Productivity Future Vision

April 3, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Posted in Attention Management, collaboration, communication, Fun, Information Work, presence, social software, usability, User experience | 6 Comments

Peter O’Kelly’s blog pointed me to a Productivity Future Vision video from Microsoft Office Labs.  Highly recommended.

A few observations:

  • Airline seats in the future will be wider and have more legroom, even when you aren’t in first class (the seats on the plane don’t look like big, puffy, overwrought first class seats).  Furthermore, they will be clean and not have potato chips from the previous occupant smeared on them.
  • People will use their electronics calmly and be nice to each other.  People in the video seem to calmly make a few gestures, then relax and smile.  It seems that productivity expectations in the future have remained about constant with today rather than increasing along with the improvement in the capabilities of their applications.  The time saved through their more productive interfaces has been returned to the worker to allow them to stop and smell the roses instead of their employers and clients demanding more from them. This will allow people in the future to relax and use their new wondrous equipment in serene happiness.
  • Devices get thinner and more translucent.  But while you may think holding remotes that are as thin as a piece of glass and typing on hard, flat surfaces would be uncomfortable, they will actually be pleasantly ergonomic because people in the future will have dainty hands and features.  There seem to be no obese, elderly, overly tall, or overly short future workers.
  • There is no need for paper in the future, so working environments remain clean and clutter free.  Come to think of it, there seems to be no need for food, conference SWAG, books, printers, or desk lights either.  This explains the lack of garbage cans in the rooms shown in the video.
  • Office workers will not create content anymore, such as typing long streams of text or slaving over the graphics in the beautiful interfaces they use.  They simply do a few manipulations to content that already exists.  Presumably a new underclass of information workers (I’ll call them “information morlocks“) slave away underground crafting detailed content that the surface dwellers can then use through simple, intuitive, tap-exhale-and-smile interfaces.

OK, a few serious observations:

  • I like the thought leadership I see here.
  • The basis for some truly wonderous technology exists today, such as the machine translation, digital ink, mobile phone projectors, and OLED displays shown in the video.
  • Interfaces with touch and gestures can be much more natural than keyboards and mice.
  • Collaborative workspaces can be made more natural and incorporate many other useful technologies.

While innovating user interfaces and display devices have great gee-whiz factors, I’m really looking forward to much more mundane improvements in productivity.  To name just a few:

  • I want to see content that is created in easy-to-use tools that scale to the needs of the user and produce content that is easily componentized, tagged, reused, and reassembled. 
  • I want to see contextual meaning to be captured and guidance provided through integrated ontology and machine memory during authoring to enable better translation and localization.
  • I’d like to see powerful and consistent reviewing and commenting features across all productivity tools that can discover implicit collaborative authoring processes through observation. 
  • I’d like to see rich presence information that improves productivity by inserting routing and channel switching to messages that determine the most appropriate way to deliver a message while taking both sender’s and receiver’s contextual preferences into account.
  • I’d like to see operating systems and productivity applications working together to create more interruptable environments that fit the time sliced, interruptable nature of the workplace. They would allow better bookmarking that can save retrieve the exact state of applications and their relations to each other, easing the burden of remembering what activities were in motion during interruptions and reducing time to resuming work.  Snapshots of window layouts and application states would allow easy, instantaneous switching between multiple workstreams.
  • I’d like to see wearable electronics that utilize personal rich presence, mobile technology, and social networking profiles to alert people to others in their vicinity that share interests (or other programmable searches) and are open to serendipitous conversation.

I might be waiting a while …


Physical Presence + Mobile + Social Networking = Killer Social Networking App?

March 9, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Posted in Mobile and pervasive computing, presence, social software, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment

Some clever students at the University of Maine created a prototype of a “friend finder” that works as follows according to Gadgets.Softpedia:

The students’ concept, which they call the Friend Finder, is a device attached to a piece of clothing or accessory, such as a purse or handbag. A series of LED lights in the fabric are programmed to light up when someone who also has the device comes within 30 feet, but only if the two people match in pre-programmed personal characteristics, likes and dislikes.

These type of wearable electronics must be somewhat common as this story was also covered in talk2myshirt, a website specifically about wearable electronics.

