… offered without context.
Plenty of things worth writing about Kevin Kelly’s post on “Techno Life Skills.” Kelly’s point of departure is that learning how to master any specific technology is less important than learning how to adapt to, use, and understand any technology that emerges (or that meets your newly emergent needs).
Here are a few notes about how technology frames us, how we think, and what we can do:
• Tools are metaphors that shape how you think. What embedded assumptions does the new tool make? Does it assume right-handedness, or literacy, or a password, or a place to throw it away? Where the defaults are set can reflect a tool’s bias.
• What do you give up? This one has taken me a long time to learn. The only way to take up a new technology is to reduce an old one in my life already. Twitter must come at the expense of something else I was doing — even if it just daydreaming.
• Every new technology will bite back. The more powerful its gifts, the more powerfully it can be abused. Look for its costs.
And a few more about accepting the limits of your own knowledge, and how your ignorance isn’t a defeat:
• Understanding how a technology works is not necessary to use it well. We don’t understand how biology works, but we still use wood well.
• Nobody has any idea of what a new invention will really be good for. To evaluate don’t think, try.
• Find the minimum amount of technology that will maximize your options.
I think these last three observations might be both Kelly’s most powerful and the most true.
Update: I forgot maybe the number-one smart, accept-your-own-ignorance observation, which Alan Jacobs rightly pulled:
• You will be newbie forever. Get good at the beginner mode, learning new programs, asking dumb questions, making stupid mistakes, soliticting help, and helping others with what you learn (the best way to learn yourself).
Barnes & Noble dropped a software update today for Nook Color, adding apps and support for Flash and a whole bunch of other features that give it more parity with tablets than e-readers. I got an early briefing and interview with some of the development team.
I took it even though I’m not a full-time gadget blogger any more because I thought I could sell the story, and I was interested. I thought at different points that four different sites would run the story, but eventually they all passed.
It turns out that selling a story that’s under embargo is very very hard, because you can’t tip very much of what you know without breaking the embargo. Also, the relative advantage of early publication just doesn’t mean that much when the exclusive information you have isn’t world-shaking. It was a huge headache, ate up the better part of a week that I really needed to use to do other things, and I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. That’s on me, though.
Anyways, at one point, I said, if all else fails, I’ll publish the damn story on Snarkmarket. This morning, before the embargo broke, I still had an outside shot (a stupid outside shot, but that’s on me, not anybody else) of getting another site to run it.
But now, finally 1) I want to be done with it and 2) I think it’s a good story! I think the update actually means a lot more than 100% of the other people writing about it thinks it does. But everyone in the tech press has always underestimated Barnes & Noble, E-Readers, and the demographic that the Nook Color appeals to. Partly because it’s not really their readership. But that’s another story.
Anyways, here it is.
Nook Update Adds Apps, Flash, Games, Built-In Email, Interactive Books and Magazines, A New Book-Sharing Social Network and More
We always knew that the Nook Color would eventually get full-fledged apps to go with its color e-books. But the e-reader’s customized build of Android 2.2 – available for download today — adds a lot more. Barnes & Noble is definitely aiming to pack more “tablet” into its “reader’s tablet.”
New Built-In Apps
Right now, the only way to get the software update is to download it from http://www.nookcolor.com/update onto a computer and install it on the e-reader using the USB cable. Next week, it will be available as an over-the-air update using Wi-Fi.
After updating the Nook Color’s software to 1.2, you get two new built-in applications: Nook EMail and Nook Friends.
Nook Email provides a local client app for popular webmail services: Gmail, Yahoo!, AOL, and Hotmail. It manages multiple accounts in a single inbox. It can’t manage corporate email from an Exchange server – for that, there are third-party Android apps available like NitroDesk’s Touchdown – but it fits with the Nook Color’s overall mobile, casual-reading approach.
Nook Friends is intriguing. One of the features that distinguished Nook from other e-readers and e-bookstores at launch was its incorporation of book-lending from account to account, device to device. Friends is a mini– or micro– social network primarily devoted to managing book-lending.
