parry's article.]

So what is it about conferences that brings out the mob on backchannels? I've been ruminating on this - on and off - ever since reading the first account of danah's experience at Web 2.0 Expo last month. Three things I read this week helped me get a better handle on this troubling trend.

One was an article by Elizabeth Bernstein in this week's Wall Street Journal, "The Dark Side of 'Webtribution'" (defined as retribution via the Internet), which describes several examples of how spouses and intimate friends - or former spouses and formerly intimate friends (or friends of formerly intimate friends) - have used email, blogs, MySpace and/or Facebook to publicly humiliate their [former] loved ones. The article references the online disinhibition effect, which can take benign or toxic forms, and talks about how "The Internet turns us into a mob". Interestingly, though, there really aren't any examples of a mob in the article - they are all more personal, or individual, attacks - and none of them involve Twitter. I remember, with lingering indignation, a mob attack in the blogosphere a few years ago (around the time of another O'Reilly conference), but I was unable to find any such attacks in the Twitterverse ... except those (listed above) that have taken place at conferences.

The Wikipedia entry for online inhibition effect lists six components:

  • You Don't Know Me (Dissociative anonymity)
  • You Can't See Me (Invisibility)
  • See You Later (Asynchronicity)
  • It's All in My Head (Solipsistic Introjection)
  • It's Just a Game (Dissociative Imagination)
  • We're Equals (Minimizing Authority)

However, when online tools are used in shared physical spaces, they transform them into what Adriana de Souza e Silva and others call hybrid spaces. In such spaces, the first four components are not as relevant or applicable, and so the hybrid inhibition effect may only involve the last two, and I think the one that best explains the Twittermobbing at conferences is the last one.

I have attended many conferences where there are people in the audience who, at times, believe that they know as much - or more - than the speaker (and in some cases, I'm sure they do). Having a digital backchannel allows for explicit and implicit assertions of authority, and even superiority, by members of the audience. The fact that Twitter usernames and avatars can reduce or eliminate anonymity and invisibility (the first two factors above) may create a powerful disinhibition effect in such face-to-face contexts.

The laughter I witnessed 5 years ago at SCS 2004 came, in part, from a number of "A-list" bloggers - bloggers with tens or hundreds of thousands of readers (analogous to microblog "followers") - in the audience during a presentation on some of the earliest academic research into blogging. I don't recall the actual comments on the IRC backchannel there, but would not be surprised if some of the experienced bloggers were offering some contrasting perspectives. I was not present at any of the more recent conferences listed above, but I would not be surprised if some of the attacks were variations on this theme.

The second thing I read this week that helped shed some light on this behavior was the last chapter, appropriately called "The Downside", in the Consequential Strangers book I reviewed in my last post. The authors make several references to a paper by Ronald S. Burt, Bandwidth and Echo: Trust, Information, and Gossip in Social Networks, which shows that shared dislikes (negative information and attitudes about specific people or things) is more conducive to group bonding than shared likes (positive information and attitudes), and so gossiping about, say, someone presenting at a conference can enhance cohesiveness of the audience.

The third relevant item I read this week was another blog post about the Web 2.0 Expo cyberlynching, in which Michele Riggin-Ransom references the term harshtags to reflect the way "people start tagging their related tweets with something insulting in order to get it to trend". She goes on say:

There’s something seriously wrong about a thousand people who won’t talk to each other in the hallways bonding together to silently mock presenters, who have taken time, energy and in many cases personal expense to come speak. ... this livestream Twitterbashing (Tweckling?) seems a bit like the bully in my Spanish class who used to reflect a circle of sunlight glinting off his watch onto the teacher’s bottom while she was writing on the chalkboard just to make the class laugh.

I'm going to resist the urge to speculate further on the personality profiles of the mockers, though I am interested in learning more about the personality and social psychology that underlies such behavior. I would also be interested in learning more about the Twitter profiles of mob members (e.g., # of followers, # of followees, # of tweets and the photorealism of their avatars), and their Twitter influence (an ill-defined metric for which there seems to be a new tool deployed every day). But I'm going to leave those topics for another post.

However I can't resist the urge to end off with a cartoon that danah recently tweeted about. In the commentary on his cartoon, Tweuology, Rob Cottingham notes:

There’s a fascinating renegotiation going on between audiences and speakers. Twitter and backchannels are part of it, but I suspect something deeper is afoot. There’s a revolution sweeping all forms of communication – ask anyone who works for a newspaper or a record company – and maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that even something as seemingly timeless as public speaking would be affected.

But that doesn’t mean we have to be jerks about it.



Coffee, conversation and continuing education at Kirkland Zoka

Kirkland Zoka I've met with good friends at Kirkland Zoka the past two mornings, enjoying great coffee, stimulating conversations of considerable breadth and depth, and a continuing education about a range of topics, including social media, Foucault and social dialogue, the challenges of living without a goal (or, at least, living without attachments) ... and the finer points of fine coffee.

Friday morning, I met with Jason Simon, a connoisseur and cultivator of caffeinated conversations, to talk about the ways that coffeehouses are using social media (e.g., Jason has been tracking how coffeehouses are using Twitter, the resurgence of controversy about WiFi use in coffeehouses and a collection of photos of conversations at coffeehouses), as well as the ways that social media is affecting - or might affect - conversations in coffeehouses (which was one of the design goals behind CoCollage).

Four-cone pour-over station Upon my arrival at Zoka, I was happy to reconnect with Matt, one of the baristas who had been working at Trabant when we initiated our collaboration on the initial deployment of CoCollage (and who has one of the coolest pair of forearm tattoos I've ever encountered). After telling Matt that I was interested in trying something with full body - subtlety is nearly always lost on me, and I need big, bold flavors in anything I drink to really have [positive] impact - he suggested the Kenya Kirimara, and I followed his recommendation, enjoying a great cup via their ceramic Melitta "pour-over" system (pictured left).

A stacked pair of ambient displays @ Kirkland Zoka While I was waiting for the coffee to be prepared, I became intrigued with the pair of 37 inch LCD displays showing dynamic patterns and sequences of Zoka-related photos on the southeastern wall of the coffeehouse. The upper display shows a scrolling collage of photos while the lower display shows a single photo at a time. As far as I can tell, all the photos are of, about or by Zoka, its owners and staff, the coffee they serve there and the places / plantations from which the coffee is sourced.

Although I was mostly engaged in the conversation(s) with Jason while I was there, my long association with CoCollage led me to occasionally monitor the level of attention and engagement the displays were attracting. It seemed to me that they were less engaging than the CoCollage displays - which also show a collage of photos (but the photos are contributed by customers, not just owners / staff, and their selection is influenced by who is in the coffeehouse at any given time) - but of course I'm [still] biased. I suspect part of the difference - in addition to who is contributing photos and whether / when they are shown - is due to the size and placement of the displays. The 37" LCDs (vs. 50" plasma displays used for CoCollage), coupled with the position in a corner of the coffeehouse some distance away from where most people sit, makes them somewhat less noticeable than most of the CoCollage installations. Interestingly, I had talked with the manager of the Greenlake Zoka (or "Original Zoka") and University Zoka about a CoCollage installation, but there was no interest in having any kind of display in those two coffeehouses. A recent post on the Zoka blog - Zoka Getting "With It" - which mentions the Zoka Facebook page and Twitter account (@zokacoffee) - suggests that they may be becoming more engaged in / through social media ... at least online.

