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Imagining the physical web
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The Physical Web

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The world is in love with the "Internet of things" but we are using old tools to solve the problem. While we had no choice but to use native apps on our phones for this first generation of smart devices (e.g. Nest) it can't scale. If we believe in Moore's Law at all, we'll have hundreds if not thousands of these devices in our lives in a very short period of time. It just doesn't make sense to use apps as our primary interaction tool. The Physical Web is an approach to 'infuse' the web into physical objects so you can just walk up and use any device, on any platform, with just a single click.

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The Physical Web

  1. 1. The Physical Web CHI 2014 @scottjenson! jenson.org I’ve been a professional designer for nearly 30 years and I’m more excited about what we, as the design community, can do more than ever before. It’s an amazing time to be designer for the simple reason that things are moving so fast, the rules changing so quickly, that the designer mindset has never been more useful. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. Let’s me tell you two stories.The first is with my Kindle, which has always been able to synchronize your book progress across all your devices. One day I bought a best seller and it offered me an audio book for a few dollars more. What amazed me was that when I went for a run, my audio progress was also synchronized. I literally did nothing and things worked beautifully between all my devices.
  2. 2. Contrast this with the bluetooth headset itself. I got up one night to go into the kitchen to find it on the kitchen counter. Worried that it was on, I used the ‘mult- function button’ to press-hold it off. It was one of those devices that speak commands and it chirped enthusiastically ‘Power on!” Of course, they automatically powered down, there was no real need for me to have fiddled with them at all. Just as I was smiling benigning, it continued “Connecting!”Which confused me, my phone was in my bed room far away but I was worried that it would light up my phone and make noise, bothering my wife. I hurriedly tried the press-hold command again, but somehow got it wrong it, causing it to chirp again “Dialing!” <Two stone cold heart beats> WHO are you dialing at 2am in the morning?The last person I called was my wife, who kept her phone next to her bed. Let’s just say I am the unsung poster child for the consequences of bad design…. vs How will we approach the Internet of things? When we build products around the internet of things, will it be a seamless easy experience or a complex cascade of errors?
  3. 3. This isn’t an idle question because so many people have a fairly naive approach to the internet of things, a shallow ‘everything thing is awesome’ approach but I feel fairly certain we’re heading for a backlash, a UX disaster that if we’re not careful is going to set us back for years. Let’s step back a bit and start with an innocuousTwitter conversation I had a few months ago.This little animation was posted and people were oohing and ahhhing over how awesome it was. ! People were not only using words like ‘perfect’ but also ‘standard’ and ‘consistent’ Now don’t get me wrong, this animation is lovely but the idea that we need to use it forever or heaven forbid standardize seemed a bit premature to me.
  4. 4. Thats a slippery argument. Are you really arguing that we’ll use pull to refresh forever? So I sent out this slightly provocative tweet:Well, you’d think I shot Pope Francis... The fanboi backlash was strong, really pushing it as a standard. Not because the design is flawed, but if there is one thing I’ve learned in this industry is that things just change. These days, style guides have a half life of about 12 months. So I pushed back a bit The reply was that at the steering wheel has been around forever! It’ll never change, it’s perfect!You think the steering wheel is a standard?
  5. 5. How adorableHow adorable How adorable…. If you have any sense of history, you know how silly it is to believe that the steering wheel is a ‘standard’. Here are some quick shots I grabbed from just the last few years.The steering wheel is being experimented with constantly. Besides, self driving cars are just around the corner. Of course, they are still a ways out but when they come in, Steering wheels be as standard as buggy whips
  6. 6. The History of the Steering Wheel But even if you’re dubious that steering wheels are going away, it’s history is far more nuanced, and troubled, than you’d think. Initially we had no steering wheels, just horse drawn cars.The horses, for the most part, steered the cart.There were reins of course but they were meant mostly for “whoa” and “go!” commands with a few suggestions at forks in the road. Boat Boats were the first vehicles that needed active human steering.A quick refresher, boats had the rudder in the back and when you pushed it over, the sideways force on the boat helped push it into a turn.
