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Open Government at City Hall

The Viral Me by Devin Friedman

A fascinating and thorough look into Silicon Valley and one of its key arteries, Y Combinator, in "The Viral Me" by Devin Friedman in GQ Magazine. Here are some key quotes:

YC lesson one: Your smartphone is now, or will be, your basic interface with the world... YC lesson two: Fuck the business plan. Throw your thingy up as soon as possible, see how people use it, and change it to fit what they want.

Devin does a superb job of immersing himself into valley culture and language while maintaining his critical distance. Some of the best parts of the article are classic reporting from conversations where you wish you could be the fly on the wall to hear more than the snippets we get such as:

"FB can already tell when you're about to break up with someone: certain communication patterns emerge"

Microscopic RFID Tags

As wireless technology gets smaller and smarter, it is used in all kinds of innovative ways. Researchers in Japan have developed microscopic RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags that are smaller than a human hair, 0.05mm by 0.05mm. RFID chips in many ways resemble bar codes - they broadcast identification information of one sort or another about whatever it is that they are attached to. The signals from these tags can be used to track products, people, and information. The usefulness of the new micro RFID tags is limited because even the smallest antennas are about eighty times larger than the chips. As antennas shrink in size, this kind of technology will become ubiquitous, embedded anywhere and everywhere.

Initially RFID technology focused on inventory management and logistics: RFID are currently widely used to keep monitor transport of containers at ports, on ships, trains, trucks and their eventual arrival in warehouses. This is by no means the only use of RFID technology, and these new microscopic chips have a much broader potential use - RFID could even be used for paper. Imagine a bureaucracy or records system in which each piece of paper emitted a radio signal that made it possible to digitally track every piece of paper (record) in real time. It would become practically impossible to lose paperwork. And if RFID tags were included in paper money, just imagine the effect on conspiracy theorists around the world.

Sharing Your Location Automatically

As smart phones explode in popularity they are prompting the development of new kinds of social media services, notably "location-based services" that reward people for actively sharing their physical locations, a process called "checking in". Now a new wave of similar services will accomplish this automatically, with little or no input from us. Does this demonstrate our newfound comfort with surveillance, and are we getting enough in exchange for the privacy we're discarding?

Briefly, location-based social media services are a rapidly emerging kind of application largely driven by smart phones. The use of these apps on smart phones helps connect the web to the physical world: the stores, places, and communities around us. Some of these services are game-like, such as Foursquare and Gowalla. Others are tied into review sites like Yelp, or map services like Google Buzz, Places, and Maps. Twitter and Facebook are also actively getting into the location-based services game, adapting their services and apps to take advantage of the world around you and help you connect not only with friends, but the places and business that are nearby.

Apple iAd Program Continues Company's Deliberate Disruption

Gather round the iPad

Apple has revolutionized multiple industries with their much coveted devices and influential services - just consider the way the iPod transformed the music industry. The company is set to do the same with the online advertising world with their new iAd service. Designed for the applications that run on iPads and iPhones, the iAd system is a departure both in terms of the content displayed and how users interact with the ads.

The key element of this system is all the data that Apple collects about its users, a disturbingly deep pool of behaviour and consumer choices that will allow advertising partners to engage in new frontiers of personalized and targeted marketing. Apple might be going too far when it comes to monitoring what people do with their devices: how aware are Apple users that all of their activity is being tracked by their beloved company?

The Buzz Nearby: Why You May Never Be Much Of A Mayor On Foursquare


A rapid convergence is taking place between the web and reality. The artificial division between the virtual and the real is starting to dissolve, as various applications and technologies combine to stitch together interfaces and activities that together dissolve the barriers between the web and our material world.

Augmented Reality is a vivid depiction of how this may manifest a few months from now, however in the present, services like Foursquare, Gowalla, and Google Buzz are helping to make it a reality. In contrast to AR, which I suspect most people still find a bit terrifying, the current batch of location based services have basic interfaces, usually connected to maps, which we're all relatively familiar with.

In fact there's something kind of seductive to using maps as an interface to this emerging convergent world where our location and surroundings are rich with information and social ties.

Is it an indication that we're lost and looking to find our way? Or the inverse, that we know where we are, and we wish everyone else to know as well?

The motivations for using social media and sharing one's location are not always as obvious as they may seem. Critics often slip into absolute terms when assessing how location based services can and will be used, however to fully understand their impact and potential, it is important to immerse oneself in the experience.