The Wall St. Journal (3/6/09, p W11, “The Ghost in the Love Machine“) picked this up as a computer dating story, but I see this as a serious idea for business-related social networking.  How many wallflowers do you see standing around the bistro tables during social breaks and buffet dinners at conferences?  Well, picture the following scenarios:

  • You’re at your annual epidemiology conference, of which only a small handful of attendees match your specialty of pediatric epidemiology.  Your Bluetooth device dings a few times to let you know the name badge to look for of someone else within 10 meters of you who pre-regestered with the same specialty and checked that they are available for conversation
  • You’re at the annual internal conference for financial staff at your large conglomerate and your Bluetooth device lets you know someone very close to you at the cocktail party is an expert in EU stock options regulation, which is one of the topics you pre-registered as wanting to connect with someone about.
  • There are a bunch of people that you’d like to connect up with at a conference (some are old team mates, others are vendors you wanted to connect with informally) and your eyes are getting tired walking around the crowded tradeshow floor and scanning for people you know.  Then you remember you pre-registered a list of people who you’d like to be alerted if they are nearby and see your iPhone has already pointed out two of them a short distance nearby.

So what I’ve described is combining concepts from rich presence (adding a physical dimension and availability flagging), mobile technology (some RFID or Bluetooth-type micro-broadcasting technology), and social networking (profiles on what you know and what kind of people you’d like to converse with). 

This is similar to functionality on conference sites to help you connect ahead of time with others and form communities of interest, but adds ups the ante on serendipity – that all-important buzzword for the value of chance meetings that are too often stifled by org charts, distance, and general closed-mindedness. It’s similar to sites that let you find people to connect up with when visiting a city or museum, but more “wearable”.  I’m hoping this already exists somewhere, because I think the immediacy of it could make it a killer app for social networking.

Addendum: My teammate Mike Gotta pointed out a company called nTag that lists this type of functionality among their features:

Get attendees talking with nTAG’s Greetings features. Using profile information provided at the time of registration, nTAG lets attendees know what they have in common so it’s easier to start conversations.

Enterprise Communication Meets the World of Warcraft

April 10, 2008 at 8:36 am | Posted in communication, Gaming, presence, usability, User experience, virtual worlds | 2 Comments

I’m working on my Enterprise Virtual Worlds presentation and was filling in some detail on communication in game-oriented virtual worlds that I would like to share here as well. 

Enterprises are wise to look to gaming from time to time due to trends in:

  • Outside-in technology: how consumer technologies such as blogs and wikis increasingly find their way into enterprises
  • Emergent gameplay: the use of gaming technology in ways the original designer hadn’t intended
  • User experience lessons: UE improvements tend to filter from the competitive gaming market to generalized applications.  Gaming is an optional activity, so UE has to be at a high level when you want the users to pay you to use their systems rather than the other way around.

Communication is interesting to explore since the number of communication channels that enterprises use (and every information worker must now attend to) has increased a great deal over the past five years to include instant messaging, presence, websites, and blogs.  Getting enterprises used to the idea of “channels” and how to manage and select between them has taken some time and some pain.

I was quite impressed when all the methods of communication in World of Warcraft (which was released in November of 2003) are laid out. WoW communication is strikingly similar (and maybe more efficient) than enterprise communication technology in many areas.

It includes:

  • Channels: Players can subscribe to communication channels such as /trade to receive ongoing chat on the channel, or unsubscribe.  Another example is in EVE Online, which has a “newbie” channel that can put new players in touch with others taking their first steps, but can be turned off once the player is more confident.
  • Chat modes (IM): The variety of built-in IM modes goes beyond most enterprise IM implementations which rely on groups.  They are: /say (vacinity), /party (your group only), /guild (your broader community), /yell (all in larger region), /whisper (one person)
  • Presence: Friends can be selected and you are made aware when they come online/offline, and location is displayed (a feature still on the cutting edge in the enterprise)
  • Mail: Consists of normal mail, packages, and COD packages. The inbox is visited at WoW Postal Service facilities, which has the pleasant effect of isolating the player trying to accomplish objectives from the stream of email since they only check it periodically when they visit town.  Also, since email costs money to send (a few copper pieces), there is practically no spam
  • Emotes: There are over 100 emotes such as /wave, /thank, /cheer, /dance, etc. It is amazing how fluid the use of emotes gets in the real game, such that they do not feel like a conscious effort to be funny, but rather a natural way of expressing oneself in group situations. 

Who Benefits Most from Presence – The Highly Scheduled or Chaos Lovers?

