Category Archives: Microsoft

Dundee visit

The Product Design and Interactive Media Design students at Dundee University are participating in Microsoft’s Design Expo (part of the 2009 Faculty Summit) for a second year in a row. These are 2nd year undergraduate students (see my notes and the student presentation from last year), working to combine the brief we’ve set around “Work” with their goals of getting some ethnographic experience studying their grandparents, learning electronics, designing network objects and so on.

All 8 teams did an amazing job in their presentations, putting together their videos, as well as actually generating and developing their ideas into working prototypes and renderings.

Well done to all of them, as well as specifically to the Social Sewing group who’ll be going on to present their project in Redmond in July.

Thanks to Tim Regan for taking the following shots while we were there:

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Technology Heirlooms video of talk at PSFK’s Good Ideas Salon

PSFK posted the video of the talk I gave recently at their Good Ideas Salon in London. It’s about 30 minutes long and covers some of our thoughts in Cambridge around how people get sentimental about objects, particularly heirlooms, and how that might apply to digital and technological objects in the future.

During the editing they seem to have replaced the Photosynth that I originally used (of a Guitar workshop) with the one from Obama’s inauguration, which changes the context a little (since I was really talking about capturing sentimental spaces).

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More TechFest coverage

Nice article by Angela Gunn at BetaNews, that mentions Timecard, CellFrame and Family Archive, which we showed recently at Techfest (see my overview):

“SDS has a knack for developing humble gadgets that you wish someone would sell you right here, right now; I personally yearn for my own Whereabouts Clock, which I believe I last saw in the Arthur and Molly Weasley home. As with almost everything at TechFest, nothing’s certain to see daylight and everything’s likely to change. Still, I came away from Cambridge’s booth more than ordinarily wishing that I already had the option to interact with technology the way they envision me doing, and glad they made the trip to Washington.”

Microsoft Research finds future value in family history

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Press coverage of TechFest 2009

I mentioned during last week’s summary of our Techfest Booth that I’d write down a list of the coverage we got.

A lot of this focussed on the Family Archive, designed as a piece of furniture into which a family could store their shared digital media, as well as shots of physical things, for reminiscing and story telling. It’s an interesting piece of work, with an expressive user interface based on the metaphor of boxes and basements.

Here’s some coverage from the Seattle Times. In the video (below) Dave Kirk, who demoed the Archive until his hands were raw, explains the interface to reporter Brier Dudley. Dudley says on his blog:

Here’s another video from Microsoft’s TechFest, showing the "Family Archive" digital scrapbook mentioned in today’s story. (Yesterday I posted this video of the "pinch" control that’s also mentioned.)

Here researcher David Kirk demonstrates the prototype touch-screen photo handling system, then adds a pair of souvenir clogs to the collection:

There’s some decent shots of our work up on the Microsoft Techfest site, actually. These include photos of the Family Archive interface, Timecard (which I was demoing) as well as Wayve and CellFrame (both shown off be Sian Lindley). There’s also a video of Richard Harper showing off SPIBS, Wayve and CellFrame (embedded below).


Another great bit of coverage done my Microsoft, actually, was this write up by Rob Knies, who was live-blogging the whole event. You can see more at his "Techfest Live!” blog. Rob goes into quite a bit of detail about Family Archive, Timecard, CellFrame and Wayve. Here’s a quote from me in the article, attempting to tie Family Archive and Timecard together thematically:

"This general theme we’re interested in," he says, "we’re calling technology heirlooms. It’s about just looking at technology generally and saying: ‘What about 30 years’ time? Where will this be? Who will care about it? What will people want to do with it?’"


CNET managed to drop in a shot of Stuart Taylor demoing SPIBS as part of this article, although the article itself doesn’t mention SPIBS. On this page there’s more detail about the shot, though. Now that I look closer, I’m actually in the back of that shot, pointing abstractly.


This Network World article by Nancy Gohring has a pretty thorough description of Dave demoing Family Archive, including some details of the deployment that we did over the summer. There’s also a good paragraph about Timecard, in which Nancy clearly got the concept that it could be a device for either representing the past as a form of memorial OR recording online activity as a form of future heirloom.


Although this TechRadar article by Mike Harris has a title that’s primarily about Photosynth, it also talks in some depth about TimeCard, which was demoed to Mike by Richard Harper. I like Richard’s quote, which is a pretty great summary of the concept.

"The Timecard project provocatively aims to consider the development of technologies that are not built for planned obsolescence, but are built specifically to last and to outlive their owners," says researcher Richard Harper. "Timecard is a device and a service that can create timeline-style records of a person, similar to a ‘baby book,’ but extending throughout life."



This Associated Press article by Jessica Mintz covers Family Archive (also shown in shots 4 and 6), too, and cryptically mentions two other projects that we did, which I’m assuming are Timecard and DION.

