Organic Startup Ideas
One thing I like about this text is its tone. There’s an honesty, an ingenuity that I find rare in this type of writing.
- startup ideas
- The background is important, in terms of the type of ideas about which we’re constructing something.
- what do you wish someone would make for you?
- My own itch has to do with Diigo, actually. There’s a lot I wish Diigo would make for me. I may be perceived as an annoyance, but I think my wishlist may lead to something bigger and possibly quite successful.
- The difference between this question and the “scratch your own itch” principle seems significant, and this distinction may have some implications in terms of success: we’re already talking about others, not just running ideas in our own head.
- what do you wish someone would make for you?
- It’s somewhat different from the well-known “scratch your own itch” principle. In this difference might be located something significant. In a way, part of the potential for this version to lead to success comes from the fact that it’s already connected with others, instead of being about running ideas in your own mind.
- grow organically
- The core topic of the piece, put in a comparative context. The comparison isn’t the one people tend to make and one may argue about the examples used. But the concept of organic ideas is fascinating and inspiring.
- you decide, from afar,
- What we call, in anthropology, the “armchair” approach. Also known as “backbenching.” For this to work, you need to have a deep knowledge of the situation, which is part of the point in this piece. Nice that it’s not demonizing this position but putting it in context.
was the first type
- One might argue that it was a hybrid case. Although, it does sound like the very beginnings of Apple weren’t about “thinking from afar.”
- class of users other than you
- Since developers are part of a very specific “class” of people, this isn’t insignificant a way to phrase this.
- They still rely on this principle today, incidentally.
The iPhone is the phone Steve Jobs wants.
- Apple tends to be perceived in a different light. According to many people, it’s the “textbook example” of a company where decisions are made without concerns for what people need. “Steve Jobs uses a top-down approach,” “They don’t even use focus groups,” “They don’t let me use their tools the way I want to use them.” But we’re not talking about the same distinction between top-down and bottom-up. Though “organic ideas” seem to imply that it’s a grassroots/bottom-up phenomenon, the core distinction isn’t about the origin of the ideas (from the “top,” in both cases) but on the reasoning behind these ideas.
- We didn’t need this software ourselves.
- Sounds partly like a disclaimer but this approach is quite common and “there’s nothing wrong with it.”
- comparatively old
- Age and life experience make for an interesting angle. It’s not that this strategy needs people of a specific age to work. It’s that there’s a connection between one’s experience and the way things may pan out.
- There is no sharp line between the two types of ideas,
- Those in the “engineering worldview” might go nuts, at this point. I can hear the claims of “hand waving.” But we’re talking about something complex, here, not a merely complicated problem.
- Apple type
- One thing to note in the three examples here: they’re all made by pairs of guys. Jobs and Woz, Gates and Allen, Page and Brin. In many cases, the formula might be that one guy (or gal, one wishes) comes up with ideas knowing that the other can implement them. Again, it’s about getting somebody else to build it for you, not about scratching your own itch.
- Bill Gates was writing something he would use
- Again, Gates may not be the most obvious example, since he’s mostly known for another approach. It’s not inaccurate to say he was solving his own problem, at the time, but it may not be that convincing as an example.
- Larry and Sergey when they wrote the first versions of Google.
- Although, the inception of the original ideas was academic in context. They weren’t solving a search problem or thinking about monetization. They were discovering the power of CitationRank.
- generally preferable
- Nicely relativistic.
- It takes experience
to predict what other people will want.
- And possibly a lot more. Interesting that he doesn’t mention empirical data.
- young founders
- They sound like a fascinating group to observe. They do wonders when they open up to others, but they seem to have a tendency to impose their worldviews.
- I’d encourage you to focus initially on organic ideas
- Now, this advice sounds more like the “scratch your own itch” advocation. But there’s a key difference in that it’s stated as part of a broader process. It’s more of a “walk before you run” or “do your homework” piece of advice, not a “you can’t come up with good ideas if you just think about how people will use your tool.”
- missing or broken
- It can cover a lot, but it’s couched in terms of the typical “problem-solving” approach at the centre of the engineering worldview. Since we’re talking about developing tools, it makes sense. But there could be a broader version, admitting for dreams, inspiration, aspiration. Not necessarily of the “what would make you happy?” kind, although there’s a lot to be said about happiness and imagination. You’re brainstorming, here.
