Living Labs

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The last 10 year we have created much more technology than we are using today. We have invested enormous amounts of money in mobile broadband structures and what is the most important mobile application today: texting (or txtspk), the mobile application that is the most basic in mobile technology. We are investing heavily into fiber to the home and what are people watching: low res video’s on Youtube. And they (we?) are loving it.

For many research projects the user was not a part of the equation. Technology had it’s own goal: more broadband, more mobile, more functions: more is good. And as all unix users know: more is less…

Today I had a conversation with people from CETIM (Bernhard Katzy, Benoit Dutilleul and Jean-Marc Verlinden) about Living Labs. For technology research it is more and more important to get out into the field.. Because the social aspects and user experience are the next frontier to take we need to do the research in close contact with the users. A new version of ADSL can be developed in the lab, a Wiki can only be created through a constant iteration with users. The number of possible functions are many but only a few will catch on with users. We can not use a stub for the user like we do in software development to test functions.

Living Labs is a (bit hyped) term used for large scale, in situ testing, of new developments. Tribler is an example where data is collected from the users of this bittorrent client to understand why and how people use this software. Google Mail is even an example because of the constant measurement and adaptation of the software to the way people are using it. CETIM is involved in the “Knowledge Workers Living Lab” And Telematica Instituut is involved in the “Freeband Experience Lab”.

A lot of these labs in Europe are starting to cooperate together. Many have their own expertise and infrastructures so working together leads to better possibilities for user focused research and new paths to (open)innovation. As CETIM and Telematica Instituut we are looking into he possibilities to work together these issues. Maybe you will soon be part of this great living lab we call earth …

Career moves

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Maybe, given other choices, you could have been another Steven Spielberg. Maybe even better.

Steven Spielberg became Steven Spielberg because he made the choices early on that were fitting with his talent. And since in a short tailed world success breeds success he became one of the most successful directors since producers are inclined to play it safe in the choice of directors (everybody is going to look at the latest Spielberg). But no doubt there are many more people out there that have the talent of a spielberg but made different career choices and became mediocre architects.

On of the interesting aspects of the long tailed world introduced by youtube is that more people can try out their talent. With hard work, bit of luck and lots of recommendations you can get popular in the long tail and slowly but surely move up the tail to where it gets interesting for producers. A series on youtube I love is “mr. Deity”. On their websitethey explicitly state they are making this series on youtube because they wish to make a series on TV.

What is Mr. Deity?
Mr. Deity is a semi-monthly video series (every two weeks) that looks at God and the Universe with a smile (and sometimes, a wink).

What is your goal?
Our goal is to turn this into a half-hour series for television.

Below you can see one episode of the series on youtube:

This, I think, is a very interesting development. People who feel they have the talent now have a much better opportunity to show this for a worldwide audience. And of course they start out at the long end of the long tail. Their mother will watch it and than some friends. And friends of their friends and friends of their mothers and … well you understand. Before you know it I am watching it as well as a producer at a big network. If the talent is there it is now possible to move out of the long end of the tail and into mainstream where you can make a living out of the things you can do best (and love to do).

Of course there are also lots of examples of people trying to do things they do not have a talent for and there are many, many examples of this at sites like youtube. But as long as the recommendation mechanisms work and I am able to find the good ones I am happy. What do you want to become?

The future workspace of journalism

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Many will recognize this as the opening of Dickens his book “A tale of two cities”. Dickens meant the time of the french revolution with all the positive and negative turmoil. Looking how fast the landscape of work is changing I sometimes get the same idea (though luckily the “blood” is now virtual!). An interesting example of the change and turmoil is a site called AssignmentZero, a cooperation between Newassignment and Wired.

The idea of AssigmentZero is an attempt to do “open source journalism”. The idea is that an open community communicates about what would be interesting subjects, whom to interview, what are important questions and all other aspects relating to journalism. There is some leadership but there is also a lot of confusion, searching, irritation and of course some flames. It is intriguing to see how these people embark on a journey together to redefine how journalism works in a networked world. This is how they define their quest:

The investigation takes place in the open, not behind newsroom walls. Participation is voluntary; contributors are welcome from across the Web. The people getting, telling and vetting the story are a mix of professional journalists and members of the public — also known as citizen journalists. This is a model I describe as “pro-am.”

This mixing of professionals and the general public in order to make use of professional expertise and the open view of the general public can be an example for much more workspaces, like the police (where are the dangerous places) and city planning (creative ideas of the citizens combined with the expertise of city architects). There are a lot of challenges ahead in order to make this succeed. I think it will be worthwhile to follow this experiment.


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One of the most interesting developments of the moment is I think Crowd-sourcing. In Crowd-sourcing you outsource work to un undefined number of people in an open call. Amazon for example has created a function called “Amazon Mechanical Turk“. The idea here is that tasks that humans can do easily (is this a picture of a woman or man?) but that are extremely hard for computers are outsourced to the public (and you get paid doing it). Interesting variants are for example the google image labeler where, in the form of a game, people have to guess the keywords for a picture. When both players fill in the same keyword you get points.

This has of course very little to do with the intelligence of crowds but capitalizes on the mass of people willing spend some of their time. For either some money, for fun or for eternal fame by reaching the high score.

Question is if this model is feasible in the long run. People work on Wikipedia and open source software since these are environments where everybody works for free. In the case that crowd-sourcing is used by companies than money will play a role. Qustion is whether the “gift economy” will hold in that case. And how much spare time is still available? People’s attention is the most important scarcity so in the end that usually means one has to pay for it (Google clearly saw this with their advertising model).

Recently there was an interesting discussion about this issue of scarcity and pay between Nicholas Carr ( and Yochai Benkler (the wealth of networks). Carr’s statement you can find here and the answer of Benkler your can find here. I will certainly get back to this argument.

Games or Work

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I came across a fascinating article today that describes how a famous economic historian is thaught a lesson about the history of World War II. Niall Ferguson has written some books about “what if” scenarios is history: what if Gorbachov would not have existed etc.

He recently played a bit with a computer game called “Making History” where the games are based on WWII scenarios. What was amazing was that the game showed him that he was wrong in one of his hypthesis that if England would have attacked Germany in 1938 after the invasion of Czechoslovakia WWII would not have happened. He kept playing it over and over but England kept losing because France defected.

The game is based on thorough research on the period. The mindbogling part is that his 13 year old son, an experienced player in strategy games, had no problem in showing him the answer by first investing in a better bond with France and than attacking Germany.

The interesting part here, I think, is that young people grow up with a completely different environment and have a different attitude towards the tools that surround us. Strategic thinking through games and multiple simultaneus communictation through MSN is a normal part of their life. Because of this they arrive at different processes to deal with their environment. Young people of today are the employees of tomorrow. We better be prepared by doing our research into the way we can build on these new tools and people!