All entries for Tuesday 16 September 2008

September 16, 2008

Thoughts from Open Lab, part 1 – or, why I don't get Twitter

Follow-up to Nokia Open Lab 2008 – Overview from Steve's blog

I don’t get twitter. I’ve tried. I’ve signed up, I’ve posted the odd tweet. I’ve followed a couple of people. But frankly I don’t get it. I don’t feel I have anything interesting enough to say to tweet on a regular basis, and if I follow too many people the tweets get disruptive and annoying. Of course, none of the people I know in person are twitterers, at least not that they’ve told me, so finding people to follow is challenging anyway, and that’s the first clue to what I’m missing.

The second clue came in a talk given at Open Lab 208 by Adam Greenfield, the recently appointed Head of Design Direction at Nokia. He titled his talk “The Long Here and The Big Now”, in reference to Brian Eno’s The Big Here and the Long Now. What he said about the Big Now is what struck me about my reaction to Twitter. The point is that now is a single moment in time, but it is happening right around the world. So many people are experiencing so many different things now, and that’s what Twitter is about. It is about what is happening now, everywhere. Yes, people use it to keep up with what their friends are doing, but they also use it to find out what is happening around the world. Proper twitter users will follow all sorts of people, from all walks of life, with the only constraint being that they have something interesting to say.

And that’s why I don’t get it. What people I don’t know are doing in places I’ve never been is just not appealing to me. Following the tweets of strangers isn’t interesting. I’ve always said I’m not a people-person, and this is a perfect example of that. Similarly, I’m not one of those people that collects Facebook friends. I have about 20. I know them all in person, and mostly interact with them regularly in person (except for one or two who have moved away and I’m trying to keep in touch with). There are lots of people I know vaguely in real life and who are on Facebook, but who I don’t intend to send friend requests to. If they asked me I wouldn’t refuse, but I’m not doing it pro-actively. I’m just not enough of a social (or maybe sociable:-) person.

So, Twitter is a “Big Now” thing, and I’m a “Small Now” person. I think.

There was lots of other, similar, stuff in Adam’s talk, and that gives you a flavour for how Nokia are thinking about the future and how society is going to evolve digitally over the next few years, and therefore what mobile devices might need to do 5 years or more from now to support that. It isn’t the sort of thinking I would have expected in a mobile phone company.

Nokia Open Lab 2008 – Overview

Follow-up to Nokia Mobile Workshop from Steve's blog

I got back from Nokia Open Lab 2008 late on Saturday and did intend to write about it before now, but it has taken a while for my brain to recover from the experience! I have now just about finished processing the ideas that were discussed in the various workshops, at least enough to write something coherent.

Overall, the even was meticulously organised, from transport to/from the airport to local SIM cards for the E71 trial devices we all hard (of which more later), to the workshops and evening entertainment. Everything was organised and timed to perfection. That, for me, was actually a small problem. The 5 main workshops were:

  • Join the community – social networking and media
  • Join the journey – navigation and geolocation
  • Join the fun – entertainment (film, music, games, etc.)
  • Join and collaborate – enterprise issues
  • Environmental workshop – being nice to the planet

The discussions were very “blue sky” – stuff that the people in the room (generally quite serious techies or “geeks”) would find fun, but that would never be of interest to the general public. At least not today. At that was where I struggled a little. I wasn’t prepared for that and I needed more time that was available to get my brain in gear for each topic. My overwhelming feeling at the end of the first day was that the workshops were generally not very useful, and some others I talked to felt the same.

Then I realised my mistake. Mobile devices take years to design and develop. Nokia are trying to discover what services people are going to want to use 5 or more years from now, in order to start designing now devices that will make those services accessible on the move when they become mainstream. And so they collected together a bunch of “early adopters”, people generally already on the bleeding edge of mobile services, to see what we would do differently. In hindsight that’s exactly right. It just took me a while to realise it. And once I’d got my brain around the whole concept it was all over.

People were invited to the Open Lab from around the world, as far West as California and as far East as Tokyo. Some people knew each other already, many had never met before. For me, at least, I have to get to know people a little before I can start having serious discussions and openly expressing my opinion about stuff that’s new to me, and in particular disagreeing with people. There were others who felt the same. Several people said to me that they felt discussions were just starting to get interesting when we had to leave for the airport to come home. If the event had lasted another couple of days it would have been much more interesting.

This was the first such event Nokia has organised. They seemed happy with the results of it, and are definitely planning another. My suggestion would be to make it longer next time, and to give a little more of a hint of what will happen so we can be mentally better prepared for it. I’m not sure how useful my contribution was to the whole event, but I’d love to take part in the next one and if many of the same people are invited again next time, I for one will be able to contribute more just through not having to spend so much time getting to know people first.

On a lighter note, it was quite amusing to be in a group of people in which, at any one time, at least 25% were staring at a mobile phone checking email, surfing, twittering, or whatever, even during the discussions. Much of this was done on the E71s we all had, but there were a lot of iPhones about. Some people were using them a bit sheepishly, but most were quite open about it. I even spotted one Nokia employee wielding one!

I’ve not yet written about the content of the workshops. I’m still thinking about much of it, but I’ll try and write something soon, just to give a flavour of what was being discussed and the sort of things Nokia are thinking about.

iPhone firmware upgrade

Firmware version 2.1 came out last week while I was away, so I just this morning got around to thinking about upgrading. If you read the Apple iPhone forums, there’s so much whingeing about the device, and about how each firmware upgrade makes things worse not better, that it isn’t an easy decision. When you think about it, though, these are a vocal minority. For every complaint on the iPhone forums there must be many, many more satisfied people who just don’t feel the need to say anything. That’s the nature of people. They complain when things go wrong, but don’t often praise when things go right.

So I hit the button and installed version 2.1. The process took just about 15 minutes and so far everything seems fine. I’ll know by this evening if the promised battery life improvements are there. If anything bad happens, you’ll be the first to know…!

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