- immediate answers
- Which might imply that there’s a second step. If you keep asking yourself the same question, you may be able to get a very large number of ideas. The second step could be to prioritize them but I prefer “outlining” as a process: you shuffle things together and you group some ideas to get one which covers several. What’s common between your need for a simpler way to code on the Altair and your values? Why do you care so much about algorithms instead of human encoding?
- You may need to stand outside yourself a bit to see brokenness
- Ah, yes! “Taking a step back,” “distancing yourself,” “seeing the forest for the trees”… A core dimension of the ethnographic approach and the need for a back-and-forth between “inside” and “outside.” There’s a reflexive component in this “being an outsider to yourself.” It’s not only psychological, it’s a way to get into the social, which can lead to broader success if it’s indeed not just about scratching your own itch.
- get used to it and take it for granted
- That’s enculturation, to you. When you do things a certain way simply because “we’ve always done them that way,” you may not create these organic ideas. But it’s a fine way to do your work. Asking yourself important questions about what’s wrong with your situation works well in terms of getting new ideas. But, sometimes, you need to get some work done.
- a Facebook
- Yet another recontextualized example. Zuckerberg wasn’t trying to solve that specific brokenness, as far as we know. But Facebook became part of what it is when Zuck began scratching that itch.
- organic startup ideas usually don’t
seem like startup ideas at first
- Which gets us to the pivotal importance of working with others. Per this article, VCs and “angel investors,” probably. But, in the case of some of cases cited, those we tend to forget, like Paul Allen, Narendra, and the Winklevosses.
- end up making
something of value to a lot of people
- Trial and error, it’s an iterative process. So you must recognize errors quickly and not invest too much effort in a specific brokenness. Part of this requires maturity.
other people dismiss as a toy
- The passage on which Gruber focused and an interesting tidbit. Not that central, come to think of it. But it’s important to note that people’s dismissive attitude may be misled, that “toys” may hide tools, that it’s probably a good idea not to take all feedback to heart…
- At this point, when someone comes to us with
something that users like but that we could envision forum trolls
dismissing as a toy, it makes us especially likely to invest.
- the best source of organic ones
- Especially to investors. Potentially self-serving… in a useful way.
- they’re at the forefront of technology
- That part I would dispute, actually. Unless we talk about a specific subgroup of young founders and a specific set of tools. Young founders tend to be oblivious to a large field in technology, including social tools.
- they’re in a position to discover
valuable types of fixable brokenness first
- The focus on fixable brokenness makes sense if we’re thinking exclusively through the engineering worldview, but it’s at the centre of some failures like the Google Buzz launch.
- you still have to work hard
- Of the “inspiration shouldn’t make use forget perspiration” kind. Makes for a more thoughtful approach than the frequent “all you need to do…” claims.
- I’d encourage anyone
starting a startup to become one of its users, however unnatural it
- Not merely an argument for dogfooding. It’s deeper than that. Googloids probably use Google tools but they didn’t actually become users. They’re beta testers with a strong background in troubleshooting. Not the best way to figure out what users really want or how the tool will ultimately fail.
- It’s hard to compete directly with open source software
- Open Source as competition isn’t new as a concept, but it takes time to seep in.
- there has to be some part
you can charge for
- The breach through which old-school “business models” enter with little attention paid to everything else. To the extent that much of the whole piece might crumble from pressure built up by the “beancounter” worldview. Good thing he acknowledges it.
I recently posted a rambling version of instructions about how to install BuddyPress 1.1.3 on FatCow:
BuddyPress 1.2 was just released, with some neat new features including the ability to run on a standard (non-WPµ) version of WordPress and a new way to handle templates. They now have three-step instructions on how to install BuddyPress. Here’s my somewhat more verbose take (but still reasonably straightforward and concise). A few things are FatCow-specific but everything should be easy to adapt for any decent webhost. (In fact, it’d likely be easier elsewhere.)
- Create database in FatCow’s Manage MySQL
- Download WP 2.9.2 from the download page.
