Jenn Webb

Jenn Webb is a veteran of the newspaper industry turned freelance scribe, editor, and researcher. She is a nerd with a passion for technology and cultural disruption. She currently serves as O'Reilly Radar's managing editor and helps to investigate topics in the Design, IoT+, Data, and Emerging Tech spaces.

Prepare for change now, and you’ll be ready for it later

Max Firtman on the future of mobile and the importance of embracing change.

Companies and developers have plenty of mobile development challenges — OS platforms, the growing number of devices and screen sizes, and the myriad requirements of browsers, to name a few. Soon — or already — the Internet of Things is going to muddy the waters further. In a recent interview, Max Firtman, founder of ITMaster, stressed the importance of the growing ubiquitousness of IoT and the necessity that companies embrace the future:

”Maybe in 10 years, we’re going to see devices everywhere sending input information to apps that might be in the server, in the cloud — and those apps will carry some kind of intelligence, and will bring us back information on other devices that could be a smart watch, smart glass, a phone; we don’t know, yet, exactly what will be here. But there are a lot of challenges there for content owners or companies because you need to understand that you’re going to be everywhere.

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Innovation requires a new mind-set: The O’Reilly Radar Podcast

Tim O'Reilly and Carl Bass discuss the future of making things, and Astro Teller on Google X's approach to solving big problems.

Editor’s note: you can subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast through iTunes, SoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed.

I recently lamented the lag in innovation in relation to the speed of technological advancements — do we really need a connected toaster that will sell itself if neglected? Subsequently, I had a conversation with Josh Clark that made me rethink that position; Clark pointed out that play is an important aspect of innovation, and that such whimsical creations as drum pants could ultimately lead to more profound innovations.

In the first segment of this podcast episode, Tim O’Reilly and Autodesk CEO Carl Bass have a wide-ranging discussion about the future of making things. Bass notes that innovation tends to start by “looking at the rear window”:

“The first naïve response is to take a new technology and do the old thing with it. It takes a while until you can start reimagining things…the first thing that you need is this new tool set in software, hardware, and materials, but the more important thing — and the more difficult thing, obviously — is a new mind-set. How are you going to think about this problem differently? How are you going to reimagine what you can do? That’s the exciting part.”

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Postmortems, sans finger-pointing: The O’Reilly Radar Podcast

In this episode, John Allspaw talks in-depth about blameless postmortems and creating a just culture.

Editor’s note: you can subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast through iTunes, SoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed.

When you’re dealing with complex systems, failure is going to happen; it’s a given. What we do after that failure, however, strongly influences whether or not that failure will happen again. The traditional response to failure is to seek out the person responsible and punish them accordingly — should they be fired? Retrained? Moved to a different position where they can’t cause such havoc again?

John Allspaw, SVP of technical operations at Etsy and co-chair of the O’Reilly Velocity Conference, argues that this “human error” approach is the equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face. He explains in a blog post that at Etsy, their approach it to “view mistakes, errors, slips, lapses, etc., with a perspective of learning.” To that end, Etsy practices “blameless postmortems” that focus more on the narrative of how something happened rather than who was behind it, and that remove punishment as an outcome of an investigation.

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WOOL author Hugh Howey is a tech optimist: The O’Reilly Radar podcast

In separate interviews, authors Hugh Howey and Ramez Naam discuss science fiction and their views of the future.

Editor’s note: you can subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast through iTunes, SoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed. You can download this individual episode via this link.

Science fiction long has fueled the imaginations of scientists and inspired (or foreshadowed) technological advancement. We have only to look back at the works of Isaac Asimov, or even Kurt Vonnegut, and episodes of “Star Trek” or movies like “Minority Report” for science fiction technologies that are (or nearly are) coming into existence today.

In this podcast episode, author, scientist, and futurist Ramez Naam explains to O’Reilly’s Mac Slocum that science fiction had a direct influence on his current interests in human enhancement and telepathy. Naam grew up reading science fiction (“like a lot of geeks,” he says) and once he started reading scientific journals and papers, he started seeing the connections. Naam says, “I found out that a lot of science fiction ideas were becoming actually possible — that scientists were implanting electrodes in the brains of animals and getting them to move robot arms by thought, to help people who were paralyzed.”

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Podcast: Design for how the world should work

Josh Clark and Tim O’Reilly on designing beyond screens, and beyond a single device.

Editor’s note: this podcast episode is the first in our new bi-weekly O’Reilly Radar Podcast series. You can subscribe through iTunes, SoundCloud, or directly through our podcast’s RSS feed.

As the Internet is increasingly embedded into our physical world, it’s important to start designing for physical and intentional interactions with interfaces to supplement the passive, data-gathering interactions — designing smart devices that service us in the background, but upon which we also can exert our will.

In this episode, Josh Clark (in an interview) and Tim O’Reilly (in a keynote) both address the importance of designing for contextual awareness and physical interaction. Clark stresses that we’re not facing a challenge of technology, but a challenge of imagination. O’Reilly argues that we’re not paying enough attention to the aspects of people and time in designing the Internet of Things, and that the entire system in which we operate is the user interface — as we design this new world, we must think about user needs first.

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Disposable architecture?

Technology is now outpacing innovation, fostering a culture of disposability.

I’ve noticed a number of faint signals recently pointing to a general shift in the speed of technology and the repercussions it’s having on the products we’re seeing come to market. This recent Tweet from Tom Scott got me really thinking about it:

Scott’s comment brought me back to a recent conversation I had with Princeton architecture student Alastair Stokes. I’d asked Stokes whether the technology challenges of designing a building to last 100+ years are more difficult today than they were in, say, 1900 — or if it’s as difficult, just different. He said the challenges might be more difficult today, but regardless, maybe technology is changing the solution: we shouldn’t try to design buildings today to last 100 years, but design them so they’ll last for, say, 20 years and then be replaced. Read more…

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Humanizing emerging technologies

We must demystify the "magic" of technology to increase user understanding and improve user experience.