Speeding Towards Augmented Reality in the Automobile


Augmented Reality is the newest frontier in car technology and General Motors is trying to bring it to the masses.

What is Augmented Reality you ask? It's a rapidly emerging field that combines information gleaned from the web and super-imposes it on top of "reality". From a technical perspective it employs GPS technology to determine where you are, and then uses cameras and software to engage in pattern recognition using the objects or landmarks around you.

Augmented Reality is largely being driven by the mobile industry, and the proliferation of smart phones, but as a concept is finding traction in all sorts of areas, whether they be at home with your web cam, or with glasses, or contact lenses.

As you drive your car, the AR system would be constantly scanning your surroundings, and co-relating that info with the GPS, to create a new kind of interface via your windshield.

This might be used for safety purposes, like recognizing when a hazard approaches, or anticipating an accident, or detecting a speed trap ahead, and gives you instructions on the windshield to slow down or stop, or maybe avert that nasty pot hole ahead.

Google Apps Marketplace: A Bridge to the Clouds?


Last week the Google Apps Marketplace opened for business. It is a facility for third party developers to add functionality and features to Google Apps, which is a service the web giant offers to business that allow said organizations to harness the power of cloud computing.

Cloud computing is an emerging concept that encourages people to do all their work on the web, instead of desktop computers, and in this case instead of corporate servers or expensive Microsoft Outlook/Exchange/Office systems.

Google Apps combines a number of different services, like gmail for web, google docs for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, calendar, web site publishing, basically all the informational/software needs you would require to run the basics of the company.

The Rise of The Surveillance Club


Today, March 9th 2010 I participated in an interactive workshop at the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto titled Surveillance and Civic Action. Organized by Andrew Clement and Kate Milberry of The New Transparency Project, the purpose of the event was to bring together as many different perspectives as possible regarding the rise of surveillance in our society.

Each participant in the workshop offered some sort of presentation or demo that showcased their work or thoughts on the broader subject of surveillance.

However surveillance was really just a thread that connected other topics, and not the primary focus of the day long discussion. Instead surveillance was used as a segue to all sorts of spheres that relate to how our society is transforming in this age of the Internet.

In the same way that environmentalism has helped us become aware of our symbiotic relationship with the environment, perhaps something similar is required to help us understand our symbiotic relationship with cyberspace.

The Rise of Mobile Commerce

A new mobile payment system introduced by the Canadian company
ZoomPass is the latest in a line of technology that has tried to
entice consumers into using wirless or chip based smart cards as a
means of making small payments. So far consumers have been resistent
to adopt these kinds of payment systems, however given our obsession
with mobile devices, and their ubiquity in our lives, this might be
the system that succeeds where others have failed.

ZoomPass is a Canadian mobile payment system that is owned by Canada's three largest mobile companies (Bell, Telus, Rogers) and backed by
MasterCard. Originally it started as a means of making payments via
text message, as well as a smart phone application. The person making

The Vancouver 2010 Olympics: The first games in the clouds


photo by ecstaticist from flickr.com

The Vancouver 2010 Olympics were the first games that took place "in the cloud." While it would be too easy to say that they were "The Social Media Olympics", that does not describe the breadth and comprehensiveness by which technology dramatically changed the way everyone interacted with the games.

Social media is for many people already old news, and what's novel about these Olympics, what made it possible, was the pervasiveness of cloud computing, the concept that frees us from our personal computer, frees us from a single television channel, to be able to interact with the games anywhere, anytime, and anyway we choose.

There's really no division between official broadcaster and even official sponsors, the olympics are so transcendent they permeate our society for two weeks, kind of like a cloud.

One of the impacts of the rise of cloud computing is the dominance of real-time media. The way in which compelling moments flash through the cloud like lightning with echoes that roar like Thunder.

Sidney Crosby's gold medal winning goal was a great example of this. The moment the puck when into the net an electric current surged across the country (across the world) firing human bodies up with emotion. The thundering echo produced by this strike could be heard by those not directly connected.

Technology Trends for 2010

As another year comes to a close I thought I'd share some brief thoughts on what I anticipate for the world of technology in 2010:

The Might of Mobile

Mobile technology will continue to be a dominant trend as smart phones go from being tools for professionals, to devices that just about everyone has or wants.