- Uncompress WP using FatCow’s Archive Gateway
- Rename “wordpress” to <name> (not necessary, but useful, I find; “community” or “commons” would make sense for <name>)
- Go to <full domain>/<name> (say, “example.com/commons” if you used “commons” for <name> and your domain were “example.com”)
- Click “Create a Configuration file”
- Click “Let’s Go”
- Enter database information from database created in MySQL
- Change “localhost” to “<username>.fatcowmysql.com” (where <username> is your FatCow username)
- Click “Submit”
- Click “Run the Install”
- Fill in blog title and email, decide on crawling
- Click on “Install WordPress”
- Copy generated password
- Enter login details
- Click “Log In”
- Click “Yes, Take me to my profile page”
- Add “New password” (twice)
- Click “Update Profile”
- Click “Plugins”
- Click “Add New”
- In the searchbox, type “BuddyPress”
- Find BuddyPress 1.2 (created by “The BuddyPress Community”)
- Click “Install”
- Click “Install Now”
- Click “Activate Plugin”
- Click “update your permalink structure”
- Choose an option (say, “Day and Name”)
- Click “Save Changes”
- Click “Appearance”
- Click “Activate” under BuddyPress default
You now have a full BuddyPress installation. “Social Networking in a Box”
You can do a number of things, now. Including visiting your BuddyPress installation by clicking on the “Visit Site” link at the top of the page.
But there are several options in BuddyPress which should probably be set if you want to do anything with the site. For instance, you can setup forums through the bbPress installation which is included in BuddyPress. So, if you’re still in the WordPress dashboard, you can do the following:
- Click “BuddyPress”
- Click “Forum Setup”
- Click “Set up a new bbPress installation”
- Click “Complete Installation”
This way, any time you create a new group, you’ll be able to add a forum to it. To do so:
- Click “Visit Site”
- Click “Groups”
- Click “Create a Group”
- Fill in the group name and description.
- Click “Create Group and Continue”
- Select whether or not you want to enable the discussion forum, choose the privacy options, and click “Next Step”
- Choose an avatar (or leave the default one) and click “Next Step”
- Click “Finish”
You now have a fully functioning group, with discussion forum.
There’s a lot of things you can now do, including all sorts of neat plugins, change the theme, etc. But this installation is fully functional and fun. So I’d encourage you to play with it, especially if you already have a group of users. The way BuddyPress is set up, you can do all sorts of things on the site itself. So you can click “Visit Site” and start creating profiles, groups, etc.
One thing with the BuddyPress Default Theme, though, is that it doesn’t make it obvious how you can come back to the Dashboard. You can do so by going to “<full domain>/<name>/wp-admin/” (adding “/wp-admin/” to your BuddyPress address). Another way, which is less obvious, but also works is to go to a blog comment (there’s one added by defaul) and click on “Edit.”
Critical thinking has been on my mind, recently. For one thing, I oriented an “intro. to sociology” course I teach toward critical skills and methods. To me, it’s a very important part of university education, going much beyond media literacy.And media literacy is something about which I care a great deal. Seems to me that several journalists have been giving up on trying to help the general population increase and enhance their own media literacy skills. It’s almost as if they were claiming they’re the only ones who can reach a significant level of media literacy. Of course, many of them seem unable to have a critical approach to their own work. I’m with Bourdieu on this one. And I make my problem with journalism known.As a simple example, I couldn’t help but notice a number of problems with this CBC coverage of a new citizenship guidebook. My approach to this coverage is partly visible in short discussions I’ve had on Aardvark about bylines.A bit over a week ago, I heard about something interesting related to “making technology work,” on WTP (a technology podcast for PRI/BBC/Discovery The World, a bit like Search Engine from bigger media outlets). It was a special forum discussion related to issues broader than simply finding the right tool for the right task. In fact, it sounded like it could become a broad discussion of issues and challenges going way beyond the troubleshooting/problem-solving approach favoured by some technology enthusiasts. Given my ethnographic background, my interest in geek culture, and my passion for social media, I thought I’d give it a try.The first thing I noticed was a link to a critique of the OLPC project. I’ve personally been quite critical of that project, writing several blogposts about it. So I had to take a look.And although I find the critical stance of this piece relatively useful (there was way too much groupthink with the original coverage of the OLPC), I couldn’t help but use my critical sense as I was reading this piece.Which motivated me to do some Diigo annotations on it. For some reason, there are things that I wanted to highlight which aren’t working and I think I may have lost some annotations in the process. But the following is the result of a relatively simple reading of this piece. True to the draft aesthetics, I made no attempt to be thorough, clean, precise, or clear.http://www.miller-mccune.com/business_economics/computer-error-1390.print
- World Economic Forum
- 50 percent of staff were being laid off and a major restructuring was under way
- The dramatic version which sends the message: OLPC Inc. was in big trouble. (The fact that it’s allegedly a non-profit is relatively irrelevant.)
