ubitasking. Taylorism. The horror…

Visualization of over 16,000 Mechanical Turk workers in the United States. Click on the image for the original (much bigger).

I’m always trying to think of silly new buzzwords (“ubitasking”), and I’m also always trying to avoid the hackneyed ones (“crowdsourcing”). Mechanical Turk (ach! 41% of it is SPAM) -type platforms are brushing up against place-sensitive applications, and the results are intriguing, particularly in the coordination of humanitarian aid. In one case, Crowdflower participated in Haitian earthquake relief efforts, in conjunction with the well-known Ushahidi platform and a ‘Turk-like ‘form called Samasource. This is interesting (and relevant to my research) for two reasons:

Firstly, the work sourced through Samasource involved translation of text messages so that aid workers could read them and respond – which is an important general consideration when envisioning the localization of any ICTs to particular cities (and neighborhoods within cities). Vancouver is made up of a number of linguistic communities; reaching out broadly to ensure they are all included requires an awareness of such tactics and a readiness to deploy them in the rollout of any mobile application(s). So, for instance – should the design team prescribe something with a similar “task orientation” (like ubitasking notifications to the City about sick trees or potholes) – translation services can be similarly sourced and organized here. The elderly Korean woman who has a community garden plot next to ours (who is constantly giving us gardening advice, in Korean, as she speaks no English whatsoever) inspires me to demand a community babelfish…

Secondly, and troublingly, all this “task orientation” (should be “tsk. orientation…”) smacks of Taylorism writ even more granular than ever before. If you doubt me, just read Crowdflower’s FAQ page for things such as “By saving the correct answers to a small set of Units prior to running a job, we track the quality of a worker’s performance and reject a worker once his or her accuracy drops below a defined threshold. When no Gold Units are inserted, the quality of work plummets…”. Yep, that’s your name alright, Taylorism. Routinizing work; building human powered Difference Engines; monitoring space and time with cool algorithms. Not your Lefebvre‘s city. More like yr Le Corbusier‘s…

I’m not dis(mis)sing Crowdflower, though, as they clearly have a charitable and progressive ethos going on, by all accounts. Just picking on the FAQ language, noting the exacting character of software, and pointing out where I’ve seen it all before.

So yes, pluses and minuses so far in the prelims, as expected. I’m looking at a few more technical options, and I’m prescribing nothing.

Image credit: sethoscope (http://www.flickr.com/photos/sethoscope/5410862747/) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Participatory Mobile Urban Experience Planning

… or, Streethacking with Ubiquitous Media, if you prefer. This is the thing toward which I’m now turning most of my academic affections and attention. Reading Henri Lefebvre, Matt Hern, Paul Dourish, and many others has led me to this increasingly (and appropriately) crowded (for instance, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for some rough coordinates…) space of inquiry. My research has been months in the planning phases, and has been a labour of love (among other things… a different story, for a different blog, with different privacy settings…). Now, however, begins the process of scheduling, recruiting, fine-tune budgeting, and nailing down the specific questions for the inquiry. There’s much to be queried about the topic. Oh, the topic?

I’m doing this research as part of something called the Greenest City Conversations Project, a collaborative effort of a number of researchers at UBC and SFU, based at UBC’s Centre for Sustainability. My research (on mobile and ubiquitous computing, the urban environment, and sustainability issues in Vancouver) involves a participatory design exercise, in which the team will be doing something of a ‘needs assessment’ and ‘visioning exercise’ for what the mobile/ubicomp sphere can do to improve or better facilitate public awareness, dialogue and participation in sustainability issues. Then, we’ll turn to designing an application (or a ‘connective tissue’ piece between existing platforms and/or applications) in conjunction with student interns and/or a local technology company. That’s the lightning pitch.

As the research proceeds, I will be providing regular updates on this, my longest-serving blogbot (since 2006 now! pat on the head there, little noseclicker, aw… we’ve been through so much!…). While much of my data will be sealed off from public scrutiny due to the exigencies of ethical codes safeguarding personal information of human research subjects, I will be posting what I can when I can, as a way of documenting my path toward completing it. Likely, this project will unfold over 6-8 months, culminating in a dissertation and public launch of … something … whatever the designers recommend, and whatever the developers can fashion.

Vancouver Digital Week, Cossette Convergence 09, and the Future of Mobile

Vancouver Digital Week is coming up soon (May 11-14), and it’s a must-attend for anyone in the New/Social/Mobile Media scenes in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, it’s an international must-attend event (even GDC is part of it this year, so it’s going to be huge in 2009!). So all you folks outside of Vaneattleland should be coming here too!

Kicking off the week on May 11th is the ever-engrossing Cossette Convergence conference, at which I will be presenting (as part of a panel called “Mobile Marketing: Are we at the tipping point?“). The program description is as follows:

Mobile marketing and applications are not new, but many marketers have been sitting on the sidelines watching savvy wireless wizards forge new relationships on emerging platforms.  Has mobile marketing finally reached the tipping point in 2009?  Learn the latest developments in mobile and leave this session appreciating the role mobile will have in the coming year and how you can best integrate mobile or build an entire campaign around this burgeoning technology.