“The Cambridge group also showed off a program to help archive digital ephemera, from photos to Twitter messages, along a timeline, and one that "hand-delivers" saved messages and reminders when people with linked Bluetooth phones stand in close proximity.”

Daniel Nicholas at eNews 2.0 also mentions the Family Archive in passing in this short article.


Finally, here’s some coverage of Timecard in French, along with the shot from our presspass site, by Julie de Meslon at 01net. Here’s what Microsoft’s translator site made of it:

More pragmatic Microsoft in Cambridge, UK researchers working on digital adaptation of the family album (TimeCard). Applications are still a bit blurry, but the idea is to organize and store digitally memories, events and other stories of family.

On the picture below its achievement in the form of a digital registry based on a timephased wire. TimeCard is only one of the bricks of a more comprehensive research project on sharing information within the family.

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An overview of our TechFest 2009 booth

As I mentioned earlier, a bunch of us from the Socio-Digital Systems team are in Redmond for our annual TechFest 2009 event. This is our big chance to show our work both to Microsoft employees, and also to the press and industry partners. The press day was yesterday. Today and tomorrow we present work to employees.

We’re starting to get some nice press coverage for our work. I’ll post some pointers to that in a later post, but I thought it would be interesting to give an overview of what we’re doing. The advantage of being in the press room is that I can talk pretty freely about our work.

We’re showing work along three themes, really. The first is all about digital content in the context of families, including how family members create a shared notion of history amongst themselves. Next we have a bunch of projects that are about different levels of casual communication, some location based, some focussed on the elderly. Finally we have a couple of projects that deal with network traffic, both ways in which data might be exchanged over the network, as well as ways in which family members might negotiate bandwidth use in their homes.

Here’s a couple of shots of our booth this year while we were still setting up on Monday.





The first of the projects we’re showing is Family Archive. The goal here was the creation of a piece of furniture that a family could used for collaboratively storing, managing and sharing both digital photos, and also shots that they captured of physical things through the built in camera.


Here’s a close up of the UI, which is based on some multi-touch technology. It’s quite metaphorical. People can create virtual boxes within which they can store their photos, and which they can label with digital ink.

Here’s a shot of a set of real clogs, and the virtual version that’s been captured of them using the overhead camera. The scenario here is that when the family goes on holiday they can store both the digital photos they captured while away, along with shots of the physical things they brought back with them.



In a similar vein to Family Archive, Timecard deals with personal and shared histories. People create timelines of their lives, or the lives of people they know, through an online service, and that content is then visible to them in their home through a dynamic digital photo display that shows pictures like a normal display, but when clicked presents a historical view of the content they entered.

Here’s the Timecard in slideshow mode. I’ve created this one in honour of my grandfather, so it contains a lot of content from his career in the Royal Air Force during WWII. Here’s it’s showing a postcard that he had of a Hampden, one of the aircraft he flew early on in his career.


Here’s the timeline which you get once you click on the screen of the device. You can see all the content above where it says “1940” which is stuff I’ve entered about my grandfather. Clicking on each item shows details about it.

Below that is a row of items that are just general world history, which help me better understand what was going at a broader context while my grandad was living his life. The idea here is that there might be multiple of these “contextual timelines” that get more and more specific about the history of places, people and events that relate to my grandfather.



“SPIBS” is an acronym that does actually stand for something, but I can’t remember what! It’s a UI that allows the filtering of large quantities of photos by laying out tokens spatially, each of which represent different criteria. The nearer that those tokens are to the center of the screen the stronger they act as a filter.

There are tokens for Red, Green and Blue for example. Dragging the red token near to the center of the screen results in a set of photos, shown in the rectangle in the middle of the circle, that are increasing red. Moving the Red, Green and Blue tokens at the same time allows for the mixing of colour. Other tokens include photos of landscapes, photos of faces and photos from different dates.




This is the first of the projects that is about simple communications. The idea here is to get the elderly involved in a very tentative way with the sharing of messages and digital images. We’ve created a technologically simple digital photo frame device, based on cellular technology, that requires very little infrastructure. This would live at the elderly person’s home. It wouldn’t require that they have a wi-fi network, for example. It should just plug in and work.

Other family members can then send messages and images to this device, and locally the owner can type out simple responses through an onscreen keyboard.

In this shot we’re combining the CellFrame (at bottom) with Homebook, a wall mounted family social network device that we developed last year. Family members can send messages to one another through the Homebook, and if they think their Grandparent might be interested they can drag a message down to the virtual representation of the CellFrame in the bottom-right of the screen, which automatically sends it on to the real CellFrame.




In the same vein of casual communications, Wayve is a device the we imagine would live in the kitchen. it allows the sending of messages through e-mail, SMS and between Wayve devices. It has a built in camera for taking shots of people locally to send in a message, and also has a pen so people can write out or sketch messages to one another.

We’ve had these in deployment with families in the UK, and they seem to have had a lot of fun taking shots of themselves, colouring them in and giving themselves facial hair, then sending them to other family members.