- the project seems nearly dead in the water
- A strong statement. Stronger than all those “beleaguered company” ones made about Apple in the mid90s before Jobs went back.
- And that may be great news for children in the developing world.
- Tadaa! Here’s the twist! The OLPC is dead, long live the Child!
- lobbied national governments and international agencies
- Right. The target was institutional. Kind of strange for a project which was billed as a way to get tools in the hands of individual children. And possibly one of the biggest downfalls of the project.
- Negroponte and other techno-luminati
- Oh, snap!
It could sound relatively harmless an appellation. But the context and the piece’s tone make it sound like a rather deep insult.
- Ah, nice! Not “create” or “build.” But “innovate.” Which is something the project has been remarkably good at. It was able to achieve a number of engineering feats. Despite Negroponte’s repeated claims to the contrary, the OLPC project can be conceived as an engineering project. In fact, it’s probably the most efficient way to shed the most positive light on it. As an engineering project, it was rather successful. As an “education project” (as Negroponte kept calling it), it wasn’t that successful. In fact, it may have delayed a number of things which matter in terms of education.
- take control of their education
- Self-empowerment, at the individual level. In many ways, it sounds like a very Protestant ideal. And it’s clearly part of the neoliberal agenda (or the neoconservative one, actually). Yet it doesn’t sound strange at all. It sounds naturally good and pure.
- technology optimists
- Could be neutral in denotation but does connote a form of idealistic technological determinism.
- school attendance
- “Children who aren’t in school can’t be learning anything, right?”
- trending dramatically upward
- Fascinating choice of words.
- tens of millions of dollars
- highly respected center
- Formulas such as these are often a way to prevent any form of source criticism. Not sure Wikipedians would consider these “peacock terms,” but they don’t clearly represent a “neutral point of view.”
- they don’t seem to be learning much
- Nothing which can be measured with our tools, at least. Of course, nothing else matters. But still…
- international science exam
- Of course, these tend to be ideally suited for most learning contexts…
- There’s no question that improving education in the developing world is necessary.
- Although, there could be a question or two about this. Not politically expedient, perhaps. But still…
- powerful argument
- Tools in a rhetorical process.
- instinctive appeal
- Even the denotative sense is polarized.
- precious little evidence
- Switching to the “studies have shown” mode. In this mode, lack of proof is proof of lack, critical thinking is somewhat discouraged, and figures are significant by themselves.
- circumstantial evidence
- The jury isn’t out, on this one.
- co-founder of J-PA
- Did Esther co-write the article? Honest question.
- the technology didn’t work any better than a normal classroom teacher
- A very specific point. If the goal of tool use is to improve performance over “regular teaching,” it’s a particular view of technology. One which, itself, is going by the wayside. And which has been a large part of the OLPC worldview.
- the goal is improving education for children in the developing world, there are plenty of better, and cheaper, alternatives.
- A core belief, orienting the piece. Cost is central. The logic is one of “bang for the buck.”
- the teachers simply weren’t using the computers
- We’re touching on something, here. People have to actually use the computers for the “concept” to work. Funny that there’s rarely a lot of discussion on how that works. A specific version of “throwing money at a problem” is to “throw technology at” people.
- few experimental studies to show a positive impact from the use of computers
- Is the number of studies going one way or another the main issue, here? Can’t diverse studies look at different things and be understood as a way to describe a more complex reality than “technology is good and/or bad?”
- substituting computers for teachers
- Still oriented toward the “time to task” approach. But that’s good enough for cognitive science, which tends to be favourably viewed in educational fields.
- Kept thinking about the well-known Hawthorne effect. In this case, the very idea that providing students with supplementary “care” can be seen as an obvious approach which is most often discussed in the field instead of at the higher levels of decision-making.
