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Real-world interfaces are in an awkward and playful stage

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Josh Clark on the world as an interface, avoiding data rash, and the importance of play.

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World_Alarm_Clock_Bob_Bob_FlickrIn this week’s episode of the Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mary Treseler chats with Josh Clark, founder of design agency Big Medium (formerly known as Global Moxie). Clark talks about the changing nature of his work as the world itself becomes more of an interface, how to avoid “data rash,” and why in this time of rapid technology growth it’s essential for designers to splash in the puddles.

The world is the medium

The influence of the Internet of Things is beginning to touch every aspect of our lives, from how we communicate to how we work to how we play. This fundamental shift away from screens to the real-world around us not only is influencing how designers approach their craft, but is changing the medium itself in which designers work. Clark talked about this shift and how it’s affecting his own work:

Over the last couple of years, I’ve found the nature of my work has been changing as well as my interests. I think the culture of digital design is changing, too, as we start moving off of screens. It felt like an opportunity to redefine my own work, so I also did that with my agency and changed its name to Big Medium. The idea of that being that the Internet itself is a pretty big medium, and in fact starting to expand beyond the bounds that we’ve traditionally associated it with, which is the screen. Increasingly, as we’re seeing connected devices — the smart phones were kind of the leading edge of this, but now we’re starting to see wearables and the Internet of Things — this idea that the Internet is becoming embedded in our environment and in everyday objects means that anything can be an interface.

My work is starting to engage more and more with that truly big medium, which is the world itself. Finally, the world is the interface, which of course it always has been, but now we’re able to create digital experiences that belong to the world that we actually move in instead of us having to dive into the screens.

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Protecting health through open data management principles

Personal wellness data should be shared as freely as water and air.

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Register for the free webcast, “Life Streams, Walled Gardens, and the Internet of Living Things.” Brigitte Piniewski and Hagen Finley will discuss the Internet of Living Things, what makes sensoring and monitoring data emanating from our bodies unique, and why we should elect to participate in this seemingly Orwellian mistake of open-sourcing our personal health data.

We are at a threshold in the history of personal data. Sensors and apps are making it possible to generate digital data signatures of important aspects of healthy living, such as movement, nutrition, and sleep. However, we are rapidly losing the opportunity to erect a Linux-like open “living-well” data system steeped in open commons principles. We can either join together to ensure enlightened open source and crowdsourced discovery practices become the norm for our living-well data footprints, or we can passively allow this data to be sequestered into one of the walled gardens offered by health systems, funded research, or big business.

Why this is important?

Living-well data provides the map by which vast amounts of preventable human suffering can be prevented. Everyone can benefit from the health journeys of those who lived before us because our modern societies are no longer “accidentally well.” Decades ago, parents had no need to question the nutrition a child was offered or concern themselves with how much activity a child engaged in. No deliberate use of devices was needed to track these important health contributors. Reasonable access to whole foods (farm foods) and reasonable amounts of activity were provided, as it were, by default — in other words, by accident. This resulted in remarkably low rates of chronic disease. Today, communities cannot take those healthy choices for granted — we are no longer accidentally well. Read more…

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The state of augmented reality

A look at AR today and how we need to design it for tomorrow.

Attend O’Reilly’s Solid Conference, June 23–25, in San Francisco. Solid is our conference exploring how the collision of software and hardware is fueling the creation of a software-enhanced, networked physical world. Helen Papagiannis will speak at Solid on June 24.

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Screenshot of the Google Sky Map app.

Unlike virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) provides a gateway to a new dimension without the need to leave our physical world behind. We still see the real world around us in AR, whereas in VR, the real world is completely blocked out and replaced by a new world that immerses the user in a computer generated environment.

AR today

The most common definition of AR to date is a digital overlay on top of the real world, consisting of computer graphics, text, video, and audio, which is interactive in real time. This is experienced through a smartphone, tablet, computer, or AR eyewear equipped with software and a camera. Examples of AR today include the translation of signs or menus into the language of your choice, pointing at and identifying stars and planets in the night sky, and delving deeper into a museum exhibit with an interactive AR guide. AR presents the opportunity to better understand and experience our world in unprecedented ways.

AR is rapidly gaining momentum (and extreme amounts of funding) with great advances and opportunities in science, design, and business. It is not often that a whole new communications medium is introduced to the world. AR will have a profound effect on the way we live, work, and play. Now is the time to imagine, design, and build our virtual future. Read more…

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How Shazam predicts pop hits

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Cait O'Riordan on Shazam's predictive analytics, and Francine Bennett on using data for evil.

Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast to track the technologies and people that will shape our world in the years to come.

record_player_from_1920s_Marcin_Wichary_FlickrIn this week’s Radar Podcast, I chat with Cait O’Riordan, VP of product, music and platforms at Shazam. She talks about the current state of predictive analytics and how Shazam is able to predict the success of a song, often in the first few hours after its release. We also talk about the Internet of Things and how products like the Apple Watch affect Shazam’s product life cycles as well as the behaviors of their users.