  7. 7. Boat Car When cars came along, they copied boats, not horse drawn carts.The engine was in the back, the back wheels turned, Boat Car and even tillers were used to steer them, not wheels.What is fascinating to me is that even when wheels were used on boats, they mimic’ed the tiller mechanism to to turn left, you had to turn the wheel right.This was even true for cars.The completely copied the mechanics of boats.
  8. 8. Here isThomas Edison himself, in a car in 1901. Notice that the steering is now in the front but he’s still using a tiller to steer the car. The steering wheel "has met with such general disfavor in this country that levers are used almost exclusively”! ! User Unfriendly, Joseph J. Corn And this is the critical point. So often we lament slow user uptake and how companies can be too far ahead of the market but in many cases users are pretty damn smart.The technology just wasn’t ready! Rack and Pinion steering was still many years away. It took several technical innovations in before wheels actually became usable.Tillers really were the better product to use at the time.
  9. 9. Familiarity Maturity Revolution The Shape of Innovation There is a shape to innovation and I think the CHI community needs to encourage this greater sense of history.We see this pattern over and over.! Whenever we get a new technology (like cars) we tend to look the past for inspiration.We model tomorrows technology on yesterday’s tasks.We eventually figure it out but it’s a bumpy road to maturity.Then along comes a new technology revolution, Familiarity Maturity The Shape of Innovation and we start the process all over again. Once we kill the steering wheel, what are we going to drag into the future of self driving cars? Dashboards? Bucket seats? The car will reset onto a new bumpy road of maturity loosing the steering wheel and all of the artifact that came with it.
  10. 10. But we have recent examples of this same pattern.The DOS prompt copied theTeletype machine which was matured into the interactive character menus of Lotus 123.The graphical user interface then reset the market and we started over with a new set of tools. And the same thing for phones.The original phones had a single menu, based on the computer menu which was matured in the final Nokia Series 60 phones. It wasn’t until the iPhone came along that this entire approach was retired and replaced by atouch based user interface.
  11. 11. Familiarity Maturity Revolution The Shape of Innovation 2 lessons There are two critical psychological points to this Shape of Innovation.The first is this ‘tiller moment’ when we inappropriately recycle an old model. But the second, even more powerful is when we reach this maturity point.We’ve worked so hard to get to this point that we’re very reluctant to give it up!There’s a type of intellectual gravity well that forms, it just feels so right that the desire to look past it just fades away.This is what I saw with myTwitter friend invoking the steering wheel, he was standardizing on it as he was overly attached to it. The Shape of Innovation The problem is that we see this gravity well in so many products.Windows attempted to mature into a tablet product more than 10 years before the iPad. Microsoft was so attached to their model that they just couldn’t let it go.
  12. 12. The book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, discusses this reluctance of companies to create breakthrough products. It focuses on companies desire to focus on their core (high end) customers too much, missing the new opportunities. I don’t dispute this bu I feel there is another strong force, this intellectual gravity well that holds so many companies back, making them extra conservative. Everyone wants innovation but no one wants risk I saw this so clearly when I was creative director at frog design. Our clients always wanted big innovative ideas but after we would bring them in and do our thing, they would so often push back, letting most of the ideas fall on the floor. Everyone WANTS innovation but no one wants risk… We often joked at frog that we weren’t in the design business but the design therapy business. Much of our job was working with the entire company team, finding the hidden risks and concerns and getting them to look past short term concerns.
  13. 13. Risk-averse people are not afraid of the future…! They’re just overly attached to the past Because risk is a very tricky human reaction. Risk averse people are not really afraid of the future, there just a bit overly attached to the past. OH MY GODOH MY GOD He hasn’t talked about IOT yetHe hasn’t talked about IOT yet I realize some of you may be wondering, He hasn’t really talked much about the Internet of things yet.What’s going on?! But the internet of things changes EVERYTHING, from our designs to our products to our very business models and if we don’t understand this shape of innovation and how it affects how we start (being familiar with the past) or how we get stuck in an intellectual gravity well, we’ll never really think about it properly.