- The OLPC concept has been pioneered in a number of school districts in the United States over the last decade
- From a 2005 project targeting “countries with inconsistent power grids,” we get to a relatively long series of initiatives in individual school districts in the USofA since last century. Telescoping geographical and temporal scales. And, more importantly, assigning the exact same “concept” to diverse projects.
- Negroponte has explicitly derided
- Not the only thing Negroponte derides. He’s been a professional derider for a while, now.
Negroponte’s personality is part of the subtext of any OLPC-related piece. It’d be interesting to analyse him in view of the “mercurial CEO” type which fascinates a number of people.
- It must be said
- Acknowledging the fact that there is more to the situation than what this piece is pushing.
- In this context, “academic” can have a variety of connotations, many of which are relatively negative.
- teachers limited access to the computers
- Typically, teachers have relatively little control in terms of students’ access to computers so it sounds likely that the phrase should have read “had limited access.” But, then again, maybe teachers in Hollow’s research were in fact limiting access to computers, which would be a very interesting point to bring and discuss. In fact, part of what is missing in many of those pieces about technology and learning is what access really implies. Typically, most discussions on the subject have to do with time spent alone with such a tool, hence the “one…per child” part of the OLPC approach. But it’s hard to tell if there has been any thought about the benefits of group access to tools or limited access to such tools.
To go even further, there’s a broad critique of the OLPC approach, left unaddressed in this piece, about the emphasis on individual ownership of tools. In the US, it’s usually not ok for neighbours to ask about using others’ lawnmowers and ladders. It’s unsurprising that pushing individual ownership would seem logical to those who design projects from the US.
- had not been adequately trained
- In the OLPC context, it has been made as a case for the dark side of constructionism. The OLPC project might have been a learning project, but it wasn’t a teaching one. Some explicit comments from project members were doing little to dispel the notion that constructivism isn’t about getting rid of teachers. Even documentation for the OLPC XO contained precious little which could help teachers. Teachers weren’t the target audience. Children and governments were.
- not silver bullets
- Acknowledging, in an oblique way, that the situation is more complex.
- surveys of students
- With a clear Hawthorne effect.
- parents rolling their eyes
- Interesting appeal to parenting experience. Even more than teachers, they’re absent from many of these projects. Not a new pattern. Literacy projects often forget parents and the implications in terms of a generation gap. But what is perhaps more striking is that parents are also invisible in coverage of many of these issues. Contrary to “our” children, children in “those poor countries over there” are “ours to care for,” through development projects, adoptions, future immigration, etc.
- evaluation of an OLPC project in Haiti
- Sounds more like a pilot project than like field research. But maybe it’s more insightful.
- Repeated calls and e-mails to OLPC and Negroponte seeking comment on OLPC did not receive a response
- Such statements are “standard procedure” for journalists. But what is striking about this one is where it’s placed in the piece. Not only is it near the end of the argumentation but it’s in a series of comments about alternative views on the OLPC project. Whether or not it was done on purpose, the effect that we get is that there are two main voices, pro and con. Those on the con side can only have arguments in the same line of thought (about the project’s cost and “efficacy,” with possible comments about management). Those on the pro side are put in a defensive position.
In such cases, responsiveness is often key. Though Negroponte has been an effective marketer of his pet project, the fact that he explicitly refuses to respond to criticisms and critiques makes for an even more constrained offense/defense game.
- Strong words, in such a context. Because it’s not the situation which is ironic. It’s a lack of action in a very specific domain.
- the Third World
- Interesting that the antiquated “Third World” expression comes in two contexts: the alleged target of the OLPC project (with little discussion as to what was meant by that relationship) and as the J-PAL field of expertise.
- a leader in
- Peacock terms or J-PAL are on the Miller-McCune lovelist?
- There are
- This is where the piece switches. We’re not talking about the OLPC, anymore. We reduce OLPC to a single goal, which has allegedly not been met, and propose that there are better ways to achieve this goal. Easy and efficient technique, but there still seems to be something missing.
- etting children in developing countries into school and helping them learn more while they are there
- A more specific goal than it might seem, at first blush.
For a very simple example: how about homeschooling?
- proven successful
- “We have proof!”
- One might have expected “inexpensive,” here, instead of “cheap.” But, still, the emphasis is on cost.