Kirkland Zoka This morning, I returned to Kirkland Zoka to meet another friend, Mike Buckley, founder of Inventcor, which produces, among other things, a water tracker bottle (for monitoring daily personal hydration), to talk about personal, professional and philosophical issues not as closely related to coffeehouses, per se. The coffee house was much more crowded this morning (a Saturday) than yesterday morning, and I noticed that the community table had a much larger pool of people gathered around it today. The sun was shining for much of our time there, and the large, open windows, light colors and strategically positioned mirrors helped accentuate the delightful, but increasingly rare, absence of clouds today (though, alas, it did cloud over after a while).

After a post-coffee walk along the lakeside with Mike, I realized I was still undercaffeinated, and so after he left, I went back into Zoka for a second cup. Having recently started reading Everything But the Coffee: Learning About America from Starbucks, by Bryant Simon (no relation to Jason) - in which the author complains, among other things, about how customers at Starbucks stores tend to either keep to themselves, talk only with people they come in with, or talk with people they go there to meet, I was eager to spend some time there observing conversations (rather than participating in them). Although there seemed to be a few examples of spontaneous / serendipitous conversations among people waiting in line - perhaps due to the relatively inefficient layout of the counter (order on the left, pay on the right, go back to the left to pick up your drink, with the food display case in the middle) - I can't say I saw any more such conversations taking place at Zoka than I've seen (or Bryant Simon reports seeing) at Starbucks ... and despite Simon's critiques, I've had some pretty amazing coffee and conversation experiences at Starbucks.

Keith Hampton and Neeti Gupta, in their fascinating study of Community and social interaction in the wireless city: wi-fi use in public and semi-public spaces, distinguish between true mobiles - who do not want to interact with others in the coffee shop (other than people they arrive with or meet there), and [so] often use laptops as "portable interaction shields" and/or mobile phones as "legitimate momentary diversions" -  and placemakers -  coffee shop customers who desire and seek out serendipitous social interactions. Hampton and Gupta studied both independent coffee houses and Starbucks coffee houses in two cities - Seattle and Boston - and did not report any significant differences between the types or numbers of conversations - or the relative proportions of true mobiles and placemakers - at either kind of place [Correction: they did note more true mobiles at Starbucks and more placemakers at independent coffee houses]. I plan to post another entry about the Bryant Simon book - and the Hampton & Gupta paper - once I'm done with the book ... and, perhaps, conducted a few more first-hand observations of Starbucks and third wave coffeehouses like Zoka.

Meanwhile, returning to first-hand experiences of coffee and conversations, in addition to observing conversations at Zoka, I was also eager to expand my coffee horizons. I asked Conner, another barista there (who also looks familiar ... perhaps he also worked at Trabant), for a recommendation of another full-bodied coffee to try. He told me they had Ethiopian Sidamo, and asked me if I wanted some of the old batch or some of the more recently roasted batch. I asked him which was bigger and bolder, and he said the older one probably had an edge in that regard, so that's what I ordered.

Ethiopia Sidamo, old (natural) and new (washed) As it turned out, although my plan was to only observe conversations, I become a participant in yet another engaging discussion. Conner went on break shortly after serving up my coffee, and sat down next to me for a bite to eat ... and didn't get as much of a break as he'd probably anticipated. I asked him what the difference was between the old and new batches of Ethiopian Sidamo. He explained that the older batch was "natural", i.e., after picking the coffee cherries, the cherries are laid out to dry before extracting the beans from their casing. This allows more of the fruit of the cherries to be imparted (infused?) into the beans, and increases the acidity. The newer batch was "washed", i.e., the beans are removed from the cherries - and washed - soon after picking, before they are allowed to dry. [I've since found a blog post with information about "washed" and "natural" Ethiopia Sidamo.] Conner asked me if I could taste any blueberry in the cup I was drinking, and I had to admit that I could ... continuing an educational process that started with a Clover tasting at Trabant over a year ago. There was only a handful of beans left from that batch, and he kindly put them in a bag for me to take home with me (see photo to the right). I now wish I'd asked for a cup of the new batch, to try them side-by-side, but then I probably would have been overcaffeinated.

Perhaps I'll go back soon to pick up a bag of the newer batch ... in any case, I'll definitely be going back there, as Kirkland Zoka is my new favorite independent (or, perhaps more accurately, micro-chain) coffee house on the Eastside.

Interactive Displays at Disney World

As I noted in my notes from UbiComp 2009, I missed a few sessions during the last day of the conference so I could explore more of Disney World, taking advantage of my free birthday pass to look for examples of how interactive displays were used to enhance guest experiences at Epcot Center. It felt a bit odd to be spending [part of] my birthday alone at Disney World, but as I noted in my earlier post on pins, positivity and practices at Disney, I was sporting my "Happy Birthday!" button during part of the day, so although I was alone, I didn't feel [as] lonely.

I'd heard reports of an interactive game on big screens for those waiting in line for Soarin', so that's where I went first. The line was the perfect length when I arrived - I was able to walk right up to a point at which the first few of the five giant screens was visible, and the line had just started moving, so I was able to advance to the edge of that first screen before the line stopped.

Waitin' for Soarin' The five ambient / interactive displays in line at Soarin'

The displays appear to operate in two modes: ambient and interactive. In ambient mode, each display shows a different sequence of intriguing landscape sketches, accompanied by music that I might characterize as reflective and complex.

Ambient display for the people waiting in line at Soarin'

One of the interesting effects of this mode is that as the crowd enters this area, they shift from being rather boisterous and chatty into a somewhat more subdued state; the attention of many of the people in the queue seems to shift from their family and friends to the images and music. After about five minutes of ambient mode, the displays shift to interactive mode, wherein the people in line are explicitly invited to play a game, in this case, "Experience the Land".

Ready to Play? (in line @ Soarin') Experience the Land @ Soarin'

In each game, the projected images are influenced by the actions of the people in line. According to a report on Soarin' in AllEars, the interaction involves a combination of motion detection and heat sensing (another report alludes to infrared as the underlying technology). Silhouettes of [parts of] people in line are projected onto the screen, and as they move around and/or wave their arms, they affect the story unfolding on the screen.