I’ll also be demonstrating the Mobile Muse platform for the audience. Looks like so much fun!

Did I mention the keynote at Cossette this year is none other than David Plouffe, chief campaign manager for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign?

You excited now? I said “Obama” – that should’ve done it.

Twittering the Election, SIFTing Media Collections

If you haven’t seen this already, then go check it out. Terse political opinions fly by with impunity. What to do, what to do…and how does media theory speak to this? I can anticipate hundreds of approaches, from critical political economy to social constructivism to what-have-you … but then again, I’m directly implicated in the construction of these very tools, for better or for worse.

Case in point – if you can imagine a media rich version of this, then you might be interested in what Mobile Muse (in partnership with the affable people at Raincity Studios) has been working on for the past little while: the Social Information Feed Tracker (SIFT) Tool. Currently in beta, this application allows SMS and social media from sites like Youtube and Flickr to be aggregated in custom channels. More functionality is being added as we speak – watch for a full public announcement of this and other Mobile Muse innovations very shortly…

Open Mobile, as it happens

Scott talks about open video platforms
Irwin talks Fearless

It was fun setting up to Brian Eno’s Music for Films, which cast an alternately serene and ominous shadow over our dry runs with the 3 screens.

I think the keynote went over well. The tech worked out supremely, with all 3 screens going, SIFT aggregation, Movino, and Modul8.

Scott Nelson then talks about mobile video. Movino is the winner today. I texted as much to SIFT. then he demos Movino over TCP/IP. Unfortunately the docs for this program are slim.

Great questions and comments, including how to stream to handsets, how video streaming and other rich media features are trickling down to budget handsets.

Next Irwin talks about Fearless and Mobile Swarm.

Video about Mobile Swarm.

Next Igor talks about “Beyond the Mobile Web:context awareness as the future of internet”. wow, he’s got stats on advanced wireless web use on mobiles. in Vancouver. can’t wait.

Igor talks Mobile Web

mobile web and context awareness can solve the information overload problem (e.g., 13 hours of video uploaded every minute to youtube).

every third user of Translink’s mobile site comes from the desktop, not from a mobile.

advice: design for context.


“Mobile technology in Latin America: a selection of works” – Jorge Hernandez Cerda, via Skype from Chile. tech issues. psychologist.

mobile festivals in Brazil. GPSarte – using gps tracking to create art. gpsart.net

making excuses to avoid phone calls over SMS as art – Buena Letra (Argentina)

Glenn Iles – Whistler and large scale events. video from Crankworx. questions right away – professional and amateur mtn bikers don’t want their tumbles videotaped. the “scrutiny of truth”. event management. add value to productions – e.g. mobile camera operators can fill a need to keep production costs down for a production company. video coverage of sideshows too. attention to sponsors. behind-the-scenes wins, such as capturing the bear on the mtn bike course.

had to go early and miss the last two presentations…

Open Mobile

I’m presenting a keynote this Sunday for an event called Open Mobile, presented in part by Mobile Muse as part of New Forms Festival 2008. I’m co-presenting with Roland Tanglao and Jesse Scott (artist info here), who will be my visual accompanists. But hopefully their visuals will override and scramble my messages such that the audience comes away more confused than I am going in. No, seriously. It should be a good opportunity to talk about mobiles with a highly creative audience, fresh from ArtCamp and other New Forms goings-on.

Here’s the abstract for my talk in draft form:

Opening Mobiles, Community Activation and the One Wireless Web
It was once said that the Sony Walkman, not love, would tear us apart. Contrary to these claims about mobile privatization, whereby individuating technologies are said to produce alienated populations running around in mobile media cocoons, and for some quite unexpectedly, the diffusion of advanced mobile devices and applications offers new opportunities to build and activate communities, invoking a radical reconstruction of media, art production, intellectual property, and public space. Ubiquitous, open, mobile, and accessible internetworking technologies, heralded by portable wi-fi devices such as the Nokia N95 or Apple’s iPhone, will enable us to continue the legacy of our tethered social media cloud – media sharing, wikis, tagging, twemes – in a radically different space than we’re used to (or one that we’ve simply forgotten about somewhat): public space. This is contested terrain, with a complex political economy, but the potential for a ubiquitous mobile web is now too alluring to ignore. This talk will navigate the mobile web space with one eye on media history and political economy, and another eye on the accompanying VJ screen, to assess how the speaker’s messages are being scrambled while this all unfolds.

Check out the Open Mobile Eventbrite page for more details about speakers, times, location and so forth.