- Sounds a little bit surprising a switch from computer tech to public health.
- 50 cents per child per year
- $4 per student per year
- 30 percent increase in lifetime earnings
- technology-based approaches to improving student learning in the developing world
- Coming back to technology, to an extent, but almost in passing. Technology, here, can still be a saviour. The issue would be to find the key technology to solve that one problem (student learning in the developing world needs calls for improvement). Rather limited in scope, depth, insight.
- show more promise than one laptop per child
- Perhaps the comment most directly related to opinions. “Showing promise” is closer to “instinctive appeal” but, in this case, it’s a positive. We don’t need to apply critical thinking to something which shows promise. It’s undeniably good. Right?
- the J-PAL co-founder
- There we are!
- Remedial education
- A study in Kenya
- Reference needed.
- it didn’t matter
- Sounds like a bold statement, as it’s not expressly linked to the scope of the study. It probably did matter. Just not in terms of what was measured. Mattering has to do with significance in general, not just with statistical significance.
- Cost/benefits are apparently the only two “factors” to consider.
- quarter of the cost
- $2 per month
- $3 per month
Bon, ça fait déjà quelques temps que je suis sur Google Wave alors il me faudrait commencer à parler de mon expérience. J’ai pris pas mal de notes et j’ai remarqué des tas de choses. Mais vaut mieux commencer par quelques petits points…
J’écrivais une réponse à une amie sur Facebook dont les amis tentaient d’en savoir plus à propos de Wave. Et ça m’a donné l’occasion de mettre quelques idées en place.
Wave est un drôle de système. Comme Twitter lors des premières utilisations, c’est difficile de se faire une idée. Surtout que c’est une version très préliminaire, pleine de bogues.
Jusqu’à maintenant, voici les ressources que j’ai trouvé utiles:
(Oui, en anglais. Je traduirai pas, à moins qu’il y ait de la demande.)
Le guide suivant risque en effet d’être le plus complet. Je l’ai pas encore lu…
Sinon, version relativement courte…
Wave est un outil de communication basé sur la notion que les participants à l’événement de communication (la discussion, dions) ont accès à un contenu centralisé. Donc, plutôt que d’échanger des courriels, on construit une “wave” qui peut contenir des tas de choses. On pense surtout au texte mais le contenu est très flexible.
– On passe du temps réel au mode asynchrone. Donc, on peut commencer une conversation comme si c’était un échange de courriels puis se faire une séance de clavardage dans le même contenu et retourner au mode courriel plus tard. Très utile et exactement le genre de truc dont plusieurs ont besoin, s’ils échangent des idées à propos de contenus.
– Comme Wiki, SubEthaEdit ou même Google Docs, c’est de l’écriture collaborative. Donc, on peut facilement construire du contenu avec plusieurs autres personnes. Le système permet un suivi plus facile que sur un Wiki ou avec Google Docs.
– La gestion des accès est incroyablement facile. En ce moment, on ne peut pas retirer quelqu’un qu’on a ajouté à une “wave”, mais c’est vraiment très facile de spécifier qui on veut ajouter comme participants à une “wave” ou même à une plus petite section. Donc, on peut conserver certaines choses plus privées et d’autres presque publiques. Ça semble simple, mais c’est assez important, comme changement. On peut créer des listes ad hoc comme si on décidait soudainement de faire équipe.
– C’est une architecture ouverte, avec la possibilité de créer des outils pour transformer les contenus ou pour ajouter d’autres choses (cartes, contenus interactifs, sondages…). Du genre widgets, mais ça va plus loin. Et ça motive le monde des développeurs. L’idée, c’est que le système permet d’être étendu de façon inattendue.
– C’est si nouveau et relativement limité dans le nombre d’utilisateurs qu’on en est à une phase où tout le monde essaie d’expérimenter et accepte de répondre à toute question.
– Il n’y a pour l’instant pas de pourriel.
Bon, c’est déjà pas si court… 😉
Si vous avez des questions, faites-moi signe. Si vous êtes déjà sur Wave, je suis enkerli et informalethnographer (dans les deux cas, c’est @googlewave.com).
It’s all good and well to label things “social media” but those of us who are social scientists need to speak up about some of the insight we can share.
