Fjord: designing for the Internet of Things

Ida Jensen

Internet of Things World News:

Early this month saw the inaugural Location & Context World take place in Palo Alto. Over the course of the two-day event, it became increasingly apparent that, as technology becomes more and more seamlessly woven into the fabric of our lives (sometimes quite literally, as in the case of wearables), context and location will play a primary role in keeping that technology relevant and useful.

Take, for instance, notifications. At the one extreme, good old spam continues to be a by-word for the crudest, least welcome form of technology: brutally automated, a kind of profiteering by numbers.

However, as Location & Context keynotes and Fjord designers David Hindman and Peter Burnham explained by phone after the conference, greater sensitivity to location and context could revolutionise notifications, resulting in a kind of anti-spam – relevant and hyper accute.

“If we’re acknowledging the user’s context,” says Burnham, “then we may know when I can be found and that I’m more receptive at certain times. We don’t have great ways of knowing yet whether I’m in the middle of a conversation, but if we start using data we may be able to know that I’m at work, and (if we can consult my office calendar) that I’m in a meeting and therefore we should wait till I’m on my way to the train –maybe that’s a better time to find me, give me a message or try and sell me something.”

Location, Burnham adds, is really an aspect of context. For instance, when we use an app such as Uber, they not only know where your location, but your mindset (you want a cab), your destination, your customer history etc. Indeed, the ability to cater with such specificity is key to their success.   “The definition of context is a combination of location and activity,” says Burnham.

The main challenges location and context currently present concern matters of accuracy and transparency.

“We need to be accurate because if we get that wrong and interpret context incorrectly, we can’t really tailor experiences,” says Hindman. “We try to design things that are less obtrusive. We’re at a point right now where I don’t think context is 100% accurate. We’re making lots of inferences based on what we think… it’s not super-smart yet.”

Meanwhile, transparency is important because, as technology seeps into ever more areas of our lives, any subsequent exploitation of the resulting data trail had better be open and honest or the future consumer is going to be at best creeped-out and at worst entirely alienated. “There are presently a lot of services that try to take advantage of location and context but do it in a way that’s hidden to the customer and starts to create a system that isn’t very trustworthy” says Burnham. “We’ve seen that a lot lately. The Internet of Things aspect is crucial for us to be able to understand how we take the data exhaust from all of these different devices, because we’re all creating a huge amount of data nowadays, especially once we start to have all these sensors attached to us that show our location and our context and our heartbeat and potentially our brainwaves. The question is, how do we take this type of information and create a meaningful service behind that that can really effect change in somebody’s life?”

Read the full article on Internet Of Things World News

Ida Jensen

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