You can select which items from your library you wish to make available for browsing or lending to your friends, and request books from your friends based on what they’ve made available. You can also share comments about or highlighted passages from your books.
Currently, Nook Friends is completely sandboxed from Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, or any other social network. On the one hand, it’s good that B&N is taking a deliberate approach – making links with your contacts and decisions to share your books opt-in, rather than exposing your library to everyone in your contact list. In this form, it could work well for families, close friends, or book groups.
Longtime social networkers, on the other hand, with hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of relatively casual contacts online might flinch at having to reconstruct those networks from scratch or taking their social activity somewhere else. (Nook Color already offers pretty good integration with Facebook and Twitter). The network’s currently in beta; it’s worth watching to see how this develops.
Web Browsing: Adobe Flash Player, Adobe AIR, and better switching from Mobile to Desktop Browsing
The update also brings the Nook Color into the fairly rarified air of Android tablets with full support for Adobe Flash AND Adobe AIR. This is a modest surprise — word of Flash support had leaked after the Nook Color’s appearance on the Home Shopping Network in late March, but hadn’t been officially confirmed. Now it is.
We’ll have to wait to see how Flash-based sites and AIR-based applications perform on the Nook Color. This has been problematic for nearly every mobile implementation of Flash, with some sites crashing at launch and others turning into gigantic power hogs.
But I think Flash support adds something very different to Nook Color than it does to, say, RIM’s Playbook. Nook Color is a family tablet, with particular appeal to parents with small children. Popular kids’ sites on the web are overwhelmingly built in Flash. Greater ability to use online video, interactive games, and legacy content is a tangible upside for the market Barnes & Noble’s looking to retain & attract.
Support for AIR is less immediately exciting, but does make cross-platform application building immensely easier. AIR support was a big selling point for Blackberry’s Tablet OS, and Adobe’s leaning on it for its publishing tools for future development of interactive books and magazines. It only makes sense that Nook would jump into bed with AIR now.
Finally, there’s one little tweak to Nook Color’s new web browser that many people won’t notice, but which thoroughly delights me: a single toolbar button that allows you to switch back and forth between the mobile and desktop version of a site. Also, you can select whether you want the default browser setting to be mobile or desktop.
Opinions differ here. I firmly believe that the seven-inch screen is a mobile-sized screen, and that the mobile web is mature and rich enough to handle the vast majority of what a user wants and needs to do using that form factor. Just give me the one finger to scroll up and down. That’s all I need
But sometimes it really is useful to load up the full website, using pinch-and-zoom (that’s new here too), Flash video, the whole thing. And it’s VERY nice to be able to switch back and forth between the two without having to muck about with the URL address.
The Apps! Tell Us About the Apps!
There are 125 new applications at the B&N storefront ready to go today for Nook Color. The overwhelming focus is reading and reading-related applications – think cookbooks, education/reference apps, heavy-duty mail and calendar applications like Touchdown (mentioned above) and casual games.
Big names include Angry Birds – the casual birds-flinging-into-pigs game that is now just about everywhere, the Super Mario Brothers of this generation of mobile games. Also Goodreads, the top book-driven social network – which already is what Nook Friends may some day want to be, minus the book lending. The popular Pulse feed reader, which started out on iPad, then migrated to Android and Mac. There are Lonely Planet tourist guides, and Kids’ applications that straddle between games and enhanced e-books. All of these are natural fits for Nook.
B&N is also adding a handful of free utility applications, including a calendar and note-taking application. Basic stuff, but smart additions – and a useful enticement to get users to cross the threshold into the new App store.
Apps will have their own section of the Nook shop, and will in turn be grouped under categories like “Play,” “Organize,” “Learn,” “Explore,” “Lifestyle,” “News,” and “Kids.” The “Extras” section of the home screen, which was home to Chess and a few of the other first-generation in-house Nook apps, has been renamed “Apps.”