In the first game, "Form the Land" (shown on the left below), people's movements help to "push up" regions of virtual landscape into virtual mountains; I kept using my hand in a pushing up motion, but seemed to reach plateaus in some of the formations. In the second game, "Grow the Seeds" (on the right), waving physical hands over virtual seeds helped sprout the seeds into virtual plants; I suspect that additional waving helps grow the plants, and I was biding my time between sprouting new plants - requiring jumping to get the ones high up (perhaps these are within standing reach of people in line that are farthest from the screen, and so I may have been hogging the ball, so to speak) - and tending to existing plants, but at one point I inadvertently hit the person next to me, so I curbed my enthusiasm a bit after that.

Form the Land @ Soarin' Grow the Seeds @ Soarin'

The entire two-game sequence lasted about 5 minutes - about the time it takes for the Soarin' ride itself - and then I was in line for another 5 minutes of ambient mode before reaching the final destination, so I suspect that the queue is designed to toggle between ambient and interactive modes every 5 minutes, and if you have to wait 10 minutes or more, you get to try the game at least once.

I have since read an Orlando Sentinel blog post - Soarin' queue games a hit - which references "a bird game" so I suspect that there are a set of different games that are - or have been - provided for those waiting in line for Soarin' (and a more recent report in the Orlando Sentinel - Wait may be more fun at Disney's Space Mountain - suggests that an "interactive queue" and "audio-visual upgrades" may be included in the rehabilitation of that ride).

Update, 2009-11-11, via BoingBoing: a new post on Disney Parks Blog about "Walt Disney World’s Classic Space Mountain Attraction to Reopen with a Few Surprises" includes some updates and photos, from which excerpts are included below.

Passengers will be able to immerse themselves in unique game play as they prepare for blast off, becoming part of the space station adventure. During a recent walkthrough, we deflected asteroids to keep runways clear as part of the story.

The interactive experiences are based on duties you’d find on board a long-traveling space craft, according to Walt Disney Imagineering Senior Show Designer Alex Wright. Each game lasts about 90 seconds with a 90-second interval and the games can accommodate 86 players at one time.


Had I known about the possibility of multiple games at the time of my visit, I would have looped back through, just to see whether I could try another game. The post describes some group dynamics - "many people were yelling, in unison, 'lean left!' and 'lean right!' while trying to lead the bird through the forest" - that I did not observe in the Experience the Land games, so if I were to go through the queue again, I would also explore more of the collective dimensions of play in this context. There is a debate in the comments on that post about whether the game ultimately makes the queue move slower - i.e., whether people are so absorbed in the game that they don't move forward as the line opens up. While I was there, the timing was such that movement seemed to take place only when the game was not in play; I'm not sure whether this was a game feature added after the initial roll-out or was part of the original design.

More coffee, content and community One of the most challenging dimensions of designing large display applications for public and semi-public places is achieving the contextually appropriate level of engagement. If the displays are too engaging, they virtually (or attentionally) take people out of the physical space, reducing "task performance" among the people in that space. If they are not sufficiently engaging, then it is not worth the time or money to deploy them. We encountered this Goldilocks dilemma - not too hot, not too cold - in the design of our CoCollage proactive display application, where our ambient visualization of photos and quotes uploaded by people in a cafe was designed to  promote awareness and conversations among those people while they were in line (and/or elsewhere in the cafe) without unduly interfering with the "task" of placing their orders when they got to the end of the line. In some cases we got it right, but in others - due to a complex combination of factors including place, placement and community in places - the display appeared to be either too engaging or not engaging enough [and before moving on, in this context, I can't help but mention that there is a 1939 Disney short film on Goldilocks and The Three Bears.]

After searching around for some other uses of displays, I decided to take a break from my field exploration in order to attend the closing keynote and post-conference UbiComp steering committee meeting back at the Disney Conference Center. Fortunately, this was within easy walking distance.

800px-Spaceship_earth When I resumed my journey at Epcot later that afternoon, the next stop was Spaceship Earth, where in this case I was more interested in the use of displays after the ride rather than before the ride. Shortly after embarking on the ride, the riders are invited to "Look up", whereupon a photo is taken of each rider in a two-person car. The ride then progresses through a series of animatronic exhibits highlighting the relentless march of technological progress. During the ride, and at the end - while the car is backed down into the catchment area - each rider is asked a series of questions; I'll include the questions below, with my responses highlighted in italic, and links to photos I snapped of the kiosk when the questions were shown:

I was then shown my freshly semi-customized video from the future, which given the constraints imposed by the questions and multiple-choice responses, represents an example of user-influenced content vs. user-generated content. A further constraint I encountered is that the Disney site does not permit embedding, so I downloaded the video, uploaded it to YouTube and embedded it below. I'll also include a transcript of the narration.

Interestingly, in this context, the video includes a number of displays, including a portable medical scanner, a portable smart health card reader / display (shown in the keyframe for the video below) and a wearable cast-mounted display for monitoring / expediting the healing of a broken arm mended by a microscopic (or perhaps nanoscopic) robotic team. 

Your Future: Portable Medical Scanner Your Future: Portable Health Card Reader / Display Your Future: Mending Monitor

I don't know how the video might have been affected had there been another real passenger in the car providing input to the questions above, but my assigned virtual co-star in the movie appears to bear the brunt of the health problems we encounter during the episode.

Welcome to the future ... or should I say _your_ future?

Here in your future, it'll be more fun than ever to enjoy nature in the great outdoors. But even in a perfect world, accidents do happen. [video shows skiers on an icepacked ledge that breaks up falling down a mountain]

Don't worry, with your take charge attitude, you are prepared. A portable medical scanner analyzes the situation. Fortunately, your entire history is with you at all times on a smart card.

Your first day might include nanotechnology, a microscopic robotic team that fixes the injury from the inside.

And while you relax at home with a cup of soup, technology speeds recovery time. In no time at all, you're back on your feet. Uh-oh [video shows another icepack breaking up under skis]. Fortunately, in the future, help is never far away.

The end ... or should I say the beginning ... of your future.

Recent riders - and their hometowns - on Spaceship Earth After disembarking from the ride, I entered an area dominated by a large spherical display of the earth, with photos of the people emerging from the ride momentarily superimposed on the display, after which the photos are whisked away to the points on the earth representing their hometowns. Surrounding the globe are a collection of large rectangular displays showing the keyframes for the semi-customized videos that had been produced by recent riders, and a set of kiosks at which riders can find their videos from the future and send them to themselves - and one other person - via email. I found myself wishing I could have simply swiped my magnetically-striped Disney card rather than having to manually enter my email address on the touch-screen (and waiting in line in order to even get to a free kiosk). I'll include a Flickr slideshow of the sequence of events - and displays - encountered at Spaceship Earth below.

One of the interactive games I heard about, but did not experience first-hand, was the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure, in which players use their "super-secret Kimmunicators—interactive, handheld, cell-phone-like devices that help maneuver agents through their mission". This was a game that encompasses several screens - the screens on the hand-held devices, as well as larger screens at different pavilions around Epcot.