April 5, 2007 at 3:20 pm | Posted in Attention Management, interruption science, presence | Leave a comment

Ken Camp published an interesting thought piece on “The Personality of Presence” that, among other topics, raises the question “What type of person (interrupt style) benefits most from presence?”.  That’s a good and useful question, but I found it interesting that he came to the opposite conclusion I would:

To embrace presence, you must embrace the chaos that is interruption management. If you are not immersed in the flow for a myriad of diverse inputs (interruptions), if your day is based on planning aforethought and structure, presence is not likely a good thing. It removes personal control and places it in the hands of the interrupt.
For those of us who live by interruption and rarely adhere to a strict schedule, the idea of presences adds value, whereas for the structured world, presence is an anathema to order.


So he says interrupt-based workers would like presence more.  My first instinct was the opposite. 

I think people who are more scheduled and systematic would benefit more from presence because they wouldn’t want interruptions, would like an attention shield inserted into communication channels that tells message senders when they are busy, and they generally embrace rules and order.  And the opposite type of people, those who embrace chaos and like to feel part of the flow or like a spider sensing movement anywhere in its web are more able to handle being interrupted and multi-tasking.

His view is not wrong – I think it shows a difference in how presence is viewed.  A glance at my Enterprise Attention Management conceptual architecture shows we’re talking about different pieces.  From a UC point of view presence is about intelligent routing (“Routing and channel switching” in the Attention Response Engine on the conceptual architecture diagram).  From a desktop point of view presence is about attention shielding (“Rules and Scoring”). 

The good news for presence is that I think the answer to this question is that both types of people can benefit.  People that love being part of the flow of information (or riding the surf of it depending on how much you get) will like the location abilities of presence (time, place, and device on the conceptual architecture) to make sure they don’t miss a minute.  People that are most effective when focusing on one task at a time and want to push synchronous attempts to contact them back to asynchronous methods when they can be handled at leisure will like the abilities of presence to block messages, push them to async mechanisms, or politely make others aware they are busy.  Everyone wins!

Presence: More than just a green dot

January 26, 2007 at 9:00 am | Posted in Attention Management, presence | Leave a comment

I just got back from vacation and was pleasantly surprised that the email backlog waiting for me was less than I expected. Still, I’m only halfway through it, but I thought it would be worse.  When I look at the email pattern, it seems there was a flurry of emails the day after I left, and then it died down from there.  And today the email spigot has been turned back on and I’m getting quite a few. 

Could be chance. But I think this is a pretty typical pattern, although I’ll leave it to this blog’s readers to tell me if I’m wrong.  It demonstrates the broad definition of one’s presence indicators and the difficulty of creating a unified presence indicator.  When I think of presence indicators, the first thing that jumps to mind is the green or red circle on my IM tool. 

My IM presence indicator certainly let people know I was out, but that’s not the only way they knew.  There is also my Outlook out of office message, my out of office voicemail message, my response rate to emails or phone calls (in case the out of office slipped the sender’s notice), my calendar blocking for vacation, and word of mouth (like telling client services I would be out for a week and to forward messages to my research director).  If I was in an office my physical presence (or lack thereof) would come into play as well.

I see four kinds of presence at play:

  • Explicit presence: Presence indicators in a system called “presence” (e.g., IM)
  • Implicit presence: Indicators of your presence in non-presence systems (e.g., out of office e-mail and voicemail)
  • Behavioral presence: Actions (or lack thereof) that indicate your presence (e.g., quickly responding to or not responding at all to voicemails)
  • Physical presence: Seeing or hearing one’s presence in the real world (I’ll lump hanging a “gone fishin’” tag in the window here too since it’s physical)

So what does this mean for unified presence and its role in attention management? 

First, it shows why making one’s availability known is difficult and requires several efforts across explicit and implicit presence indicators. 

Second, it shows why a true unified presence system is unlikely.  Unifying explicit presence is easiest, implicit presence a bit harder, behavioral presence starts becoming more art than science, and physical presence gets into audio/video sensors that won’t be used in business settings.  Presence can be more unified than it is today, but won’t reach the extreme of a single unified presence system. 

Third, it’s interesting to note the degree that non-technical factors – behavioral and physical presence – begin to feed into overall attention indicators.  People have natural, organic attention management systems that supplement or fill in when the electronic ones are not enough.

Alec Saunders on “New Presence”

December 22, 2006 at 10:14 am | Posted in Attention Management, presence | 2 Comments

Alec Saunders (CEO of iotum) posted out a wonderful visionary piece on presence called “New Presence” and the Voice 2.0 Manifesto. It does a good job of pointing out the potential of presence, the set of data and sensors it needs to have to function, and the need to somehow break up what he calls the “walled gardens” that independent presence systems have today.