Barnes & Noble’s Claudia Romanini walked me through how she’s worked with developers to bring apps to Nook Color. In most cases, the apps have been ported from already-existing Android versions, then tested to make sure that they’ve been optimized for the Nook’s screen size and look and feel.
In a few cases, though, B&N has worked with developers new to Android who wanted to build something specifically for Nook Color. These include Drawing Pad, a drawing and coloring app, and Cheese Plate, an encyclopedia and food pairing app from Chronicle Books, both of which were first developed for iOS.
The Big Picture
It’s worth saying again: Barnes & Noble is doubling down on the mom and dad, middle-class suburban household demographic – the same readers who come to Barnes & Noble stores, drink Barnes & Noble coffee, and buy books and toys and games for their children. These are applications for the kitchen, the car, and the living room.
But I think this shows us the evolution of both the e-reader and mobile applications markets. In 2006, Apple would never have touted Uno for iPhone. But it makes perfect sense in 2011 that you can play Uno on the Nook Color. We’ve extended beyond the hard-core reader and high-volume mobile demographics into a zone that’s more casual, more utilitarian, more pluralistic. Frankly, it’s more middlebrow, and maybe a little more boring. But it’s a little tablet you can use to read books and magazines, then slip in your pocket and take it home, where you can play with your kids. It doesn’t need to be rockets and fireworks.
The Nook Color has managed to radically expand its feature set, yet continue to exude calm. That’s impressive.
It’s harder than you might think to use Google Ngrams to actually chart trends in cultural history — or do “culturomics,” as the Science article authors would have it — because of well-known problems with the data set.
Here, Matthew Battles tries (on more or less a lark) to see some history play out, Bethany Nowviskie spots a trend (maybe true, maybe false), and Sarah Werner flags the problem.
Aw, man — that fhit Seriously Pucks.
You know what would actually be pretty cool, though? If it were easier to go one level deeper and use Ngrams to do Google Instant Regression. You could graph trends against well-known noise (other s-words misread as f) AND other trends — or instantly find similar graphs.
Let’s say the curve of the graph for the f–word in the 1860s is similar to that for other words and phrases — like “ass”* or “confederacy”* — you could correlate language with other language, individual words with stock phrases, and even (using language as an index/proxy) extralinguistic cultural trends or historical events.
Single-variable analysis just doesn’t tell you very much, even on a data set as problematic as print/language. You need systematic data, and better comparison and control capacity between variables, before you can start to do real science.
(* Ignore for the purposes of this example ascribing contemporary historical meanings to these two ambiguous terms.)
By popular demand, I’m liveblogging R/GA’s session about the Internet of Things, a.k.a. “everyware.” (Everyware, btw, is a much better name.)
Description: “Why have smart refrigerators failed to take hold? Where are the smart tables that were supposed to fill our homes? Smart products with embedded sensors are poised to share their intelligence, but lack of connections among products and services have limited their usefulness. Until now. In this session, we will showcase emerging smart products and break down the design and technology that will separate the wheat from the chaff. We’ll examine the connections these products will make with our lives by bringing more sensibility to sensor-based products.”
Speakers are Chloe Gottlieb, R/GA’s VP of Interaction Design, and Will Turnage, R/GA’s VP of Tech. Read the rest of this entry »
I need a little help figuring out what to attend (and live-blog!) at SXSW this year, so I figured I’d turn to the smartest crew I know. Help me decide, after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »
Like Robin, I love the counter-conventional wisdom John Herrman brings to “I Just Want A Dumb TV.” And I really like Frank Chimero’s distinction between “steadfast,” long-enduring, simple tools and “hot-swap” components of a system that you can change on the fly.
But I want to pivot from this taxonomy of “dumb” things to create a complimentary taxonomy of “smart” ones. If the current crop of “smart” TVs somehow goes wrong, how does it do it? And is a “dumb” monitor the best alternative?