Update: Here’s a compressed PDF of my presentation. I’ll post a link to the video later on…

Mobile Videobiking at Car Free Vancouver

As planned, yesterday, Roland and I strapped N-series phones to our bikes, pulled along a wi-fi/WiMAX equipped trailer, and performed Le Tour Des Car Free Fests. As my Sportstracker data indicates (in two segments), we managed to visit three of the four main sites for Vancouver’s Car Free Day.

Nokia Sportstracker routes came out in three segments, and the third segment either disappeared or NSB shut down in the middle of it.

We had severe connectivity issues throughout the ride, which meant that we only achieved a few minutes of live streaming video at a maximum. Roland has collected up most of the links for this material here, so I needn’t be redundant and repost it. The two remaining challenges for this sort of exercise (which had been identified during our last pretest on June 11, but not since resolved) are the annoying authentication page on Free-The-Net, and the limited upload speeds of WiMAX. Clearly, another solution, other than Rogers Portable Internet, is in order.

I must say, the Car Free day is a great event. I’m glad it’s expanded into other ‘hoods this year. Each one had a very different vibe. I’ll do a follow-up post on this dimension of the experience later. Today I need to actually spend some missed time with my daughter. The Father’s Day extended dub remix 12″, or something…

Car V Bike Pretest 0.2

Today we tested our live streaming video and GPS tracked bike commutes, this time using a third bike to pull the wifi mesh/wimax trailer.

I worked for about an hour this morning assembling the mounting clamps for the two phones on two bikes. Both worked very well and withstood many bumps. The angle and steadiness of the image is good (the lighting and resolution is not – see stream at right).

The most significant single problem is that our maximum upload bandwidth via WiMAX is just shy of 200 kbps, which means that our live streams only last a few seconds before they buffer. However, on the plus side, I don’t think we ever lost the WiMAX signal during the entire 10 kilometres we traveled.

There were also handset UI issues – everything in the phone must be set to “public” prior to attempting to stream or send GPS data, incoming phone calls put the N82 (and N95) camera on standby, interrupting the Qikstream, and whenever the wi-fi connection is interrupted (whether this was due to authentication issues with Free the Net, or due to me simply riding temporarily out of range of the mesh router), the stream is similarly paused while the Qik application uses Nokia’s EasyWLAN to find a new WAP.

More notes on this later; I’ve got spreadsheets to work on…

Car V. Bike pre-test :: Nokia Sportstracker and Qik

Today Roland and I mounted our Nokias (running Qik and Nokia Sportstracker Beta) on our bike helmets and rode around False Creek (see this map of our route, and see my Qikstream here). Due to rain, Scott (who was to supply our connectivity on a third bike, pulling a trailer containing a wifi mesh router connected to a WiMAX modem) bailed, but we took the trip anyway (for those who have no idea why we did this, click here and here for some back story)

The handsets (an N82 and an N95) both crap out after 25 minutes of Qik video recording (the phones store the video in RAM I believe), and with nowhere to upload the video to (no wi-fi, no data plan), the video cameras simply go into standby.

I used a velcro strap designed for the iPod Nano to secure my N82, and we used a combination of grip tape and duct tape to affix Roland’s N95. IMHO this gives an excellent POV, which is more or less shock resistant (as it’s got that wonderful spinal thing helping keep everything fluid [good thing I got some kundalini in yesterday], but makes the cameras impossible to operate. So you have to get apps running first, then lock the keypad, then mount it in the helmet without locking up the camera or obscuring the lens. A better alternative would be to use Gorilla Pods (or some homemade facsimile), which I think we’ll have to do next week.

Roland’s Nokia sportstracker data uploaded without a hitch (the map link above) over EDGE, while mine has been experiencing issues for a few days now over wi-fi. Any pointers on how to get past the “uploading to service” hang in NSB would be very helpful. Update – I managed to get around it – see comment below, and see my map here.

I see I’ve angled my camera too far down – it’s actually angled the same as Roland’s, but my handlebars are racing style, so my head actually leans down more than his. Chalk that up to first time glitches.

Also of note – the N82 survived about 20 minutes of moderate rain. It got soaked and kept on ticking.

Anyway, check back for an update when we’ve tested out the WiMAX setup. You can also tune into the Car v Bike event next Sunday, June 15, here.

MOSHING (Mobile Social Health Informatics ‘N Google)

Just two days before I posted at Mobile Muse about social media mashups around health information, Google announced their Health API and Health Data API. So it looks as though some of the pieces are already in place for the development of tools for managing health information on a personal mobile computing device. As the logical social media annex of this sort of enterprise is such a bleeding edge concept, though – mobile social health media, that is – one has to wonder whether the important questions around who will obtain benefit from such applications (and how they will obtain it, and why they should) will get due consideration prior to the development of said apps.

Anyway, it’s late and I need my beauty rest for Vidfest tomorrow. Not to mention Grant McCracken‘s talk. I’ll twitter ye as she unfolds. And hopefully I can still grab a ticket to M.I.A. this Sunday … y’know, do some of that other sorter moshing.