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Editor’s note: we’re running a series of five excerpts from our forthcoming book Designing for Emerging Technologies, a compilation of works by industry experts in areas of user experience design related to genomics, robotics, the Internet of Things, and the Industrial Internet of Things.

In this excerpt from the chapter “New Responsibilities of the Design Discipline: A Critical Counterweight to the Coming Technologies?,” author and independent design consultant Martin Charlier argues that taking a human approach to technology is required not only to ensure a good user experience, but also to afford better user understanding of technology. This could mean enhancing the experience by building on familiarity; presenting tangible representations of invisible technology, such as RFID and NFC technology; or even by eschewing high-tech solutions altogether.


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Author and independent design consultant Martin Charlier.

British science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke wrote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Magic can make people uneasy. Consider for example the scare around mobile telephones and what effects their radio waves might have on the human body.

The phrase “humanizing emerging technologies” is about reducing the amount of mystery around how a technology works and about helping people retain a sense of control over their changing environments. It is about understanding the mental models people use to make sense of technology and making technology fit people, not the other way round. It can even go so far as to question the need to use a particular technology to achieve a certain result in the first place.

This role of using design can be part of commercial work, or of academic, experimental projects dealing with market-ready or applied technologies. Read more…

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Technology that gets under your skin

Embeddables won't just be a revolution in functionality, but will dramatically alter how people fit into society.

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Editor’s note: we’re running a series of five excerpts from our forthcoming book Designing for Emerging Technologies, a compilation of works by industry experts in areas of user experience design related to genomics, robotics, the Internet of Things, and the Industrial Internet of Things.

In this excerpt, author Andy Goodman, group director at Fjord Madrid, looks beyond wearable computing to a deeper, more personal emerging computing technology: embeddables. Goodman says that beyond wearables and implants lies a future symbiosis of human and machine that will transform not only the delivery of information and services, but human nature as well.


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Author Andy Goodman, group director at Fjord Madrid.

Wearables are yesterday’s news; tomorrow’s news will be all about embeddables, tiny computing devices implanted inside your body that monitor your health, improve your functioning, and connect you to the digital world.

There is currently a lot of buzz in technology and design circles about wearables, living services, the Internet of Things, and smart materials. As designers working in these realms, we’ve begun to think about even more transformative things, envisioning a future where evolved technology is embedded inside our digestive tracts, sense organs, blood vessels, and even our cells. Everyday objects will become responsive and predictive, connecting us to the data sphere and reducing the distance between our skin and the surfaces of the made world. What we see further out, beyond the realm of wearables and implants, is the future symbiosis of the human body and the machine. Read more…

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Expanding the 3Cs framework for the IoT ecosystem

Multi-device experiences can be approached in very diverse ways in a connected world.

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Editor’s note: the following is an excerpt from our recently released book Designing Multi-Device Experiences, by Michal Levin.

In this excerpt, Levin addresses ecosystem experience design beyond the four core devices — smartphones, tablets, PCs, and TVs. She explores ways a consistent, continuous, and complementary (3Cs) design framework can be applied across the physical and digital spheres in our increasingly connected world.


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Author Michal Levin, Senior User Experience Designer at Google.

The IoT stretches the multi-device notion into a new world of connected things, expanding our family of devices to include a diversified range of gadgets, appliances, and accessories of any shape, size, or form factor. These devices are not necessarily equipped with a screen or computing power. To continue the LEGO analogy from Chapter 5, we now have a new array of LEGO bricks, gears, and various other parts that get added to the playground. Accordingly, they introduce new ways to assemble an ecosystem experience and interact with it.

We still need the oxygen flow provided by the wireless connection, transferring data between things across all experiences. But we can augment these digital connections with physical ones. Things can be physically attached or plugged into other things, and by doing so, we augment their capabilities in various ways. Read more…

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Thinking with things

Something is lost when we limit interactions to pressing or clicking — our bodies are capable of so much more.

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Editor’s note: we’re running a series of five excerpts from our forthcoming book Designing for Emerging Technologies, a compilation of works by industry experts in areas of user experience design related to genomics, robotics, the Internet of Things, and the Industrial Internet of Things.

In this excerpt, author Stephen Anderson addresses the importance of embodied learning and stresses that those concepts need to extend to the way we design and interact with our increasingly connected environment, noting that the digital devices today are painfully unaware of our many human capabilities.


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Stephen Anderson, author, consultant, and creator of the Mental Notes card deck.

You may wonder, “why should we care about tangible computing?” Isn’t interacting with our fingers or through devices such as a mouse or touchscreens sufficient? In a world constrained by costs and resources, isn’t it preferable to ship interactive software, that can be easily replicated and doesn’t take up physical space? If you look at how media has shifted from vinyl records to cassette tapes to compact discs and finally digital files, isn’t this the direction that everything is headed?

Where learning and understanding is required, I’d argue no. And a definite no wherever young children are involved. Jean Piaget established four stages of learning (sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operations, and formal operations), and argued that children “learn best from concrete activities.” This work was preceded by John Dewey, who emphasized first-hand learning experiences. Other child psychologists, such as Jerome Bruner and Zoltán Dienes, have built on these “constructivist” ideas, creating materials used to facilitate learning. In a review of studies on the use of manipulatives in the classroom, Marilyn Suydam and Jon Higgins concluded in their 1976 report “Review and Synthesis of Studies of Activity-Based Approaches to Mathematics Teaching” that “studies at every grade level support the importance and use of manipulative materials.”

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