Power to the People

info-graphicGoogle is very much working on ways to stimulate conservation of energy. One of the issues they mention on their blog is that by giving feedback to people it is possible to save lots of energy in homes and offices. Some time ago I was involved in a research study where we looked at research worldwide on this subject. One of the most remarkable ones was a study done in Stavanger, Norway. There it turned out that just by changing the period after which people settle their energy bill (you get a bill every month normally but only once a year the energy company checks if the bill is the same as the real (average) use during the year). They changed the period from one year to two months (meaning the amount used was checked bi-monthly and the bill adapted accordingly). The energy use of households after this went down 8%. Because of the bi-monthly check people where immediately reminded that energy costs a lot during winter. With some extra data the savings grew to 12 to 16%.
This feedback on use can be more fine-grained. At home I am using a plug from plugwise that measures the use of energy of that energy outlet and allows me to test how much I would save by using the built in “stand-by killer” during the night (it is amazing how much energy some appliances use while on standby, my printer uses a whopping 40 watts on standby, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). An interesting example how ICT can help to lower our energy footprint. Some time ago I also made a blog on a presentation I gave last year.
In Amsterdam we are setting up a project with more than 700 homes where we will be testing what kind of feedback works best (Amsterdam Smart City). Another project I am starting with is the Connected Urban Development where we make it possible to take a look on the energy use in the city and be able to zoom into certain areas, maybe even to an individual level.
The document with the research (like the Stavanger case) you can find here.
It’s the kind of projects that give me a lot of energy!


Last days I was present at the MobileHCI conference. I was involved in this conference as sponsor chair. This conference deals with how to design and use mobile devices and experiences. There have been two issues that I found remarkable.
The first is the fact that two research projects dealing with the design of user interfaces showed that people preferred to use the slower interface. In one example they had developed an interface with special icons to use in the address book of the phone, targeted at illiterate people. Research showed that although people were faster through the visual interface they still preferred the alphanumerical one. Maybe they just did not want to be branded illiterate?
The second project dealt with research on the amount of air pollution children are exposed to by their route to school. This Lancaster project gave GPS equipped phones to 12 year old children and had them make pictures and blog their route to school, through all seasons. These routes were compared to the known air pollution throughout the city. Also the children got asked questions on how they felt and on their health. Through this research they could show the children that they would have less air pollution by taking another route. But reality is much more complex than we think. Many of those routes were banned by their parents because they are thought not be safe (e.g. a route through the park).
Both projects show that reality is much more complex than we think when designing products and services. This complexity is I think growing with the digitization of our society.
This conference was also the formal start of the Amsterdam Living Lab, a large research program I am involved in where the focus is in helping designers design products that people really want, not the ones designers think they want. I will publish more on this soon.
A last example how reality can be unexpected also came from the Lancaster project. The children all came from a very poor neighborhood. It turned out that some of them could not recharge their phone during the evening because their parents had pre-paid electricity …
And a final fact during the conference in another presentation: more than 60% of the mobile searches are for adult content: why does it not surprise me anymore …

Skeeler 2.0

Delegation of work and responsibility should be done to the people with the greatest stake in the result and who are best equipped to handle the task. This is true in organisation theory as well in the cooperation between companies and their customers.
In interesting development in this area is TomTom Map Share. Here it is possible to add changes to the card and share these improvements with others (and TomTom). It is a logical division of labor: I can change the map when something is wrong and it bothers me and TomTom can use it to improve the map. There are of course some dangers like somebody who changes the map because they do not like the traffic through their street. But if enough people use this service it will be possible to use the wisdom of crowds.
In the past I used an application called Wayfinder which used real time map data on the mobile phone over a GPRS link. Here I could suggest changes and some days later my phone used the improved map data. In a world where “content is king” these methods to improve the data by using the large groups of user is promising. 
Another example is “skeeler 2.0” at Telematica Insituut. In this research project we focus on Skeelers. For Skeelers it is important to have a general idea on the quality of the road, the amount of traffic, the view on the scenery and others. And who is better equipped to collect and tag the data needed to improve the normal maps for Skeeler use than the Skeelers themselves. One of the focal points in this project is how best to collect the data: is it possible to ask questions afterwards, is it possible to measure the quality of the road by using a sensor? Maybe it is even important to take the profile of users in consideration. A route that A likes very much may be boring or not challenging enough for another.
Finding ways to incorporate implicit and explicit reactions from users will be an important factor in improving quality. We have the means to collect. Now we must learn how to make good use of all that data.

Living Labs

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 …