Saturday, October 06, 2007

What was I thinking again?

What was I Looking For -WILF;
What was I Thinking - WIT
It is called..God! Its right there on my tongue but can't seem to recall it..!

A common everyday challenge with so much happening around and inside our minds.
Volatile short term memory is a new social reality and thence a need in making.
There just might be a huge market opening up for new capture & reminder devices..small portable gadgets (or features in existing gadgets) wherein you can quickly voice tag or text tag what just crossed your mind - from something as 'profound' as the unattended plumbing work at home or the future of broadcast. Ubiquitous computing might start as ubiquitous notepads (and whatever I have seen being offered by present day PDAs is not best suited for this purpose).

Ps: I had almost forgotten posting this thought..seriously

Surface to Air

Well, if you have not yet seen this please do have a look http://www.microsoft.com/surface/. Microsoft surface is a promising new interface. No mouse, no keyboard, no desktop no laptop – it is a table top and all it needs is fingers as stimulus.
Promising, not because it is touch sensitive (which a whole of things are today) but because it is multi-application. From sharing photos, to planning an itinerary to. It not just responds to hands but even devices that are kept on it. Add to this, it can also double up as a music interface. Great indeed!
It is interesting to make a note of some to the things that Surface is replacing.
1. It is of course replacing peripherals like mouse/keyboard and it gives 'monitor’or display’a whole new meaning

2. It is removing wires – transferring photographs/music from hand-held devices to stationery devices is still predominantly a wire story

3. In restaurants it is minimizing talking with the bearer. In fact the bearer might just morph into a order delivery person (now that they are not even asking for the bill!)

4. It is replacing paper – menu cards, product brochures

5. While it is stoking interaction between buddies, it is further reducing interaction with strangers – no more calling people to find a street or address (I believe GPS had already started this)

If you look at all the above changes that surface computing promises to bring (and these are restricted by the length of the video that we saw on the website – I am sure there could be many other applications that Microsoft might be mulling), a common theme that seems to emerge is the fading out of physical fixtures be it wires, talking to a bearer, picking up the phone or walking up to someone to ask for a street, looking at a product brochure, writing on a sheet of paper.
As I see this is the first step towards what is popularly known as ubiquitous computing.

First the interface becomes intuitive and begins to look like our natural physical space (table, chair etc)

Next it would wearable (not the table of course!), so would bend when you would and go wherever you went (and not the laptops/palmtops please – we still have to ‘pull them out’ and ‘turn them on’ – how clumsy is that!)

And finally it would transcend physicality (the title of the post came from here)

Though it is (very) intuitive –surface computing still engages a physical object other than human body as its body. It sure has been made to look much less like a computer by camouflaging it in a table – something we are used to having around and being around it still is an ‘explicit interface’ you come to, do stuff and then walk away from but it is primarily a non wearable and distinctly identifiable physical computing device.
I believe Microsoft Surface is an amazingly intuitive interface and might be the early indication of movement towards intuitive computing.

The other thing that surface does very well is that it brings a lot of power to the average user, be it sharing music or pictures, planning the logistics of a day trip, it makes tech and logistics look like everyday simplicity which is great!

So a lot of good news. Also, it just could be a great new way of getting more people into the world of computing - expecially elders.
Surface could also have applications for less literate or illiterate prespective users of computing - we are doing away with a lot of text icons here - which is again a leap forward!

And by the way now that the keyboard is gone - can I also spill my coffee please!?

Monday, October 01, 2007

World of Warcraft, Google Earth & NASA World Wind

For anyone who likes gaming and has spent some time on Google Earth or NASA’s World Wind, it would not take very long to see the connection.
WoW (World of Warcraft) is the most popular in online multiplayer games (MMORPG). Google Earth is the most popular way of exploring the world ‘virtually’. If game developers start collaborating with Google Earth (i.e. if they are not on to it already) they could end up building near real and very engaging gaming experiences.

Such Mash-ups are already being used in different streams viz. real estate developers (www.housingmaps.com; www.zillow.com); Bloggers on www.palatial.com with free mash-up tools; even people wanting to know gas prices in real time (www.gasbuddy.com) are using it. Economist recently referred to Bloggers using Google earth mash-ups as a new kind of self-absorption - autogeobiography.

In a gaming mash-up the game developers could bring the storyline and Google could bring topography. Imagine being airdropped into a terrorist infested area in a city that you have visited, lived in. Imagine fighting forces or creating new landscapes in a geographic area that is as real as reality is. It could really make games that much more engaging.

