There were a number of ideas presented that have to do with binding problems of a softer sort. Most deal with improving the organization of information for better consumption by humans in terms of findability and usability.
- Ambient Findability – Peter Morville is a combination of information scientist and web designer. He brings a broad array of important theory regarding information design and human cognition into the practical considerations of how to define, build and maintain information online. The book on this topic is well worth the time to read.
- Information Usability – It still is far easier to quickly read a newspaper than it is to sort through information online. Part of the reason is that the organization of the content makes it very easy to scan the entire paper, and at the same time, dive into items of interest to obtain the full story. (The newspaper has plenty of disadvantages driving its decline, but it’s still easy to read.) Jon Udell talks about structure in documents as a way for improving the quality of information and the ability to find what we seek. If basic ideas like title, source, author, document type and date just became the standard, our world would be a much more informative place.
However, a few other ideas were of a very different flavor—including new social interaction patterns and attention marketplaces.
- Social Network Design Patterns – Clay Shirky of NYU reminds us of how quickly things spin out of control when even a fairly small group of people get moderate tools with which they can interact. These negative social effects have dramatic consequences on the growth and usability of these networks. Some sites, like Slashdot, work due to the heroic efforts of dedicated members to combat disruptive writers and rate content. Shirky and his students and peers have created some design patterns that may help solve these problems across classes of interaction networks. Some of this work is likely to be significant as we continue to find ways to build and sustain large, useful social networks online. Just as it works successfully in the U.S. Constitution, a system should include checks and balances to keep the parts working correctly. Right now, things are primitive.
- Attention Markets? – Imagine a marketplace trading attention. It’s easy to dismiss the idea as a far-out concept, but we made this mistake a few years ago with emissions trading and that has gone on to be a real business. So we try and suspend disbelief while looking at Root Markets. It is backed by Lewis Ranieri, and he certainly has money to throw at the problem. Seth Goldstein, the founder and CEO, knows how to get a start up going. The aim of the company is to quantify attention and put controls around it. It’s an interesting experiment at this point. Today the company is focused on the well understood sub-domain of mortgage leads. It’s early for this venture, but at least it is a somewhat novel concept that is worth watching.
- Rave Conferences – Is the traditional conference model obsolete? Some groups have put on very successful events by promoting a sort of organic, open and low-budget gathering. Being more open and establishing rules for public engagements creates a different atmosphere that balances speakers and a critical mass with intimacy and interaction. Many in the ETech crowd longed for a more open, less commercial event. More information can be found at the Open Knowledge Foundation (www.okfn.org.)
Finally, the demonstration of a new laser-driven multi-touch tablet suggests some new potential high-performance interfaces to make systems much more intuitive and productive.
- High Performance Interfaces – It’s a general fact that the current model of general purpose interfaces is decades old and must be improved for real increases in productivity and quality. A touch-sensitive screen with multiple touch points and high resolution provides a very natural medium for a wide variety of interaction. Multiple touch points on the screen means we are no longer limited to the press-a-button prison of conventional pointing devices. The combination of force-sensation and multiple touch points provides a whole new array of very intuitive interface styles. Because the underlying technology is light-based, it may allow systems like this to be manufactured at low-enough cost to be commercially viable. The hypnotic demonstration is available here.
With the acceleration of activity around Web 2.0, a three-day conference could not address everything. However, there are some topics that need to be woven into the emerging technology discussion. They include:
- Networking and Internet Protocols – There are some severe limits in existing protocols like HTTP and the networking functions available to software inside the networking stack. We’d like to learn more about what’s going on here from companies like Cisco or F5. It also seems that completely robust wireless networks are having some trouble emerging while options like 3G get more mature.
- Vertical Industries – The impact of some of these emerging technologies on major industries like healthcare, retail and transportation is huge. Our private talks with large players in these industries nearly always illuminates some big changes in their way of doing business. In many cases, these experiences can be applied elsewhere to great advantage.
- International –Everyone knows how important innovation and technology markets in China and India have become. In addition, some of the most significant new technologies like Linux, Skype and Red Bull have their roots in Europe. Countries like Brazil seem to be adopting social software like Orkut in ways that are not typical in other parts of the world. A more cosmopolitan mix of technology innovators would expand the idea of emerging technology for the conference.
Resources & Links: Readers who want to get more background on the conference sessions will be rewarded by the search engines. The very productive Phil Windley and his Technometria site is an excellent starting point to get a synopsis of many of the sessions and technology offerings. Here are some additional links:
Latest cool mash up – www.chicagocrime.org
Share activities with friends – www.scobee.com
Open source browser projects, greasemonkey – www.mozilla.org
Collect, find and store music preferences – www.last.fm.com