Category Archives: Technology

Things We’ve Learnt About…Search and Web Use

We have a new issue of the “Things We’ve Learnt About…” magazine, a regular publication we release each issue of which summarizes the research work of the Socio-Digital Systems team around a particular theme. This one is all about “Search & Web Use” and has been primarily authored by Richard Harper and Sian Lindley, with a LOT of hard work by Nick Duffield, who did all the design work on it.

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The digital version is available for free, or you can buy a printed version if you want (they’re really nicely printed, but done print-on-demand so are a little pricey – we don’t make any money from them).

This issue is a summary of the SDS “Beyond Search” theme, focussing on Sian’s “5 Web Modes”, and showcasing various projects that have come out of the work, including Seeds, Cards and our work with Aalto University on “Domesticating Search”. I’m pretty proud of this magazine series, and this is another great issue for us to give out both internally and externally, to showcase what we do.

As a reminder, there are now three issues of the magazine, on Communication, Memory and Search. All of them are available from the here.

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Technology Heirlooms in the National Media Museum

I was lucky enough to get a request from the UK’s National Media Museum in Bradford for the use of our Technology Heirlooms prototypes in their new exhibition, Life Online, all about the development of computing and the internet.

The exhibition opened in April, but I only just had a chance to see it in August when I travelled North to Yorkshire for a spot of camping. It’s a great exhibition, with a lot of old bits of technology leading to more contemporary content. A timeline made of glass, embedded in the floor, runs all the way through the gallery, counting off the years next to examples of technology of the time. At the end of the timeline is a glass exhibition case, with our prototypes in them under the banner “Into the Future”. Really nice to see them put to good use.

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Central Saint Martins Degree Show 2012

My phone shots from the CSM show this year, in their cool new King’s Cross building. Most of these are from the Textile Futures program, which was, as usual, really thought provoking.

Project from the TEXTILES FUTURES MA students. I’ve managed to link these mysterious looking shots to their project pages up on the course homepage. They’ve been pretty smart, and made dedicated project pages for each, which hopefully they’ll keep alive now that the students have graduated.

Protocells by Shamees Aden Urban Insect Habitats by Catherine Verpoort
The Transformative Chronotype by Julie Yonehara The Transformative Chronotype by Julie Yonehara
Random Methods by Lynsey Coke Random Methods by Lynsey Coke
Random Methods by Lynsey Coke Daily Poetry by Ingrid Hulskamp
Blooming Body by Langdi Lin Blooming Body by Langdi Lin
Material Symphony by Cindy Wang Material Symphony by Cindy Wang

The following is a combination of shots from the MA in Communication Design, the BA in Graphic Design and the MA in Industrial Design. Sorry, I don’t really have any details about these projects.

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Here’s a few other bits and bobs, including a rather prominent example of the New Aesthetic.

Tim on the peddle powered video show Bridge
"New aesthetic"? Possibly based on a crate from Doom "New aesthetic"? Possibly based on a crate from Doom

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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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Reflections on possession

I really enjoyed the turn of phrase and subtlety embodied in this article on Technology Review by Simson L. Garfinkel on the gains and loss in the shift of our possessions from physical things to digital. While it has the same luddite sense as my own work – that maybe this is only an issue for people who actually experienced physical possessions like books and LPs and won’t be for forthcoming generations who never did – and I didn’t learn anything particularly new, Garfinkel sure can turn a nice phrase. The article could do with a few paragraph breaks, though!

A little sample…

There will never be a well-worn copy of my favorite digital book.Dissolving physical possessions into the cloud is certainly convenient. It may even make us less covetous and more inclined to share. But this new form of property is also shaping up to have more serious consequences than the loss of a few conversations. One is that those previously inanimate possessions can now talk about you behind your back. Watch a movie on Netflix or Amazon, and the company’s servers know who you are and what you watch, when you watch it, where you’re watching from (more or less), and even when you fast-forward.

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Physical landlords can’t have a tenant’s possessions trucked off to the dump without due process; even those who withhold rent are given a chance to fight eviction in court. Cloud providers should similarly be prohibited from deleting your data at will, and there should be a legally mandated process for moving digital possessions to another cloud—or copying it to your home computer.

A Cloud over Ownership  – Technology Review

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jenny bv lee: immateriality – the future human

Great to see some publicity on DesignBoom for Jenny Lee’s project “Immateriality – The Future Human”. This was a standout from this year’s Textile Futures degree show at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design. This is the course we worked on a couple of year’s ago for Microsoft’s Design Expo.

Jenny imagines digital skin as a virtual overlay, providing a strange, biological anonymity, a morphing mask. In addition to some great research work she had a live demo at the show that used augmented reality to overlay visitors faces with strange, biological growths (see bottom picture).

http://www.jennylee.org.uk
jenny bv lee: immateriality – the future human

"I designed a collection of virtual digital skins that was inspired by morphogenesis and mineral crystalisation processes. a series of radical non-human like aesthetics were fashioned, to engage the public to consider if we have the tools to-redesign ourselves, would we still look, feel and be human? I also worked in collaboration with a company called holition who deal with a range of 3d technologies in particular augmented reality. augmented reality technology blurs the boundaries between the real and the virtual worlds; it superimposes graphics, audio and other sense enhancements over a live view of the world. holition and I designed and developed new ways to utilise and implement the AR to enable a more tactile and tangible response to technology, bridging the gap between the immaterial and material worlds. we translated the digital skins into the technology, and developed face-tracking ar to create a virtual experience that would enable the public to interact and visualise the future technological impact on society and the self."

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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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Timecard Video

As promised a while ago, when I posted the videos of the Backup Box and Digital Slide Viewer, I’ve finally put together something that shows the Timecard device (see video below). This is a timeline viewer, meant to represent someone’s life, that we imagine might be the digital equivalent of a photo album or baby book. We’d like to think that it might become a precious object for a family, forming a new class of digital heirloom.

More explanation of these devices (including Timecard) here and of our ideas behind Technology Heirlooms here.

Timecard from Richard Banks on Vimeo.

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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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