It is true that a gaming is predominantly about escaping reality and thus fictitious locations and totally new topography works for games. But a landscape borrowed from Google Earth imagery can only add to the excitement of games as s/he gets to escape reality while being in the middle of it.
If this happens, I would not stop short of terming it as another step towards Digital world melting into the Physical world..

How much product?

Should we interrogate or think about our products or services more than what the end user thinks about them?
I know - it might be a rather strange question to ask (or is it?) because as marketing and advertising professionals a sizable part of our expertise is embedded in our ability to develop, manage and grow products and services that we market.

But the downside to analyzing the product, or the user and product interaction or consumption is that at some stage we go way to deep into it and might just (and mostly do) lose sight of an average user’s everyday engagement with that product.

When we analyze a lot we run the risk of walking away from consumer’s shoes and the whole thing becomes an exercise in hardcore logic. To top it all logic also ends up assuming that the consumer is thoroughly logical (like us ?!), which is not the case most of the times. The reason for any purchase could be as much emotional as it is logical. But most or the research (qualitative or quantitative) might not endorse this view.
Here is why.

1. Most the people (including us) do not want to be ‘seen as emotional/illogical’. Being emotional, especially in front of strangers (read researchers) is stupid.
Recall any research or consumer interaction that you’d have had in the recent past. When people are sharing very personal or emotional experiences they tend to carry a smile or a giggle. I believe that this is their way of acknowledging – “Oh I am so stupid to have said this or thought this or felt this way..”. The giggle is aimed at making us think that they know they are being frivolous or stupid – whereas the fact is that when they think about it themselves they might not be giggling, instead they might be very serious about it because their feeling are real to them..

2. Even when people want to share their real emotions in front of a nice stranger (read good researcher) their expression might not be precise (remember the Del Amitri song – “It’s hard to say you love someone and it’s hard to say you don’t..”).
Expressing real emotions or deep rooted feeling and sentiments is always an articulation challenge – it is not like ticking a box, it is not even as simple as saying a few words. Usually it is longwinded and meandering and it takes a person (read nice stranger) who can soak up that moment and meandering to understand it

I am beginning to feel that as marketers we need to understand the depths of the product /service possibilities but not do this at the cost of plain simple user thinking. Chances are that the more we think about the product the less we are thinking about the person we made it for. This is especially true for products that are everyday and simple. Where technology has limited edge to provide and most of the products end up being the same. With such products it pays a lot more to look at the user’s life in as much details as possible and find new and interesting ways of liking our product with their lives.

Why 'Don't be evil'?

I (unlike most of the Media) hate to critique. And especially, critique rising stars or stars that have already made it big like Google. And in fact what I am writing here is a reaction to a news report that was bordering criticism and apprehension about, who else but Google again!
It is not just media – looks like the whole world is worried because of Google even UGC is not particularly kind.

Anyway, coming back to the title of this post. I do not know why the company underscores its existence with a statement like ‘Don't be evil’ but I if I were to look that what the company has done in the part 3 years+ & the things that they are planning to do, I can almost see this statement having been written not for people outside the company but as a reminder for the company itself.

Perhaps, when Messer's Brin and Page cracked the algorithm and the opportunity that it presented, they knew they had struck big – really BIG and they knew that they could achieve a lot out of this breakthrough. That moment of breakthrough might have made them realize that with the opportunities and the possibilities that it offered they could very well end up ‘controlling’ a lot
Today we see this breakthrough in a way far beyond just a search engine with people keeping their photos, Blogs, videos, calendars, e-mail, news feeds, maps, contacts, social networks, documents, spreadsheets, presentations and even credit card information with Google.
In other words a significant part of their life is on Google. Also see (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xj8ZadKgdC0)
Back when they cracked the algorithmic opportunity and foresaw its multiple avatars, they might have realized that they could end up having a lot of ‘power’. They knew that power corrupts (and absolute power corrupts absolutely). Thus perhaps as upright men they wanted to ensure that they do not fall on the wrong side of their new found ‘power status’ - hence ‘Don't be evil’.

Make the best of the power that you'll gain and make it work for the people of this planet.

Coming back to the initial part about Media and its preoccupation with criticism - there is no limit to critiquing Google. Somehow the Media, Markets, Experts and everyone else in between loves to make a dig at Google. Is this the “I love the struggler/underdog” mindset?

For example here is another case though totally unrelated but it illustrates similar Media sentiments. In the past media always reported how Jaguar and Ford were inefficient, almost branding them as losers in the automotive war. But now that Ford is finally trying to sell Jaguar (while acknowledging that premium car marketing is not their focus) – there is no mention of it being a good (or bad) move .. just reports about the business being on the block. Why?
Do media just like underdogs?