Predicting the next pop hit

Shazam has more than 100 million monthly active users, and its users Shazam more than 20 million times per day. This, of course, generates a ton of data that Shazam uses in myriad ways, not the least of which is to predict the success of a song. O’Riordan explained how they approach their user data and how they’re able to accurately predict pop hits (and misses):

What’s interesting from a data perspective is when someone takes their phone out of their pocket, unlocks it, finds the Shazam app, and hits the big blue button, they’re not just saying, “I want to know the name of this song.” They’re saying, “I like this song sufficiently to do that.” There’s an amount of effort there that implies some level of liking. That’s really interesting, because you combine that really interesting intention on the part of the user plus the massive data set, you can cut that in lots and lots of different ways. We use it for lots of different things.

At the most basic level, we’re looking at what songs are going to be popular. We can predict, with a relative amount of accuracy, what will hit the Top 100 Billboard Chart 33 days out, roughly. We can look at that in lots of different territories as well. We can also look and see, in the first few hours of a track, whether a big track is going to go on to be successful. We can look at which particular part of the track is encouraging people to Shazam and what makes a popular hit. We know that, for example, for a big pop hit, you’ve got about 10 seconds to convince somebody to find the Shazam app and press that button. There are lots of different ways that we can look at that data, going right into the details of a particular song, zooming out worldwide, or looking in different territories just due to that big worldwide and very engaged audience.

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What today’s fitness technology means for tomorrow’s office

How the IoT could help organizations create a better employee experience.

Contributing Author: Claire Niech

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Attend O’Reilly’s Solid Conference, June 23–25, in San Francisco. Solid is our conference exploring how the collision of software and hardware is fueling the creation of a software-enhanced, networked physical world.

At 5:37 a.m., Nina’s alarm softly begins to buzz and glow. It has calculated her recovery time based on her previous day’s workout and monitored her sleep tracker to identify the best point in her REM cycle to wake her up. After rising, she grabs a healthy breakfast and her PrepPad or Drop connected kitchen scale records the fat, protein, calories, and carbohydrates in her meal.

For athletes like Nina, this kind of technology-enabled tracking is now standard. When Nina hits the gym for her daily routine, she warms up on a treadmill equipped with sensors to help gauge when she is striking at her optimal force. As she practices technique and form, a ‘smart’ surface records the location and duration of each move. Her training regimen is personalized based on this data; ‘instead of working off a generalized idea of what an athlete needs to be successful, [data analysis] has identified the specific abilities that a player requires to excel in a given sport.’ (From Faster, Higher, Stronger, by Mark McClusky)

Professional athletes today increasingly rely on Internet-connected devices and sensors to boost performance. Yet, the potential of such devices — commonly called the “Internet of Things” — extends beyond sports and fitness; as “weekend warriors” begin to bring these technologies mainstream, it is not hard to imagine that similar devices may soon also help us better understand other complex personal pursuits, such as creativity and productivity at work. As Laszlo Bock, who runs Google’s People Operations, notes: “We all have our opinions and case studies, but there is precious little scientific certainty around how to build great work environments, cultivate high-performing teams, maximize productivity, or enhance happiness.”

Today, many organizations tackle these questions with an industrial-organizational approach, diagnosing the issues most relevant to their workforce using tools such as annual surveys and benchmarking. But today’s approach seldom offers insight on “what works” — ways to track, teach, or reinforce new behaviors, or to see if specific initiatives are achieving the desired effect. Solutions to complex challenges like productivity or satisfaction often vary by organization, and demand better, real-time measurement and testing to enable experimentation.

By weaving together our physical and digital environments, sensors could help organizations analyze how factors like mood, focus, social engagement, or movement contribute to the employee experience — and even help replicate or enhance this experience. Consider how this new technology could impact how companies do work, assess outcomes, and enable employees to thrive. Read more…

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Tying software and hardware together through art

The O'Reilly Solid Podcast: Andy Cavatorta and Jamie Zigelbaum on art that combines physical and digital.

One of the theses behind our Solid Conference is that the stacks — the ranges of knowledge that technologists need to understand — are expanding so that the formerly separate disciplines of hardware and software are merging. Specific expertise is still critical, but the future lies in systems that integrate physical and virtual, and developing those effectively requires the ability to understand both sides at some basic level.

Installation art is a great place to look for those seamless integrations, and we’re excited to feature a couple of interesting installations at Solid. Our latest episode of the Solid Podcast takes us to Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, home to a collective of designers and engineers called Dark Matter Manufacturing, where David Cranor and I spoke with Andy Cavatorta and Jamie Zigelbaum. Cavatorta and Zigelbaum both create installations; Cavatorta works with sound and robotics, and Zigelbaum’s projects explore communication and interaction.

Cavatorta’s Dervishes installation will appear at O’Reilly Solid, June 23-25. He will also speak on “Music, machines, and meaning: What art teaches us about robotics and networks.” Read more…

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