  14. 14. This is especially important as the IoT has been verging on the insane.Take a look at these market projections that have come out every 6 months over the last 3 years… http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2013/05/internet-of-things/ But even the way we are talking about it is absurd.A recent article in Wired had clearly silly scenarios such as warning if a girl friend is nearby. It’s so clear that technology is driving the discussion and not reasonable use cases.We’re getting excited just because it’s possible.
  15. 15. There’s this basic belief that if everything is connected and smart then we can basically do anything and the Jetson’s style projections start spewing forth.We’re assuming old science fiction beliefs. Besides, we can’t really trust the Jetsons at face value, notice that tiller handle there? Internet ofThings Smart Devices Home Automation The basic problem is that the Internet of things is such a broad term, it can mean so many things. But let’s just pick the two that are getting the most press: Smart Devices and Home Automation.
  16. 16. Internet ofThings Smart Devices Home Automation Smart devices are things like the Nest Thermostat and the Quirky Egg Minder: single function devices. Home automation is more a cascade of information where my calendar talks to my alarm clock which wakes up my coffee machine and so one. Let’s start with Home Automation. Here is an example from NinjaSphere, a kickstarted campaign that raised well over it’s original asking price.The idea is simple: by tracking your location within the home, you can automate the lights as you move through it. I don’t want to make fun of this product, it actually has some potential, as long as you’re a single guy living alone….
  17. 17. This ‘everything is awesome’ vision is indeed inspiring but it’s a bit fragile The issue I have with this approach is that it reduces your home lights to a switch and a single light! ! It replaces the switch with a ninjasphere. The problem is that it then has the responsibility to fully operate that switch.
  18. 18. Room is empty Simple motion sensor Wife is sleeping Better sensors Dog is sleeping Even better sensors Wife watching TV, looking for remote WTF… Just read my mind, would you? Bedroom Scenario However, the UX designer in me is far too painfully aware that humans are messy, illogical beasts and simplistic if/then rules are going to create a backlash against this technology. It isn’t until we take the coordinated control of these IoT devices seriously that we’ll start building more nuanced and error tolerate systems.They will certainly be simplistic at first but at least we’ll be on the right path. We must create systems that expect us to be human, not punish us for when we are. The IoT is not a set of if/then rules There are so many times you can say “sorry honey, that wasn’t supposed to happen”! ! This is such an obvious thing to say but being human means being illogical.You can automate 90% of daily life but you can’t make the remain 10% more difficult.
  19. 19. HardEasy EasyHard Moravec’s Paradox: Moravec’s paradox: In the artificial intelligence (AI) field, Moravec commented that computers can be good at intellectual adult tasks but quite horrible at simple perception tasks a small child could do.This divided AI problems into two broad camps: HardEasy and EasyHard. HardEasy were problems like Chess which people thought required cumming so were hard to do. It turned out that by throwing hardware at the problem and doing a (fairly) simple search, a computer could play chess quite well. Language transition would be an example of an EasyHard problem.They thought it would be fairly simple to just look up all the words needed and lay them down, but it was clearly much harder than that. ! I claim that home automation is an EasyHard problem.I’m not a luddite, I strongly feel this is an excellent direction to go but we don’t give it the credit it deserves. What is theirTechnologyTiller? The problem is that they are trying to mature the light switch by replacing it with sensors and rules, but that’s an EasyHard problem.What should be matured are the lights themselves as they define the problem. Much like the steering wheel, there are low level technical things that are keeping us from making this switch. Once we evolve our lights to be smaller, more easily switched, we can create a much more responsive system, something that isn’t as risky as ‘turning on the lights’ would be today.
  20. 20. Bedroom ScenarioTake 2 Room empty? Someone there? Turn onTurn on If we had this more robust lighting approach we could redo the bedroom scenario. If there is no one in the room, then go ahead, turn on the full lights as you would have before. Nothing much is changed here. But if there is someone, then just turn on the safe floor lights so you can navigate the room without bothering someone. However, have the humility to ask the user. Extend the light switch to them by, for example, vibrating their watch, letting them know the system WANTED to turn on the lights but didn’t think it was safe, extend the light switch to the user so they can make the final call. We need to be building systems…! that EXPECT us to be human,! not punish us for when we are. The change is fairly small, we just need to treat home automation with the respect it deserves and create systems that keep us in charge at important moments.