DION is a project that’s all about taking advantage of the proximity of people to one another to create opportunities for casual social engagement. Two friends can associate their cellphones through Bluetooth (a process we call “mating”), and then the system offers a range of features that are triggered when these two, or multiples of “mated” individuals are in the same location.

For example, you can write yourself a reminder that pops up when you next meet your friend. Or you can write a message to them that only gets transmitted when they are nearby. Similarly, when you’re near a “mated” friend or set of friends, you can create a virtual “event” that everyone gets associated with, then through web services any photos and other content that were created during the duration of that event are connected together.




HomeWatcher is a bandwidth monitor for families and friends sharing a home. It basically helps them answer two questions: “Why did my network slow down?” (When their network slows down it tells them which machine (and therefore probably individual) is causing it). And secondly “When’s the best time for me to use the network” (It gives them some sense of bandwidth usage over time, so that they can select when to do network intensive activities (like watching the BBCs iPlayer)).

What we’re really interested in with this kind of device, and others like it (such as home energy monitors) is how families go about negotiating these kind of resources when they are made visible, and how they change the dynamic between family members.



I’ll highlight some of the press we’re getting in another post. Here’s a show for Richard Harper presenting some content to a camera crew, followed by an embedded version of the resulting footage, which shows SPIBs, Wayve and CellFrame.


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TechFest 2009

TechFest is Microsoft Research’s annual show-and-tell. The whole division basically decamps to the Conference Center in Redmond and spend two or three days showing Microsoft employees what we spend our time doing. It’s a good way for them to get an overview, and hopefully make connections with researchers that are working in areas that are related to their products.

I did a long post a couple of years ago about TechFest when we were in the room that was open to the press, and therefore we were showing work that I could blog about publicly. Last year I was a bit quieter, because we were in the super-secret-rooms. This year we’re back in the press room so I’m more free to talk about the event, and what we’re showing. Expect to see a few posts here about how it’s going, some shots of our work, and some pointers to any press we get if we’re lucky.


Microsoft Research TechFest 2009 Virtual Event Room (There should be posts and video going up on this site from our press team, so it might be worth keeping an eye on it if you’re interested.

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Mundane workshop

A couple of weeks ago I took part in a one and a half day workshop on Social Interactions and Mundane Technologies (SIMTech 2008), held at our lab in Cambridge. There were some great papers presented, and some excellent keynotes by Bill Gaver, Abi Sellen and Jonathan Grudin.

Dave Kirk and I submitted a position paper entitled On the Design of Technology Heirlooms (PDF), which Dave presented on the Friday, discussing some of the early thinking and planning that we’re doing generally around the theme of how technology objects (software and hardware) are bequeathed across the generations. It’s an attempt to think a little more long term about the life span of technology, partially for sustainability reasons (“how do we design objects that people will want to keep, and are therefore discarded less?”), partially for pragmatic reasons (“what will happen when I inherit my parents digital photo collection – where will I keep it, how will I take care of it?”) and partially because this feels like a generally unexplored space, from a design perspective (plenty of anthropological and sociological research, I know).

It’s a huge and sprawling area that we’re only just starting to get our teeth into.

Dave presents the paper.

Abi tackles memory

Bill shows Goldsmith’s work

Jonathan takes a shot at the mundane

More shots of the workshop are available here (all taken by Haliyana Khalid).

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Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2008

This year’s Royal Institution Christmas Lecture will be given by Microsoft Research’s very own Chris Bishop. This is a massive honour, continuing a tradition started in 1825, and following in the footsteps of Faraday. The lecture’s goal is to make science accessible to the public, and are focused primarily on the young, but are very accessible to anyone of any age. They’re famous for their interactivity, using demonstrations that are very playful.

Chris will be giving his lectures around the theme of “Hi-tech Trek – The Quest for the Ultimate Computer”, dipping into a bunch of areas related to computing. They will be shown in the UK on Channel Five (see dates below) and then be available on DVD.


The Royal Institution of Great Britain | Christmas Lectures 2008

” Join us and Prof Chris Bishop on a hi-tech trek to explore the science behind the digital revolution in search of the ultimate computer.

Get an advanced preview of this year’s lecture by visiting our Christmas Lectures 2008 homepage, and play our game ‘Cats and dogs’. Computers are very good at doing calculations super-fast, but they’re actually really bad at telling the difference between cats and dogs. Help our computer learn which is which to beat the mystery guest in the lecture broadcast on Friday 2 January.

The Christmas Lectures bring alive scientific research for the whole family and are broadcast on Channel Five in prime time. This year, the lectures will be shown as follows:
Monday 29 December at 7.15pm Breaking the speed limit
Tuesday 30 December at 7.15pm Chips with everything
Wednesday 31 December at 7.15pm The ghost in the machine
Thursday 1 January at 7.15pm Untangling the web
Friday 2 January at 7.15pm Digital intelligence

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