March 16, 2005

ETech day 2: Bits & pieces

Chris has been doing a great job of blogging summaries of each session he's been to. It doesn't seem very efficient for two people to record real time summaries in parallel with each other, so for sessions we're both at, I haven't attempted to produce any sort of transcript.

We've also created a common category for ETech, so the combined output of both our writings at ETech can be found on this category page.

Some thoughts arising from Tuesday's sessions:-

  • I was really taken with an observation during the Flickr session: "User contributed metadata is incredibly valuable, but only a small percentage of users will actively contribute metadata. So the secret is to make metadata acquisition an automatic by-product of what the user wants to do. A good example of this is the way that Amazon orders its search results list; the default order is "Sort by best-selling". That's really useful for the customer, because it's a useful summary of what the community thinks about the topic you're searching on. But nobody has had to actually supply that data explicitly; the very act of buying a book creates the metadata.

  • Danny Hillis showed some stunning video of work his team have been doing designing and building robots, and experimenting with new ways of presenting maps. The video clips for their maps projects were amazing; in the first clip he's demonstrating a big table with a digital display of a map on its surface. The display is also a touch screen, and he shows how gesturing on the surface of the table allows zooming, panning and other mainpulations. It's startling and impressive to watch, but what's even more impressive is that in the video he's demoing this to some cartographers, and their reactions are a sight to see - they are just stunned and rendered almost speechless with joy. As he says, cartographers love maps, but mostly they sit in front of computers like the rest of us because maps are made using computers just like everything else. But really, what they love is a big map laid out on a table that a group of people can stand around and share. This interactive display in a table exposes all the power of a map in a computer, but presents it in a way that matches what cartographers love about maps. It was an astonishing display of how the right interface can transform data.

  • His second map demo was even more impressive. It was a table with a digital display of a map on it. But a 2D map doesn't faithfully show all the attributes of the terrain, because it doesn't show height; it's flat. Except that this map wasn't.; right in front of our eyes the table deformed and reshaped itself so that the mountain ranges shown on the digital display were physically rearranged to be higher than the surrounding valleys. It looked so much like a special effect that it was very hard to believe that it wasn't faked up in post-production. But the guy standing next to the table physically ran his hand over the peaks and troughs of the deformed table so we could see that they were really there. Absolutely astonishing.

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Sounds cool. Don't suppose he's put any videos on the web?

    16 Mar 2005, 22:13

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