I’d like elaborate on some of the comments I posted to his blog entry and to relate his vision of presence to the Rich Presence model I introduced in my telebriefing “Stop Interrupting Me! Effects of Communication on Info-stress and Attention Fatigue” (conceptual model posted up here). Incidentally, I still like my term “rich presence” better as it implied more functional rather than just ‘new and different”.

When the Voice 2.0 Manifesto was written, it identified presence as the enabler of conversation, allowing parties to easily determine each others willingness to engage, and by which technology.

Lord knows I have way too many conversations and would have way more if my spam filter wasn’t working and I didn’t have caller ID.It’s the quality of the conversations that is the issue. I want presence to enable higher quality conversations that are more relevant and important to me. In essence, presence is one of the key enablers of attention management.

Alec posts up a good diagram of all the profile, context, and relationship data involved in his future vision of presence, similar to the “data” and “sensors” on my conceptual architecture but his has some great additional detail.But from his description I am wondering where the brains are in his model.Where does the information get crunched for a particular message coming in? In my conceptual model of an attention management system I define an “attention response engine” with Rich Presence, Rules & Scoring, and Channel Switching & Routing components. Deciding where presence stops and the decision making kicks in has been a matter of debate between myself and Mike Gotta.

Alec has a good listing of new applications that rich presence would enable, but I believe presence must be valuable to end users, not the vendors. If the end users don’t get enough out of it, the vendors will be left high and dry. Per my pushing/pulling definition of “attentional technologies and capabilities”, the issue for end users is: does this quiet my life, pushing back noise and pulling the messages most important to me in my current state forward?

…the simple confusion around protocol standards. Ironically, this ought to be the simplest piece to solve. Standards are simply codified ways to describe information. The tussle between SIP / SIMPLE, and XMPP must be resolved before New Presence can effectively move forward.

I think there are a lot more standards needed than simply resolving SIP/SIMPLE and XMPP. Standards on how roles and relationships are defined, interests, rules and scoring, preferences must all be defined. XMPP is extensible, but that doesn’t mean it defines these extensions.

These are not criticisms, just adjustments to a visionary piece. I think we are both thinking in the same direction. My hope is that a solid enough vision of presence can be created to encourage vendors to actually move forward with something easy to use and, while not perfect, a lot better than we have today.

My Attention Management System Conceptual Architecture

December 22, 2006 at 10:02 am | Posted in Attention Management, interruption science, presence, social software | 16 Comments

Below is the Attention Management System Conceptual Architecture that I presented at my telebriefing on Enterprise Attention Management earlier this month.

Enterprise Attention Management System

Presence: Potential and Questions

November 28, 2006 at 12:50 pm | Posted in Attention Management, presence | Leave a comment

I am a big fan of the potential of presence. Not the available/busy + idle time indicator you see in your instant messaging tool today, but rich presence that:

  • utilizes more data and sensors to make decisions
  • offers more granularity about what you are available to accept (my concept of “matrixed presence” which is internally represented by a grid of presence states on one axis and groups on the other)
  • breaks open the “black box” of a message to allow content and sender-aware decisions about how to disposition the message
  • is part of the information worker’s operating system and leveraged and extended when needed (not just from within IM)
  • has a more usable interface for setting of rules and state

I see presence as the key enabling technology for attention management. By “enabling” I mean that it is infrastructure that can sit beneath many other technologies that affect the number of messages and amount of information that is fired at us such as e-mail, collaborative workspaces, IM, SMS, RSS, and a host of other acronyms. Presence is part of what I define as an “attention response engine” consisting of rich presence, a rules and scoring component, and a routing and switching component.

But at this point, it seems the potential of presence simply raises more questions:

  • How practical is this? Can technology do this well enough to be, on the whole, beneficial? Will people ever take any effort to manage their presence?
  • Isn’t the human side of the equation more of an issue (e-etiquette, bypassing technology channels, gaming the system) which means this will never succeed? Isn’t the problem within ourselves, not our technology?
  • Is this still presence we’re talking about or some space age AI system?
  • Will vendors ever provide this if they can’t directly make money off it?
  • Are real people actually asking for this?
  • Doesn’t this invade my privacy? What is the role of separate identities?
  • Will I ever trust a computer to make decisions for me on who/what to allow in and who/what to reject?

In researching my overview of attention management (tentatively titled “Techniques to Address Attention Fatigue and Info-Stress in the Too-Much-Information Age” and scheduled for release in January) I’ve examined these issues and think I have come to some, well, enlightenment if not answers. I’ll post up some of my thoughts as I go and appreciate any feedback on what you’d like me to address.

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