  21. 21. Internet ofThings Smart Devices Home Automation Now let’s move on to Smart Devices. We’re starting to see lots of smart devices ??? Is there aTechnologyTiller? We’re starting to see lots of smart devices, each with their own app.This is perfectly fine when we have a few devices but what of the future? If we believe in Moore’s law at all, there will be hundreds, even thousands of smart devices in our lives. How are we going to work make that work? Is there a technology tiller here that we are trying to drag into the future?
  22. 22. Apps don’t scale The problem is that apps just don’t scale. Right now everyone is focused on home control, e.g. making your washing machine orTV smart. But the much bigger prize is the public space with buses, trains, rental cars, vending machines, parking and of course, every shop you enter.All wanting you to use their app. It just isn’t practical that users would preinstall these apps. Just inTime ! Interaction There is a wide range of devices from the nest down to bus stops (which are just a steel pole stuck in concrete)There is a continuum of device from standalone processor to a tagged object that points to a web page. But, from a design point of view, they are all the same: they want your attention and you need to interact with them.The problem is that we are still using our old school paradigm of ‘native apps’ to deal with them.While I might be fine with an app for my Nest, am i going to download an app for ever store I enter, every smart poster to see, or every smart museum I enter? As we move to single use experiences, apps become hopelessly quaint.
  23. 23. Mobile apps must die It’s why I wrote Mobile Apps must die. People thought it was a rant about web vs native apps but that wasn’t it at all. http://jenson.org/mobile-apps-must-die/! Discovery Control Coordination Every time I talk about the IoT I get questions that show that people really, deeply don’t understand what it is about. My favorite example is the smart toaster, the derogatory poster child of the IoT.When people say that “I don’t want apps on my toaster” I want to shake them by their shoulders! “That’s *your* old paradigm, not mine. It’s too easy to criticize a new technology using old concepts. Smart devices are not about apps!They are about 3 basic layers of functionality: Discovery, Control, and Coordination! !Discovery: Finding my devices nearby. Most companies would kill for just this basic feature. Depending on how clever they are with the URL it can span goofy marketing page (boring) to SPIME like deep interaction with my device history.! !Control:A small increment in cost lets me control the device. This same URL model has moved us from web site directly to Nest because now I’m talking to MY device.While prices are still high, finding the right balance will be tricky but as the costs fall, the choice will become trivial.This needs ‘another Apple’ to take the chance because once it becomes clear it is possible, EVERYONE will want to jump into the pool.! !Coordination:This is the hard one as it involves so much cooperation. I love the overall vision but it will take time for companies to get on board with enough standards to make this happen.Think about today. I can hardly get Mint.com to access all of financial records, it’s constantly breaking down.We expect massive data and control settings to work across every world wide manufacturer?! !My point is that we need to start with the first two: Discovery and Control.They are very much within our reach and offer significant value.
  24. 24. Lose apps,! Think small It’s important to understand how small we’re talking about. Imagine just having a little bit of data like a phone number or a small paragraph of text. Objects could just give you that little bit of information you need. But it can extend to simple web pages, like a printer support page at work. Or even further to simple interaction so I can pay for a parking meeting or rent a bicycle. By losing apps, you can link small and solve a much wider range of interesting use cases. 1. Discovery The Web needs a discovery service 2. Ranking 3. Interacting This is NOT the internet of things, but a building block that can lead up to it.There are 3 areas to discuss: 1) Discovering the public devices nearby 2) Gathering meta data to help rank those devices and 3) Letting the user choose and interact with that web page.Again, this is similar to the steering wheel in that the web is perfect for this but we don’t have the right technologies in place to unlock it.A simple discovery service would unlock a whole to range of both basic info and simple interactivity.
  25. 25. Zipcar The Physical web Everything has ‘a web page’! ‘Instant interaction’, walk up and use! No app install/manage/delete! Encourages entirely new lightweight models Bridge web & physical devices The solution is “The Physical Web” a way to bridge physical devices and the web.At it’s core, its a simple means for devices, like a zip car, to broadcast a URL so any web enabled device can detect that URL and use it. Everything gains a web page. This unlocks the super power of the web and makes instant interaction possible. You completely remove the need to manage apps and most importantly, it’s so simple and light weight that it encourages new riskers products that wouldn’t have been considered before. 2:12 PM3G 2:12 PM3G JIT ecosystem In a sense, I’m looking to create a “just in time” ecosystem. where a range of devices can broadcast a URL and range of smart screens can be looking for them.