“Smart” and “dumb” applied to electronics/tech has a long history, but for our purposes here, let’s look at the smartphone as one model of what a smart appliance looks like. That seems to be what makers of smart TVs did, anyways. So let’s say, bare minimum, a “smart” appliance needs:
- A fairly versatile processor and operating system;
- The ability to connect to other devices on a local or global network;
- Ability to run some kind of local secondary applications.
In short, it should slightly resemble a modern, networked computer. The problem with smart TVs is they work too much like smartphones and not enough like PCs.
See, smartphones are hypermobile, so you stuff a ton of capacity into the device because it’s going to have to do most things by itself. Phone, games, maps, email, the web, etc, — everything that can be jammed into those little screens.
Television screens, on the other hand, are antimobile. Like desktop PCs, they stay in one place, and you hook other things up to them: cable boxes, game systems, Blu-Ray players, and (wirelessly) remote controls.
With a smart TV, you can go in two directions to make the device “smarter”: you can either try to make them super self-sufficient, doing more and more on one piece of hardware. Or you can make the device better and better at talking to other devices.
There are good aesthetic reasons to do the first one: you can cut cords and clutter and save some money and electricity. Also, it’s wired in with software, not hardware. It’s not like you’ve got this crummy, outdated VCR built into the box; you can (in principle) update your OS and get a whole new set of applications and capabilities.
Still, the second way of making a TV smart seems better to me. Forget connecting my TV to the web; I want to connect my TV to my phone, my laptop, my refrigerator, my alarm clock, my media players (etc etc etc). But do it all wirelessly, over a local network. Make it easier for me to get my media — wherever it comes from — up on the biggest screen in my house. I can’t do that with a totally dumb TV, but I can’t do that easily with current-generation smart TVs either.
This is why I guess I’m more interested in “two-screen” approaches to television, where you’re using an iPad (or something) to browse channels and read about programs and tweet about what you’re watching and otherwise interact with and control what’s on your screen. Because the lesson of “hot-swapping” is that good parts that talk to each other well make the whole more than the sum of its parts.
Here’s more material on rethinking reading and attention.
The book — by which I mean long-form text, in any format — is not a physical thing, but a temporal one.
Its primary definition, its signal quality, is the time we take to read it, and the time before it and the time after it that are also intrinsic parts of the experience: the reading of reviews and the discussions with our friends, the paths that lead us to it and away from it (to other books) and around it.
Publishers know very little about the habits and practices of their readers, and they impinge on this time very little, leaving much of the work to the retailers and distributors.
Amazon and Apple understand experience design, and they know more about our customers than we do; readers’ experience with our product is mediated and controlled by forces beyond ours.
Okay — this is a place to start. But there’s one problematic conclusion that Bridle pretty quickly draws from this. I wouldn’t toss it out, but I’d want to heavily qualify it. It’s the transformation from time as a condition of experience to something that determines value.
For example: Bridle says that readers don’t value what publishers do because all of the time involved in editing, formatting, marketing, etc., is invisible to the reader when they encounter the final product. Maybe. But making that time/labor visible CAN’T just mean brusquely insisting that publishers really are important and that they really do do valuable work. It needs to mean something like finding new ways for readers to engage with that work, and making that time meaningful as THEIR time.
In short, it means that writers and producers of reading material probably ought to consider taking themselves a little less seriously and readers and reading a little more seriously. Let’s actually BUILD that body of knowledge about readers and their practices — let’s even start by looking at TIME as a key determinant, especially as we move from print to digital reading — and try to offer a better, more tailored yet more variable range of experiences accordingly.
In that spirit, Alain Pierrot starts by thinking about this problem of how much of our time we give different texts, and offers a concrete idea for gathering and incorporating that data. (He’s building off an Information Architects post about an iPad project that incorporates Average Reading Time, or ART, into its interface! Brilliant!)