If social scientists and social media peeps make no effort at talking with one another, social media will suffer and social scientists will be shut out of something important.
Actually, social media might provide one of the most useful vantage points to look at diverse social issues, these days. And participants social media could really benefit from some basic social analysis.
Let’s talk about this.
Will be participating in this year’s Podcamp Montreal. Last year’s event had a rather big impact on me. (It’s at #pcmtl08 that I “came out of the closet” as a geek!) At that time, I presented on “Social Acamedia” (Slides, Audio). Been meaning to do a slidecast but never got a round tuit.
My purpose, this year, is in a way to follow up on this blogpost of mine (from the same period) about “The Need for Social Science in Social Web/Marketing/Media.”
As it’s a BarCamp-style unconference, I’ll do this in a very casual way. I might actually not use slides or anything like that. And I guess I could use my time for a discussion, more than anything else. I’ll be missing much of the event because I’m teaching on Saturday. So my session comes in a very different context from last year’s, when I was able to participate in all sorts of things surrounding #pcmtl.
Yup. Come to think of it, a conversation makes more sense, as I’ll be getting condensed insight from what happens before. I still might start with a 15 minute spiel, but I really should spend as much time as possible just discussing these issues with people. Isabelle Lopez did a workshop-style session last year and that was quite useful.
The context for this year’s session is quite specific. I’ve been reorienting myself as an “informal ethnographer.” I eventually started my own podcast on ethnography, I’ve been doing presentations and workshops both on social media and on social analysis of online stuff, I was even able to participate in the creation of material for a graduate course about the “Social Web”…
Should be fun.
Still thinking about touch devices, such as the iPod touch and the rumoured “Apple Tablet.”
Thinking out loud. Rambling even more crazily than usual.
Something important about those devices is the need for a real “Personal Digital Assistant.” I put PDAs as a keyword for my previous post because I do use the iPod touch like I was using my PalmOS and even NewtonOS devices. But there’s more to it than that, especially if you think about cloud computing and speech technologies.
I mentioned speech recognition in that previous post. SR tends to be a pipedream of the computing world. Despite all the hopes put into realtime dictation, it still hasn’t taken off in a big way. One reason might be that it’s still somewhat cumbersome to use, in current incarnations. Another reason is that it’s relatively expensive as a standalone product which requires some getting used to. But I get the impression that another set of reasons has to do with the fact that it’s mostly fitting on a personal device. Partly because it needs to be trained. But also because voice itself is a personal thing.
Cloud computing also takes a new meaning with a truly personal device. It’s no surprise that there are so many offerings with some sort of cloud computing feature in the App Store. Not only do Apple’s touch devices have limited file storage space but the notion of accessing your files in the cloud go well with a personal device.
So, what’s the optimal personal device? I’d say that Apple’s touch devices are getting close to it but that there’s room for improvement.
Originally, the PC was supposed to be a “personal” computer. But the distinction was mostly with mainframes. PCs may be owned by a given person, but they’re not so tied to that person, especially given the fact that they’re often used in a single context (office or home, say). A given desktop PC can be important in someone’s life, but it’s not always present like a personal device should be. What’s funny is that “personal computers” became somewhat more “personal” with the ‘Net and networking in general. Each computer had a name, etc. But those machines remained somewhat impersonal. In many cases, even when there are multiple profiles on the same machine, it’s not so safe to assume who the current user of the machine is at any given point.
On paper, the laptop could have been that “personal device” I’m thinking about. People may share a desktop computer but they usually don’t share their laptop, unless it’s mostly used like a desktop computer. The laptop being relatively easy to carry, it’s common for people to bring one back and forth between different sites: work, home, café, school… Sounds tautological, as this is what laptops are supposed to be. But the point I’m thinking about is that these are still distinct sites where some sort of desk or table is usually available. People may use laptops on their actual laps, but the form factor is still closer to a portable desktop computer than to the kind of personal device I have in mind.
Then, we can go all the way to “wearable computing.” There’s been some hype about wearable computers but it has yet to really be part of our daily lives. Partly for technical reasons but partly because it may not really be what people need.