A "fiesta" margaritaOne reason I didn't try it is because I heard several reports about the game being boring (for adults) and crassly commercial - many of the adventures are designed to lure the agents into specific areas of the shopping areas of the various pavilions. The other reason was that, it being my birthday, I wanted to take some time off from my field study to simply enjoy other dimensions of the guest experience, such as the warm weather, a beautiful sunset - a more naturalistic, but less interactive, public display of sorts - and the tasty margaritas I discovered around the Mexican pavilion.

Update, 23 October 2009:

Wired's GadgetLab published a short article - and video - on Interactive Art Pushes Boundaries of Viewer, Artist, highlighting the work of Camille Utterback, which seems closely related to the Soarin' game:

Digital artist Camille Utterback makes installations that combine cameras, projectors and custom software to create interactive, playful paintings.

Stand in front of her work, and you’ll soon be waving your arms, walking around, spinning or hopping to figure out how your movements get translated into the abstract, colorful strokes on the screen.


Digital Cities 6

I finally got a chance to attend a workshop in the Digital Cities series last week at the 4th International Conference on Communities and Technologies (C&T 2009) at Penn State University. Digital Cities 6, organized by Marcus Foth, Laura Forlano and Hiromitsu Hattori, focused on the theme of "Concepts, Methods and Systems of Urban Informatics". The participants and projects represented a broad range of ways that digital technology can enhance people, places, events and other things in cities. [I've posted some photos from the workshop on Flickr, with the "digitalcities6" tag.]

Martijn de Waal started things off with "The Urban ideals of Location Based Media", positing the question "What is a city?" and noting some of its dimensions:

  • a bunch of infrastructure
  • a cultural system
  • a community
  • a polity

Among the themes that resonated most strongly with me was his assertion that location based media is not [necessarily] "anywhere, anytime, anything" but here and now, his suggestion that we shift our attention from placelessness to situatedness, his invitation to reconsider the prioritization of efficiency over all else, and his distinction between casting people as citizens vs. consumers. Martijn has [also] posted a set of excellent notes from the workshop.

CO2nfessionCO2mittment-small Jonas Fritsch presented "Between Engagement and Information: Experimental Urban Media in the Climate Change Debate" [slides], which included a number of interesting projects designed to promote civic engagement (a recurring theme throughout the workshop and the conference). One project was CO2nfession / CO2mmitment (photo on right), in which citizens could enter a booth at a climate change event in Aarhus to videorecord both a confession of their sins of CO2 emissions and seek absolution through a commitment to reducing their future emissions. These CO2nfessions and CO2mmitments were then shown on displays at the event venue. Another project was Climate on the Wall, inspired by magnetic poetry (and perhaps Tetris), in which words and phrases associated with climate change were projected on the side of a building, and people could physically interact with those projected terms to form statements reflecting their views on climate change via their movement at or near the wall.

Jon Lukens was next up, talking about "Seeing the City through Machines: Non-anthropocentric Design and Youth Robotics", in which he described a workshop to get youth involved in the design of urban robots to encourage them to think critically about different (non-human) relations to the environment helps reveal new design considerations - seeing the city through new [robotic] eyes. The students were given the task of designing a robot to participate in an infrastructure scavenger hunt in an urban area. One group of students produced a video called "Curiosity Killed the Camera", but unfortunately, I can't find it anywhere. Interestingly, while encouraging students to think more critically about themselves and their bodies as they exist in space, one student asked "am I a robot?" I found myself thinking about Stelarc as representing a rather extreme position on the spectrum of reconsidering selves, bodies and spaces.

CreateClub-Jelly-PaneraBread-KansasCity-LauraForlano Laura Forlano shared some ideas about "Building the Open Source City: Changing Work Environments for Collaboration and Innovation" (many of which are described in greater detail in a great blog post about Work and the Open Source City). She motivated this theme, in part, via an experience at Panera Bread in Kansas City, where she stumbled upon some people working at a table with a sign saying "Create Club" and "Jelly" (see photo to the right), the latter of which has become a meme [tag] for casual coworking - people working on different things coming together to work in the company of others at homes or third places. Laura talked about NEWworkCITY, a slightly more formal comunity coworking space (reminding me of Office Nomads here in Seattle), noting that a natural tension arises in such such spaces “for like-minded people” between homogeneity and heterogeneity. She also presented Project BREAKOUT!, part of the Toward the Sentient City exhibition planned for September 2009, in which people will be invited to bring their work out of their offices and into public spaces around New York City (such as parks), in what sounded to me a bit like a flash work mob. She finished off with a brief description of UrbanOmnibus, a project of the Architectural League of New York that seeks engagement from a broad range of urban stakeholders in the design and redesign of urban spaces.

I presented "Ambient Informatics in Urban Cafés", an overview of CoCollage, our place-based social networking application that uses a large computer display to show a dynamic collage of photos and quotes uploaded to a special web site by patrons and staff in a café or other community-oriented place. Rather than writing more about it here, I'll simply embed the slides I used for the presentation from SlideShare ... and encourage any readers who were also at the workshop (or the conference) to post their slides, with the "cct2009" tag (I also used the "digitalcities6" tag for my workshop slides). [Further details can be found in our main conference paper, "Supporting Community in Third Places with Situated Social Software".]

Marcus Foth motivated his talk on "Urban Futures: A Performance-based Approach to Residential Design" by noting a frequent problem in the urban planning process (which UrbanOmnibus is presumably also trying to address): citizens share ideas with urban planners, but they never get any feedback, i.e., they rarely know whether any of their input has any impact on the planning. Marcus and his colleagues created some new ways to elicit ideas from prospective citizens (or denizens) of a future master-planned community about what their ideal house would look and feel like. In an open space, participants were invited to close their eyes, imagine and act out (perform) how they would enter their home, and then record their ideas using crayons and paper on the floor. The outcome is a set of personas representing the kinds of people who might like to live in the planned community. The approach strikes me as an interesting mashup between the TrueHome approach of walkthroughs and interviews to understand personalities in the process of designing a home (which I first read about in Sam Gosling's book, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, and I think some of his other insights into possessions, perceptions projections and personalities would also be applicable), and the Focus Troupe approach of using drama and theatre to elicit ideas for new consumer products.