Can I read the next chapter of this essay, study or novel before I’m called to board the plane, before my train comes to the station, or should I pick a shorter magazine article or a short story from Ether Books, etc.?
On a more professional field, can I spare the time to read the full version of the report, or should I restrain to the executive summary, plus the most relevant divisions of the report before the meeting?
Or in academic situations, what amount of reading time should I plan to spend on the textbook, on the recommended readings and extra relevant titles before I sit term/final examinations?…
Wouldn’t it be a good idea to leverage all the occasions where digital texts are chunked in relevant spans to store their ART into metadata, made available to apps that would sort timewise what I’m proposed to read? Social media and relevant storage solutions might host measured ARTs at convenience.
XML structured editing affords many solutions for identifying the relevant sections of texts, and storing their length, timewise. I would love to see the feature embedded into a next version of ePub, or at least recommended as best practice.
Would that make sense for Google Books, Amazon, iBooks, publishers, librarians?
And this definitely dovetails with Amazon offering readers its most-highlighted passages. What do people pay attention to? And how long do they pay attention to it?
Reading Bridle — which is very smart, but seems to fall back on an assumption that publishers already know everything they need to know, they just aren’t doing what they need to do — and then reading the IA post — which is quite deliberately playing around with a bunch of different ideas, treating the digital text as a wide-open idea — even though they’re both about trying to pull off this very difficult move from space to time — illustrates how much is changing right now.
If I had to guess, I’d say, bet on the software guys to figure this out first. Even if publishers and booksellers have a better brick-and-mortar position, software is just plain faster. From space, to time.
For some reason, I was thinking about pagers today. (I think it was something in the news about Motorola, a company that for me just always conjures memories of pagers). Here’s some nice info from Wikipedia:
Some common environments in which pagers are still used are:
* Pagers remain in use to notify emergency personnel. For example, they are required to be used by UK lifeboat crew and retained firefighters.
* Police, coast, local government emergency co-ordinators and other emergency services also carry pagers as a back-up system in the event of civil emergencies when mobile transmitters or networks may be unavailable.
* Security services use pagers (including global satellite pagers) as the signal is broadcast nationally (or across a global region in the case of satellite pagers) and there is thus no way of interceptors tracking the location of the pager-holder. Encrypted messages are also used in this scenario.
* Pagers are mostly carried by staff in medical establishments, allowing them to be summoned to emergencies. This is particularly important as one-way pagers do not interfere with medical equipment.
* Some construction and mining staff have to use one-way ‘intrinsically safe’ pagers as opposed to mobiles, as these do not risk triggering explosions in certain environments.
* Pagers are also widely used in the IT world, especially in cases where on-call technicians cannot rely on more modern cellular telephone systems. A good example would be in a cellular telephone company, where a service interruption in the cellular network would also mean that it would not be possible to notify a technician due to the outage in the network. Therefore, in these companies, engineers are usually equipped with a pager that uses another telco’s mobile network to ensure reachability in case of emergency. Pagers are also frequently used by non-telco IT departments.
* Railway staff (for example those working for rail companies in the UK) use pagers because of their consistency of signal, to supplement mobile usage.
* Deaf people who have no use for mobile voice services sometimes use two-way pagers.
* Pagers are widely used by rare bird-chasing “twitchers”, paying for rare bird information companies to send them messages telling them up-to-the-minute details of the latest rarity sightings across Britain. …
Another pager technology in wide use today is the call or tone pager. Mainly used in the hospitality industry, customers are given a theft-protected portable receiver which usually vibrates, flashes or beeps when a table becomes free, or when their meal is ready.
I love that last example, because it’s 1) something most of us still wind up experiencing and 2) it shows the value of information technology even when it can’t display anything we’d recognize as information.
Also, the range and reliability on those things is just terrible. So you have ultra-reliable, ultra-secure satellite-driven text technology used by emergency personnel — and crummy cheap pieces of plastic running on a radio signal that can’t reach the lobby outside the hotel bar.
But it’s still there. We still need it.