A lot of the growth in the mobile sector is driven by applications. A related platform that I think will thrive in 2010 is Augmented Reality (o/k/a AR).

Augmented Reality is an effort to bring the qualities of the web to the physical world by literally adding a layer of hypertext on top of our material reality. Often described and associated with the concept of the "Internet of Things", the idea is to unlock web-based information associated with each object or location.

As a concept AR has been receiving a considerable amount of attention and investment. The recent announcement of advertising in AR will have a powerful and also normative effect.

In this regard, "hyper-local" advertising will be a big trend in 2010, and it will be driven by mobile and AR applications. This will be a way that Twitter starts to cash in, for example, bu having localized ads that target people in particular cities or neighbourhoods. If you don't want to be exposed to these ads, you'll be able to pay a premium and get Twitter with spam filters.

Tablet Computing

I'm kind of excited about the (re)arrival of tablet computers. Apple has one coming out in the spring, Google is rumoured to have one out in early summer, and I've been playing with Nokia's N900, which calls itself a tablet.

What excites me is the combination of mobility with traditional computational power and abilities. On the one hand, it will further drive the development of mobile applications, with the tablets marketed and treated like mobile devices. On the other, they enable a truly rich multimedia experience with their expanded touch screens and user interfaces.

One of their impacts will be to continue to accelerate the rate of technological change as evolution happens faster and companies push out new products and upgrades to keep up.

Rockin the Revolutionary Nokia N900

Nokia N900After many weeks of anticipation I was finally able to obtain a Nokia N900, the new Maemo Linux-powered tablet computer. This is the device I wanted fifteen years ago, when the web was just taking off. While it resembles the smart phones that currently dominate the mobile marketplace, the N900 is more like a mobile computer because it runs on an open source operating system that potentially enables it to evolve faster than others.

When buying any new technology an important evaluation metric to is the health of the supporting community, including user groups, developers and the companies around it. This logic is even more important when it comes to open source projects, as community health and dynamics are explicitly tied to their usability and the direction of future development.

Emerging Business Models for Journalists and Agitators

I love to be inspired by change, even the potential for change, and this is why the fall is tied with spring for my favourite season. Watching the world around me decay, knowing it will rise again, reminds me how important it is for the old to make way for the new.

This is why I rarely lament the decline of the journalism business, or any content-related industry, for that matter. Everywhere I look I see phoenixes ready to rise from the ashes.

For example, two of my favourite media outlets, both creations of internet culture, and also relatively new, are stumbling towards rather successful business models for online journalism. I say "stumbling" only because neither are waiting for permission or the perfect formula. They're embracing the embedded ethos of the online environment which is to "just do it."

Resisting Internet Orthodoxy

I've been thinking a lot about what makes the work I do and the ideas I have different from my contemporaries. Rather facetiously, I talk about the internet as a new religion embraced by the masses in search of salvation. By resisting internet orthodoxy, I deliberately try to see our society and its relationship with technology in a unique manner.

This begins with refusing to use the same jargon and phrases as others, and playing with words to find more accessible and meaningful ways of explaining trends and phenomena. The internet is full of technical concepts that have exclusive and rigid meanings.

Yet the power and resilience of the internet is derived from its open nature, so it only makes sense that we embrace freedom when we talk and think about related ideas and concepts. I do this by generally distrusting technical authorities, including early adopters, technology executives, and I.T. admins. I respect their knowledge, but always question whether their perspective has the potential to be transfered to people who aren't in a position of technical authority (the vast majority of us).

When it comes to the world of social media, which is both technical and non-technical, elitist and also accessible, I find myself consistently frustrated by the level of "group think." In contrast to other technical areas, social media accommodates anyone and everyone, so jargon isn't an acceptable vocabulary to control the discussion and analysis.

What you commonly find is a spoken and unspoken orthodoxy, rules that dictates how tools should be used and people should act. The problem is that this stifles innovation and doesn't allow for the kind of true experimentation we should be seeing in this sector.

Public relations, marketing and advertising people lament the rash of social media experts who project their own industry orthodoxy onto an emergent discipline. Few understand the dynamic involved when in a long chain of diverse individuals and organizations who have a range of expertise culturally acclimatize their own networks and friends.

The seeds of this kind of internet orthodoxy were sown in Ursula Franklin's definition of technology as being "how we do things around here". The variable comes in how we define where we are, with the internet collapsing space into time and everyone being "here" at some point in time.