Ross Harley - who traveled all the way from the University of New South Wales, Australia, just to attend the one-day workshop (and not the rest of the conference) - presented "Contactless Contact: Reconceptualising Radio and Architecture in the Wireless City". Ross showed some videos visualizing traveling through airspace in and around airports developed as part of the Aviopolis project. He and his colleagues are now shifting from studying airports to studying air, applying what ethermapping and other methods from experimental geography to explore the politics and aesthetics of invisible radio frequency networks - and their "intersecting thresholds of intensities" (my favorite new term from the workshop) - in and around cities. He cited the Touch Project, which explores potential connections between RFID-enabled mobile phones and [other] physical things, and a paper by Jerry Kang on Pervasive Computing: Embedding the Public Sphere, as interesting related examples of this kind of work ... and I found myself thinking about one of my favorite [dystopian] videos depicting a scenario in which the [RF] airwaves might be mined and mapped in interesting ways: The Catalogue, by Chris Oakley:

SenseableCity-TheWorldInsideNewYork Clio Andris presented the keynote, "Urban Informatics in a Digital Revolution", a catalog of projects at the Senseable City Lab at MIT, on behalf of her advisor, Carlo Ratti, who was unable to attend. There were way too many projects presented in this whirlwind tour to describe them here - all can be found at the Senseable City Lab home page - so I'll just mention a few here. One was the New York Talk Exchange, which includes visualizations on varying scales of the different places to which people in New York make phone calls (proxies for the web of the connections and relationships of New Yorkers). The photo on the right is one such visualization, The World Inside New York, representing the connections made from different neighborhoods within New York to different countries around the world. Clio talked about an extension of this work that is / will be applying graph theory to mobile phone calls made around the city (though it may be a city in UK) as a way of approximating the demarcation of the city boundaries.

TrashTrack-StarbucksCup StarbucksCupsAtEtech2007 Another project, Trash | Track, allows users (citizens?) to attach an active RFID tracking device to an article of trash, and then be able to track where that trash goes. The first example is a Starbucks cup that has been tracked in Seattle. The project reminds me of an automated version of Where's George, where dollar bills are tracked via serial numbers manually entered into a web site. There is a blog associated with the project, and there is a set of photos on Flickr, but I haven't been able to find anywhere that people can track any items in real-time. The photo to the left is from one of the recent blog entries, which represents the trajectory of the aforementioned Starbucks cup (as of, approximately, 20 May 2009) ... and the photo to the right is one I took two years at the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies conference (ETech 2007) ... and I'm thinking that ETech 2010 might be a promising venue for a demonstration of Trash | Track. Meanwhile, I'd love to find out how I can participate in Trash | Track locally.

The presentation concluded with some historical context:

  • The agricultural revolution allowed us to harvest food to achieve sustainability
  • The industrial revolution allowed us to harvest human innovation and capitol labor resources
  • The digital revolution is allowing us to harvest information about all agents in the built environment, seen and unseen

I'm not entirely comfortable with the framing of these developments in terms of harvesting - which could be cast as a form of corporatist exploitation and extraction that Doug Rushkoff talks about in his recent book, Life, Inc. - but the presentation achieved its goal of being relevant, stimulating and provocative.

Ubidisplays-toripolliisi_small Hannu Kukka presented "A Digital City Needs Open Pervasive Computing Infrastructure", providing an overview of the UrBan Interactions (UBI) program at the University of Oulu in Finland. The goal of the program is to impose a visible and lasting change on the Finnish society (as opposed, or perhaps in addition, to publishing papers about the work). The program is deploying a network of UBI displays - large interactive displays with cameras, NFC / RFID, Bluetooth, wireless LAN and touch-screen capabilities - throughout Oulu. Twelve displays will be deployed - 6 indoor and 6 outdoor (the outdoor display installations will have two screens facing opposite directions). The displays will include user-generated media as well as local information and advertising. They are developing and plan to release open source toolkits for mobile phones that will enable users to interact with the displays, and to develop their own applications for use on / with the displays. Among the recent publications from the project is "Leveraging social networking services to encourage interaction in public spaces" from the MUM 2008 conference ... which sounds very relevant to our current project as well as some earlier work on "The Context, Content & Community Collage: Sharing Personal Digital Media in the Physical Workplace", a paper presented at the CSCW 2008 conference (for which, of course, I posted the slides). It sounds like a very interesting and relevant project - far more ambitious than our C3 Collage project at Nokia - but unfortunately, I can't find any images or videos to include in these notes. [Update: Timo Ojala sent me some links to photos and a video; I've embedded one of the photos above, but the video is a 58MB FLV file that must be downloaded to be viewed.]

Songdo_First_World_Tower_001 Germaine Halegoua presented "The Export of Ubiquitous Place: Investigating South Korean U-cities", including some interviews she's conducted with some of the people involved in the U-City project in Seoul, South Korea (aka the Seoul Digital Media City or DMC) and the Songdo U-Life project outside of Seoul in the new Free Economic Zone (FEZ) created in Incheon. Germaine is interested in what she calls the "cultural geography of media" (another cool new term for me), investigating the places of production and places of consumption of online media. In the DMC, the effort is to integrate new media technology into an existing city (what she called "hybridity" or "coexisting combination"); in U-Life, the goal is to co-develop the technology infrastructure with other dimensions of the planning and architecture - what the developers call a "Synergy City" - and then to export the business model to other cities. A recent photo of the Sondo is included to the right; more photos and a video can be found on their master plan page. Germaine will be traveling to Korea soon, to see how these plans are developing first-hand.

Last, but not least, Andrew Wong presented "Mobile Interactions as Social Machine: Young Urban Poor at Play in Cities in Bangladesh", in which he described three genres of using mobile phones: entertainment, enlarging their social network and creative mobile use to save cost through code. Many of the practices of the young urban poor are quite interesting, but I was particularly fascinated by what he called "missed call signaling" - calling a number and hanging up, sometimes multiple times in succession, to save the cost of an answered mobile phone call. Andrew described the "regional" languages - or perhaps dialects - that have evolved over time (he used the term "hyper-localization of communication"), highlighting how shallow media can be imbued with rich meaning with the right confluence of economic, social and/or entertainment incentives. This nuanced use of signaling reminded me of what was (for me), the highlight of the last Communities and Technologies conference (C&T 2007): Judith Donath's keynote on "Standing on Boxes: Signaling Costs and Benefits in Online and Offline Social Network".

I'll post some notes from the main conference in the near future. For now, I'll end off by noting that one of the many interesting serendipitous discoveries I made in searching around for links relating to the workshop is, unfortunately, a missed opportunity: a relevant project being conducted at Penn State Public Broadcasting - The Geospatial Revolution ("The location of anything is becoming everything"). Unfortunately, I did not see any members from that team at the workshop, despite its being held at the PSU campus ... perhaps we'll see them at the next Digital Cities workshop at C&T 2011, in Queensland, Australia (being chaired by Marcus Foth, one of he organizers of the Digital Cities workshop this year).

Many thanks to the organizers - and other participants - for co-creating such an engaging event!

The Community Collage at Trabant: a Proactive Display in a Cafe

CoCoAtTrabant We recently deployed a proactive display application at the Trabant Coffee & Chai Lounge in the University District of Seattle. The Community Collage (or CoCo) shows a dynamic collage of content drawn from a pool of photos and quotes uploaded to the CoCo web site by customers and staff. When customers visit the café and use their Trabant loyalty cards, their content gets a higher priority to be selected for insertion into the collage. Anyone can visit the web site to view a chronological stream of content that has been shown on the collage, but only registered users can vote or comment on other users' content, post messages on the site's MessageBoard, or send short text messages directly to the CoCo display.