  26. 26. Now are these ideas utopian, even a bit naive? Absolutely.This isn’t an easy way of looking at the world, it’s full of stumbles and dead ends. It’s not enough to be open source, it has to be big and audacious, just like the original internet 10 years our time horizon for innovation has become weeks not decades. People forget that the delta between Netscape and Gmail was 10 years. It takes time for technologies and markets to move. I’m in this for the long haul and willing to tackle this problem in small bites.
  27. 27. Remember these guys?They were the ‘pre-web’, for a while, they were much better than the web.They tried to be the Apple of the web, a safe place where things were well under control.The web, at least initially, wasn’t as good, but it eventually overran all of them for the simple reason of scope and reach: they just couldn’t compete with the exponential content. Road idea Truck idea Look at this this way: FedEx couldn’t exist without a municipal road system. Great companies are built on great infrastructure, usually public infrastructure. It’s actually very simple, the world is really only split into two groups: truck ideas and road ideas.! ! The problem is that everyone wants to build trucks. Building roads just doesn’t seem very sexy.
  28. 28. Apple Samsung FacebookCisco The other problem with truck ideas is that they they tend to build their own trucks often with their own roads! In order to maximize profit, they build an ecosystem that locks out others.! ! I’m not naive, I appreciate the business world isVERY competitive and if you don’t protect yourself, you’re vulnerable. But it’s such a colossal waste of energy. Maybe it’s such a dog eat dog world BECAUSE everyone is trying to play king of the mountain? Malcom McLean Does anyone know this guy?This is my new hero. Malcom McLean was the first business man to see outside of this defensive model of capitalism.This is the guy that invented container shipping.
  29. 29. Truck Train Boat Back in the 1950s you had to load and unload all sorts of different sized cargo from trucks to trains to boat. McLean created a standard container size that let you use cranes to do the unloading, it was 36x cheaper than doing it by hand. He made a mint But you know what he did? He gave it all way. He had patents on everything but made them all royalty free.Why? For the simple reason that he realized he was working on road problem. If everyone used his system, it would create a much bigger pie.And guess what, he made even more money.The guy cashed in big time.
  30. 30. What would you rather have? 75% of this 25% of that It’s surprising that a businessman of the 1960s has so much to teach us today. What would you rather have 75% of this or 25% of that? open hardware open software But the big companies won’t go for this! I keep hearing that big companies won’t go for open systems like this. Maybe not. But I’m encouraged by the open hardware and software movements.They enable small companies to do so much so easily. Combine that with the increasing interest in crowd funding and there are likely to be many interesting experiments in the near future. If only of few of them start to create an open ecosystem that starts to gain traction, it will create PR pressure of the bigger companies to follow.
  31. 31. In thinking about the future, it’s easy to be blinded the the giants of the day.The iPhone is great, it was a major step forward but to keep worshiping it, copying it’s model is just getting stuck in an intellectual gravity well. The Shape of Innovation! Apps are ourTechnologyTiller! We need the Physical Web The basic point isn’t that surprising, the IoT changes everything. But we need to be aware of the shape of innovation to make sure we’re not getting stuck.Apps are ourTechnologyTiller and holding us back but implementing the Physical Web, a new way for us to interact with the world.
  32. 32. Power to the people scott@jenson.org @scottjenson jenson.org
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The world is in love with the "Internet of things" but we are using old tools to solve the problem. While we had no choice but to use native apps on our phones for this first generation of smart devices (e.g. Nest) it can't scale. If we believe in Moore's Law at all, we'll have hundreds if not thousands of these devices in our lives in a very short period of time. It just doesn't make sense to use apps as our primary interaction tool. The Physical Web is an approach to 'infuse' the web into physical objects so you can just walk up and use any device, on any platform, with just a single click.


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