Category Archives: Press

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The future of looking back – now in paperback.

I’m really delighted to be able to announce that I’ve written a book, entitled The future of looking back and published by Microsoft Press, which deals with the topic of digital legacy, technology heirlooms and other themes close to my heart. It covers a lot of the work that we’ve been doing in Cambridge around memory, reminiscing and so on, as well as including a lot of references to research and design work that I’ve come across that points to new and interesting directions.

The book was announced on the 27th of September as part of Microsoft Research’s 20th Anniversary celebration, and is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and O’Reilly. I’m expecting it to be physically released in just a week (Amazon says the 4th of October).

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The book is broken down into three broad parts (there’s a pretty extensive preview of the content on Amazon). First, in “Stuff and Sentimentality” I talk about the difference in nature of physical things versus digital things, and the impact that our transition from the world of real to the world of the virtual might have on the way we preserve and pass on our content. In “A Digital Life” I talk generally about lifespans, and key life events (including bereavement), focusing on the role that technology is starting to play in each, particularly with regard to the creation of personal and sentimental digital artefacts. Finally, in “New Sentimental Things” I speculate more on the future and trends in technology and the impact that new directions may have in the way we record, remember and reflect on our past.

My book is the launch title for “ The Microsoft Research Series”, newly announced by Microsoft Press, which kicks off a regular release cycle of books that will focus on making the work of the Microsoft Research Division more accessible. You can read more about the series, as well as a Q&A with me on some of the topics in my book, up on the announcement page for Microsoft Press.

A massive thanks to Devon Musgrave at Microsoft Press for pushing me to write this title, as well as to colleagues and family for their support and encouragement.

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Our magazine is out

A lot of the written material that we produce in the research team that I’m a part of is directed very much at an academic audience. Through conferences like CHI and CSCW we build on the research work of others and find out about new efforts going on in our domain of human-computer interaction. That’s as it should be for research.

We’ve been trying to think of some ways to make our work more accessible, though. Partially this is because the busy people who work for Microsoft in the US, building products that we want to help influence, don’t have a great deal of time to read a 10 page academic treatise. They need something a little more…succinct, and to the point. In addition to a focus on Microsoft, we think the subject of our research work is generally and genuinely interesting to a broad audience. We deal with the way people live their lives, and try and gain some understanding of the appropriate way in which technology should play a part. We look for the “human values” that motivate people, particularly in their personal relationships and in the places in which they spend time, then we ask how technology can enhance, rather than undermine, them.

So as part of this effort to make our work more approachable we’ve started a magazine called “Things we’ve learnt about…”, which will focus on succinctly summarizing what we’ve learnt around a particular theme, to provide simple insights into how we think people tick. You can download read about, and download the magazine from our site at:

http://research.microsoft.com/thingswevelearnt

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Feel free to print it any way you want, if you want a hard copy. We’ve also made the magazine available through MagCloud, which is another alternative for getting a printed version. They can do a great, glossy print on demand version for you at cost.

The first issue deals with human-to-human communication. We’ve tried to wrap up over 5 years of research and design work in this area to talk about why people communicate. A lot of the focus on communication technologies is on the substance of the message – getting some “data” if you like, from person A to person B. A lot of this issue of the magazine deals with the reasons and methods through which people communicate that have little to do with the message. Sometimes people send message to remind other people that they care about them, for example. The content of the message matters less than the fact that the sender thought about sending it. The magazine is full of little insights like that, that are about the subtle underpinnings that make communication important.

Anyway, hope you like it. Let us know what you think in the comments below. And look for future issues on different themes.

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We got ourselves a design award!

It’s not common for a team at Microsoft Research, a division involved in the academic exploration of all things computer science-like, to have much of a connection to the discipline of design. There are quite a few teams in addition to mine that have designers in them, though, and who take design practice seriously as part of the process of developing and exploring ideas.

So it’s great to get a little recognition from the design community, rather than from the academic one. I’m pleased to say that the Technology Heirlooms work that we’re doing in Cambridge, and which I’ve talked about a lot on this site, just got itself a prestigious design award.

We entered the work in the “Design Research” category for the IDEA 2011 competition, run by the Industrial Design Society of America, and came away with a silver award, which I’m very happy and proud about.

You can see our submission details on the IDEA 2011 site.

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For those who are interested, here’s my original PDF submission.

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And for good measure, here’s the follow up poster.

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All In The Mind

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Thanks to presenter Claudia Hammond and producer Fiona Hill from BBC Radio 4’s All In The Mind show for a really great edit of a conversation we had in Cambridge last Wednesday about our Technology Heirlooms work. It was broadcast last night on Radio 4, is repeated again today at 4:30pm, and thanks to the speed of the Internets is already available to stream and as a podcast.

It’s a 10 minute segment about 9 minutes into the show in which Abi and I talk about the objects we’ve designed, as well as some of the issues of overload and longevity for digital artefacts that might be inherited from us when we pass away.

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If you’re interested in the topic here are some bits to read:

  • An Introduction to Technology Heirlooms – A high level description of some of the issues around the topic of keeping and bequeathing digital things.
  • Some Technology Heirlooms – Descriptions and images of the three technology heirlooms we’ve built so far, including the Timecard device discussed in the show.
  • Technology Heirlooms videos – This blog post doesn’t yet have a video of the Timecard device discussed in the show, but does have content I’ve created for two other objects, the Backup Box and the Digital Slide Viewer.

        [UPDATE: BBC Online did a write up of this chat here: Life Goes Online After Death with ‘Memory Boxes’]

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        Digital Agency Event

        Michael McClary has put together a write-up of a Microsoft event in London that I was lucky enough to participate in a few weeks ago. Focussed on showing off some of the cooler things coming up from us, it showcased to a UK audience first hand a lot of the announcements made at MIX 2010, including stuff about the Windows Phone, as well as giving some of our partners in the UK a place to showcase their work. Michael gives a great overview of everything that was shown on the day. Worth a read.

        I felt a little out of place with my stuff about bereavement and heirlooms, but it seemed to go down well. I guess my role in this sort of session is to get the audience thinking about something quite outside of their own space, or the key topics of the day, before they get down to more “serious” business.

        The location of the event was stunning, at the top of the CenterPoint tower in the centre of London. Here’s a few shots.

        Looking out across the roof of the British Museum (left) and straight down Oxford Street (right):

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        The sun starting to set across London. I particularly like the brightly lit greenhouse on a rooftop in the centre of the second shot:

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        Our TechFest 2010 booth

        Channel 9 took video of our booth at TechFest 2010. It looks like they posted it over a week ago, so it slipped by me. TechFest is the annual Microsoft Research show-and-tell event that takes place in Redmond in the US. All the teams get a booth. This year we really went to town, dressing the booth in some very cool curtains/wallpaper designed by John Helmes. You’ll see him introduce our Family Archive/Memory Maker system in the first half of the video, which has changed radically since we showed a first version a year ago. The new system has a much broader story, with tagging, timeline visualizations and the creation of objects like digital scrapbooks.

        In the second half of the video I’ll go on (some more) about Technology Heirlooms, and show some of the demos I posted shots of last week.

        Kudos to Xiang Cao who was just off camera and so didn’t get featured in the video, but was the third Musketeer manning the booth for three days.

        Get Microsoft Silverlight

        Channel 9 | Techfest: The Future of Looking Back

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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."

         

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        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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