Sample sketchbook page at TrabantThe owners of Trabant, Tatiana Becker and Mike Gregory, along with the baristas and customers at the coffeehouse, have co-curated a creative community space, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to work with all of them. The art on the walls and the music being performed on Mondays (open mic) and weekends reflects some of this creativity, but one of the strongest markers of the creativity that flows through the space is the sketchbooks Trabant has put out on tables in the coffeehouse that various people have contributed to over the years. The sketchbooks reveal a wide variety of depth and breadth of individual personal introspection and community-oriented social, political and artistic commentary - as well as conversations and connections being formed as people riff on each others' words and pictures across space (pages) and time ... a form of reciprocal self-disclosure. One of our goals in deploying CoCo at Trabant is to offer a new channel for expressing this creativity and revelation to all members of the community.

CoCo-Trabant-CommunityCard Given our goal of situated or place-specific community development, we are restricting the population of users to people who visit Trabant. We have printed up business cards (shown to the left) - or perhaps we should call them "community cards" - with a link to our web page, and an invitation code on the back. Customers can pick one up when they visit, and either create an online profile for themselves during their stay (Trabant offers free WiFi - in addition to great coffee) or at a different time or place. The profile enables users to upload photos explicitly, and/or provide a link to their Flickr photo sharing account (if they have one), in which case their Flickr photos are uploaded implicitly. They can also add any number of inspiring quotes to their profile.

TrabantCoCoGiftCard If CoCo users have a Trabant loyalty card (shown to the right) they can enter the code on the back of that card to their profile, so that whenever they use their loyalty card at Trabant, their profile content will be featured more prominently on the collage. The loyalty card is not required: the collage draws content from all users, but it will give priority to those who have - and use - the loyalty cards. And as noted above, anyone can view the content being shared by members of the Trabant community - on the display or on the web site - but only members who have created profiles can vote or comment on the content, or send messages to the MessageBoard or the display itself.

Introducing a new generation of proactive displaysTicket2Talk-UbiComp2003 We call CoCo a proactive display because it senses and responds to the people in a physical space (in this case, a coffeehouse). Although it has an interactive element - people can indirectly interact with the display via the web site - it's primary mode of operation is proactive, showing content relating to people it senses nearby. Earlier examples of proactive displays have involved the use of infrared badges, RFID tags and Bluetooth phones for sensing people, and have been situated in workplace or conference contexts. This is the first time we've deployed a proactive display "in the wild" - a place where you don't need an ID badge to enter, and where the community (and, presumably, the content) is considerably more diverse. We are currently using the Trabant loyalty cards for sensing who is in the coffeehouse, and we currently require an explicit card swipe by the user, but we plan to incorporate other sensing capabilities and explore better integration with existing practices and systems as we progressively refine the design and development of the application.

CoCo is not the first system designed to augment the social space of a cafe. My friend Elizabeth Churchill and her former colleagues at FXPAL created the eyeCanvas, a large touchscreen display that showed content relating to the Canvas Gallery in San Francisco, the place in which it was deployed for a 4-week pilot, and allowed visitors to contribute "finger scribbles" they could draw on a virtual canvas shown on the display. While the Canvas Gallery owners had a profile, of sorts, other users did not have persistent profiles or the ability to upload images (they could, of course, draw images or handwrite quotes to share); I believe this limitation reflected the preferences of the owners rather than the system designers ... and am glad the owners we're working with are so open about enabling other people to share their stuff, on paper (sketchbooks) and now on the big screen.

Another friend, Sean Savage, created PlaceSite, a place-based community web application that enabled people in a cafe to create and share profiles. Unlike CoCo, PlaceSite did not have an associated large display, and the system was more conservative with respect to privacy and did not allow people outside the cafe to access profiles. PlaceSite was piloted at a few coffeehouses in the San Francisco Bay area in 2005 and 2006, but it's interesting - one might even say synchronistic - to note that Sean started formulating the early designs and site selection criteria for the system during his internship with me at Intel Research Seattle in the summer of 2004. He'd even identified Trabant as a promising site, but for a variety of reasons I've alluded to elsewhere, the local Intel lab was not a conducive place to continue pursuing this kind of work, and he decided to postpone deployment until he returned home to the UC Berkeley iSchool, where he was finishing up his master's degree.

Oldenburg-GreatGoodPlace CoCo, eyeCanvas and PlaceSite are all examples of what we might call situated social software - participatory systems designed to reflect the rich digital lives of the people, by the people and for the people in a shared physical space, and [thereby] to promote conversation, connection and community in a quintessential third place. Unlike mobile social software, which enables people to use their mobile phones to maintain connections with their remote friends regardless of time and place, our goal is to use technology to help people establish new connections - or improve existing ones - with the people with whom they are sharing time and space. A quote by Will Rogers captures the essence of this goal:

A stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet.

Many coffeehouses offer wireless Internet (WiFi) access, which enables people to maintain remote connections to their friends in online social networks such as MySpace and Facebook via their WiFi-enabled laptop computers or smartphones. While these online communities offer great value, the cost of maintaining connection with virtual communities is the consequent disconnection with the physical community. Perhaps this is a new variation on Timothy Leary's famous exhortation, "turn on, tune in, drop out": people turn on their laptops, tune in to their online social networks and virtually drop out of contact with the people, places and things around them in physical space.

James Katz offered a great quote in "The New Oases", a recent article in The Economist, describing the impact of WiFi on some of the coffeehouses that offer it: "physically inhabited but psychologically evacuated". Three years ago, I - and others - wrote about the costs and benefits of WiFi use in coffeehouses, triggered by a report that another local coffeehouse - Victrola - had decided to turn off the WiFi on weekends to encourage people to tune in to the people and other things physically present in the place. Trabant offers full-time WiFi, and while we don't want to prevent people from connecting to their virtual communities or compel them to engage with people in the physical coffeehouse - ambience, glanceability and plausible ignoreability are three important design criteria for the collage, to ensure that coffeehouse visitors can [still] enjoy their aloneness together - we want to offer new opportunities to connect with their proximate community.

I've been spending a great deal of time at Trabant lately, and although I spend some of that time virtually tunneling out through the WiFi, CoCo has already helped me learn new things about - and engage in conversations with - the owners, baristas and other customers ... including my creative colleagues on the Strands Labs Seattle team (three of whom - Richie, Shelly and Yogi - are shown in the photo at the top ... and all of whom are, I should note, primarily responsible for the design, development and deployment of CoCo ... I'm just the "front man"). The mission of Strands is to help people discover things they like and didn't know about; CoCo represents a physicalization of this mission, migrating from the online to the offline world(s). We hope that other members of the Trabant community will find that CoCo helps them discover delightful new dimensions of the people, places and things around them!