The original PDAs (especially those on NewtonOS and PalmOS) were getting closer to what people might need, as personal devices. The term “personal digital assistant” seemed to encapsulate what was needed. But, for several reasons, PDAs have been having a hard time. Maybe there wasn’t a killer app for PDAs, outside of “vertical markets.” Maybe the stylus was the problem. Maybe the screen size and bulk of the device weren’t getting to the exact points where people needed them. I was still using a PalmOS device in mid-2008 and it felt like I was among the last PDA users.
One point was that PDAs had been replaced by “smartphones.” After a certain point, most devices running PalmOS were actually phones. RIM’s Blackberry succeeded in a certain niche (let’s use the vague term “professionals”) and is even beginning to expand out of it. And devices using other OSes have had their importance. It may not have been the revolution some readers of Pen Computing might have expected, but the smartphone has been a more successful “personal device” than the original PDAs.
It’s easy to broaden our focus from smartphones and think about cellphones in general. If the 3.3B figure can be trusted, cellphones may already be outnumbering desktop and laptop computers by 3:1. And cellphones really are personal. You bring them everywhere; you don’t need any kind of surface to use them; phone communication actually does seem to be a killer app, even after all this time; there are cellphones in just about any price range; cellphone carriers outside of Canada and the US are offering plans which are relatively reasonable; despite some variation, cellphones are rather similar from one manufacturer to the next… In short, cellphones already were personal devices, even before the smartphone category really emerged.
What did smartphones add? Basically, a few PDA/PIM features and some form of Internet access or, at least, some form of email. “Whoa! Impressive!”
Actually, some PIM features were already available on most cellphones and Internet access from a smartphone is in continuity with SMS and data on regular cellphones.
What did Apple’s touch devices add which was so compelling? Maybe not so much, apart from the multitouch interface, a few games, and integration with desktop/laptop computers. Even then, most of these changes were an evolution over the basic smartphone concept. Still, it seems to have worked as a way to open up personal devices to some new dimensions. People now use the iPhone (or some other multitouch smartphone which came out after the iPhone) as a single device to do all sorts of things. Around the World, multitouch smartphones are still much further from being ubiquitous than are cellphones in general. But we could say that these devices have brought the personal device idea to a new phase. At least, one can say that they’re much more exciting than the other personal computing devices.
But what’s next for personal devices?
Any set of buzzphrases. Cloud computing, speech recognition, social media…
These things can all come together, now. The “cloud” is mostly ready and personal devices make cloud computing more interesting because they’re “always-on,” are almost-wearable, have batteries lasting just about long enough, already serve to keep some important personal data, and are usually single-user.
Speech recognition could go well with those voice-enabled personal devices. For one thing, they already have sound input. And, by this time, people are used to seeing others “talk to themselves” as cellphones are so common. Plus, voice recognition is already understood as a kind of security feature. And, despite their popularity, these devices could use a further killer app, especially in terms of text entry and processing. Some of these devices already have voice control and it’s not so much of a stretch to imagine them having what’s needed for continuous speech recognition.
In terms of getting things onto the device, I’m also thinking about such editing features as a universal rich-text editor (à la TinyMCE), predictive text, macros, better access to calendar/contact data, ubiquitous Web history, multiple pasteboards, data detectors, Automator-like processing, etc. All sorts of things which should come from OS-level features.
“Social media” may seem like too broad a category. In many ways, those devices already take part in social networking, user-generated content, and microblogging, to name a few areas of social media. But what about a unified personal profile based on the device instead of the usual authentication method? Yes, all sorts of security issues. But aren’t people unconcerned about security in the case of social media? Twitter accounts are being hacked left and right yet Twitter doesn’t seem to suffer much. And there could be added security features on a personal device which is meant to really integrate social media. Some current personal devices already work well as a way to keep login credentials to multiple sites. The next step, there, would be to integrate all those social media services into the device itself. We maybe waiting for OpenSocial, OpenID, OAuth, Facebook Connect, Google Connect, and all sorts of APIs to bring us to an easier “social media workflow.” But a personal device could simplify the “social media workflow” even further, with just a few OS-based tweaks.
Unlike my previous, I’m not holding my breath for some specific event which will bring us the ultimate personal device. After all, this is just a new version of my ultimate handheld device blogpost. But, this time, I was focusing on what it means for a device to be “personal.” It’s even more of a drafty draft than my blogposts usually have been ever since I decided to really RERO.
So be it.