[Update, June 2009: we've published a paper - "Supporting Community in Third Places with Situated Social Software" - and gave an associated presentation (embedded below) on the system, now called CoCollage, at the 4th International Conference on Communities and Technologies (C&T 2009). Unfortunately, while CoCollage is no longer deployed at Trabant, it can be found in over 20 other venues around Seattle.]

Recommender Systems in Retail Stores: Bridging the Gaps between eCommerce and Physical Shopping

Advertising Age posted an article yesterday on Olay Translates Killer Online App to Retail Aisles, describing some recent trial deployments of special kiosks in physical stores that give shoppers access to online recommender systems. These systems have access to online representations of offline inventories - or, at least, product lines typically carried - in the stores, and help bring some of the advantages of electronic commerce (e.g., more detailed information and personalized recommendations on products) to bricks and mortar stores.

Shoppers - online and offline - often suffer from the paradox of choice: a range of options so vast that it can feel overwhelming (e.g., the "250 varieties of cookies, 75 iced teas, 230 soups, 175 salad dressings, 275 cereals and 40 toothpastes" that Barry Schwartz mentions in his TED presentation on the topic) and result in low customer satisfaction, regardless of which option is selected. Recommender systems help people navigate broad ranges of options in the digital world, but without the assistance of a salesperson, there has been little help for shoppers in physical stores ... until recently.

For the growing number of consumers who prefer the online experience to traditional shopping, the ease of finding products and getting recommendations clearly is a draw, said Carter Cast. Mr. Cast, a former CEO of and head of strategy for Wal-Mart Stores in the U.S., became CEO of fledgling specialty online retailer Netshops late last year.

Because of expectations created by web shopping, consumers increasingly expect offline stores to have the goods they want and make them easy to find, Mr. Cast said. "So the ante is raised in the physical world."

In an effort to meet these expectations, Procter & Gamble has developed and deployed a version of their popular Olay For You online recommender system (tag line: "a little about Olay, a lot about you") that bridges the gap between the wealth of online personalized information and the experience of customers in offline WalMart stores. In either case - visiting the web site or at a WalMart kiosk - users characterize their general wants and needs, selecting from among options such as

  • I want to see a visible improvement in my skin
  • I'm happy with my skin but want to help it be the best it can be
  • I want to look good for a special occasion
  • I want to keep up with the latest skin care products

and then progressively reveal more specifics about themselves (e.g., their age, their skin type and color, whether they are experiencing hormonal changes, and other lifestyle issues such as "not enough 'me' time"), until the system recommends a skin care product that is deemed likely to be right for them. Screenshots of my profile and recommended Olay products can be seen below.



The strictly online version offers the capability of optionally remembering the user's profile (associated with their email address); it's not clear from the article whether or how the kiosk version, designed by Talk Me Into It ("GPS for the overwhelmed buyer") allows this, nor whether it allows offline shoppers to access their previously created online profiles at the kiosks, nor even whether the system has real-time access to the store's inventory. And, of course, it remains to be seen how willing customers will be to reveal some of the personal details the online recommender system asks when they are interacting with the system in a public setting like a retail store aisle.

Another system mentioned in the article is the Search Engine in the StoreTM developed by Evincii. The description of the system on Evincii's web site articulates a rather comprehensive value roposition:

Evincii's in-store search engine recommends precise and relevant products to consumers in brick-and-mortar and online stores. Our network delivers an interactive, targeted, search-based platform at the point of decision with proven, category-wide and brand-specific sales lift. Shoppers receive personalized advice in seconds. Retailers get happy customers, improved sales efficiency, and increased margins. Product manufacturers get the opportunity to present their products to individual shoppers just before the point of purchase.

EvinciipharmassistadageAccording to the article, one Evincii kiosk system, which I believe is [cleverly] named "PharmAssist", has been deployed in Longs Drugs stores in California (Evincii is headquartered in Mountain View) since 2006, and includes targeted advertising as part of their search capability:

Johnson & Johnson is an initial advertiser on the system, which allows advertisers to place ads similar to online display ads, including video, around search results.

But like Google or other search engines, Evincii looks to return "organic" results only based on the criteria shoppers input, such as their symptoms, said Charles Koo, CEO of the private-equity-backed venture. Then, once they've selected a product, the kiosk helps them locate it on the shelf.

I don't know anything about the full range of advertising available for inclusion with "organic" search results, but I find myself musing about how Longs' customers might respond to video advertisements for  "sensitive" products such as Trojan condoms or Ex-lax ... especially if the advertisements include an audio component. The AdAge article also expresses some skepticism.

Mr. Koo, however, said Evincii's research at Longs indicates that 15% to 18% of visitors to OTC-drug departments use the kiosks, numbers similar to those that ComScore found last year of consumers who use online search to research package goods. Stores using the kiosks, he said, had category sales lifts of 3% to 6%.

My observations and judgments are markedly different from those shared by Evincii. Although I don't recall visiting a Longs Drugs store in California during the last two years, I'm reminded of how annoying I found a kiosk deployed at another drug store - I think it was a Walgreens - on El Camino Real in Palo Alto. Whenever anyone got near, the kiosk would loudly offer "Can I help you find something?". While I was there waiting for a prescription to be filled, about a year ago, I informally observed the kiosk for about 15 minutes - from a safe distance - and while I heard the audio offer of assistance at least a dozen times, no one stopped to take advantage of the offer and interact with the kiosk ... and I wondered how many other customers, like me, avoided that section of the aisle like the plague.

Despite having some reservations about some of the examples reported in the AdAge article, I do think that bridging the gaps between online [commerce] and offline [shopping] holds great promise in general. The art - and science - is to design the bridges in a way that offers compelling value to all stakeholders, and to situate them in the kinds of spaces where that value can best be realized.

[Update, 2008-06-05]

I received an email from a reader with more information about the OlayForYou system and the kiosks deployed in stores. The reader would prefer not to be identified, but is willing to permit me to share the information from the email:

  • The OlayForYou system does not track behavior over time, a key feature of many recommender systems.
  • The system was designed around the concept of "buy soon" - rather than "buy now" -  a shopping list you could cross off one item at a time as your budget allowed.
  • The kiosks used Rivet Digital Touch Screens and were deployed in WalMart stores. The reader was not sure where, how many or whether they are still in use. The kiosks do not have network connectivity, and so have no access to personal profiles or real-time inventory.
  • The kiosk questions are simpler than those on the web site, due to time and privacy constraints of in-store use.

Many thanks to the reader who offered the additional information!

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.]

I Spy Eye Spy Advertising: Urinal Based Display Marketing and Captive Micro-audiences

I had lunch at Illusions Fayrouz Dining and Entertainment Club yesterday, and when I used the men's room after the meal, I discovered a set of small, currently inactive, display units above each urinal.



The web site listed on the display unit,, is "currently under construction" and I can't find any other information out about the company on the web. The manager of the restaurant told me that the units were working for a while a few months ago, showing 15 - 30 second videos (primarily advertisements) in a 15 minute loop, with the content being downloaded via a [wired] Internet connection.

I'm reminded of the EZ Show Network, which originally planned to deploy a digital signage network encompassing 500 convenience stores in the Pacific Northwest. They encountered formidable logistical challenges -- technically and in the sale cycle -- and recently changed ownership -- and business plans -- and are now focusing their deployment efforts on university bookstores.


I would not be surprised if Eye Spy Advertising encounters similar challenges, and I hope I will eventually get to see the system in action ... but meanwhile, this gives me a pretext within which to ruminate a bit about a topic of great, if somewhat prurient, interest to me: urinal-based display marketing, a niche within the larger area of captive micro-audience marketing.

I have encountered a variety of urinal-based displays -- interactive and non-interactive, low-tech and high-tech -- over the years. Shown below are photos of a chalkboard "interactive display" and a static display.



One of my favorite examples of this concept was the You're In Control (urine control) project at MIT Media Lab, an interesting blend of technology, sociology and culture:

Yicamanda The You’re In Control system uses computation to enhance the act of urination. Sensors in the back of a urinal detect the position of impact of a stream of urine, enabling the user to play interactive games on a screen mounted above the urinal.

While urination fulfills a basic bodily function, it is also an activity rich with social significance. Along with the refreshing release it provides, the act of micturition satisfies a primal urge to mark our territory. For women who visit the bathroom in groups and chat in neighboring stalls, urination can be a bonding ritual. For men who write their names in the snow, extinguish cigarettes, or congregate around lampposts to urinate, urination can be a test of skill and a way of asserting their masculinity.

Then, of course, came a multi-player version of this engaging concept, On Target, designed by Marcel Neundörfer (via Yanko Design):



Recessed into a urinal is a pressure-sensitive display screen. When the guest uses it, he triggers an interactive game, producing images and sound. The reduced size of the “target” improves restroom hygiene and saves on cleanings costs (like the “fly in the urinal” at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport). It also makes a trip to the urinal “fun and games” – more than just a necessary nuisance. By projecting the game experience into the public space, viewers are treated to a new way of visualizing the abstract, and the entertainment value is boosted. The projection of the project into a museum space was conceived of as a critical-ironic measure, questioning the concept of art, but extending it at the same time. “On target” is an interactive installation with the functional purpose of improving hygiene.

I remember encountering a photo of another example of a multi-player, or at least multi-station, system of urinal-based displays ... unfortunately, while I downloaded the photo of the installation, I did not note the source.


The manager at Illusions said while Eye Spy Advertising offered the restaurant a slot in its content rotation, the company did not offer the restaurant any revenue sharing options (unlike the earlier business plan for EZ Show Network, which did include a small cut for the convenience store operators). He also said that while people (well, men) came back from the men's room talking about the brands that were advertised on the displays (e.g., a Smirnoff ad), he didn't think that the ads actually influenced any purchase decisions.

I don't know whether Eye Spy Advertising will ever get its units up and running again (sorry, couldn't resist), but I look forward to a future in which I have something more interesting to look forward at, and perhaps interact with, during men's rooms visits.

[Update, 2008-01-09: Michael's comment prompted me to return to Illusions to see whether/how the Eye Spy Advertising displays are working - they are currently working, cycling through five ads (photos below).]

Eye Spy Advertising: Table For Six Eye Spy Advertising: Oasis Casino Eye Spy Advertising: Smirnoff Eye Spy Advertising: Eye Spy Advertising Eye Spy Advertising: Place Ad Here

Eye Spy Advertising @ Illusions Supper Club

Why Wiffiti? Wi Not?

NtwrktruthSean sent me a link to the Wiffiti blog last week, and I was immediately intrigued with this new twist on an interactive display in a "third place".  Users can send text messages to a large plasma display installed in a restaurant or bar via mobile phone (SMS) by specifying the screen identifier.  Real-time approximations of what is showing on the real screens -- the most recent 10 messages (the real screens show the most recent 100 messages, as best they can) -- in four locations are shown at the ntwrk truth site.  One of these locations is local, the Hurricane Cafe, and I decided to test it by sending a message, and after a few minutes, it appeared on the screen (a screenshot from ntwrktruth -- taken today, after I sent "Reality leaves a lot to the imagination", a John Lennon quote -- is shown on the left).  The web site also provides for the capability to "Submit a topic" (not sure what this means) and participate in a web poll (current poll: "Best mode of flirtation? IM / text message / Old school phone call" -- curious that "face-to-face" was omitted).

WiffitiathurricanecafeI wanted to experience Wiffiti in situ, so I went down to the Hurricane for dinner that evening.  There were only about ten people in the restaurant section, where the screen is mounted opposite the counter.  I sat at the counter, ordered the blue cheese burger and waffle fries, and watched the animated display, where the text messages slowly migrate around the screen, presumably to attract attention and prevent "burn-in".  No new messages appeared, so I sent a new one (highlighted in yellow in the photo on the left: "Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time", a Bertrand Russell quote).  No other messages appeared, although most patrons -- individuals and groups -- appeared to be paying regular, if intermittent, attention to the display.

Ntwrktruthhistory The ntwrk truth site includes a capability to see a history of the 100 most recent messages sent to the display, with the times they were posted.  The Hurricane is open 24-hours, and the real-time screenshots do not appear to be adjusted for time zone (e.g., my message was sent at 8:22am PST, but was marked as 1:22am in the history list), and there is no date shown in the history log, so it's hard to know exactly when activity is taking place, or how long the gaps are between messages (minutes, hours, days, weeks?).  However, based on the time codes and the interplay between the contents of some messages, it appears that activity tends to be bursty.  From a perusal of the log, it appears that most of the topics are location-specific -- referencing the Hurricane food, facilities, staff and/or [other] patrons -- though some appear to be location-agnostic -- expressing hopes, fears, dreams and disappointments, along with more mundane observations -- following patterns I've observed in the use of physical graffiti.

Wiffiti is a StreetMessenger application produced by LocaModa, whose intended benefits for site owners include sponsorship and advertising revenue generated via the displays.  The Wall Street Journal has reported on the challenges that MySpace faces in drawing advertisers, due to the sometimes unsavory content posted by MySpace users.  Although Wiffiti appears to have some filtering, there are still implicit and explicit references to people, objects and activities that appear in the history list ... messages that advertisers may not want to be associated with.  This is, of course, one of the reasons that interactive billboards typically don't show text messages sent by users, but rather respond to them in pre-defined, carefully controlled, ways.  Part of the appeal of MySpace -- and Wiffiti -- is that people are relatively free to express themselves. Given the tension between freedom and security, it is not clear that either platform will be able to simultaneously please its users and its [prospective] sponsors ... bringing to mind a quote from Benjamin Franklin:

Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security.

I think I'll send this to the Hurricane.