Ownership vs. Access

It’s getting serious. It’s time for THESIS. It might change radically, but right now I think I want to investigate the idea of ownership. I will explore our urge to own, and which factors need to be present to enable sharing. So. Here is my thesis proposal v.1.0:

To achieve full freedom in life, you must never own more than seven things – or else, they will own you.

I remember this opening line from a TV-commercial from my childhood (see video). A Hindu takes a break from his meditation to tell us this, and he seems at total peace with his life and his seven possessions. Then the scene shifts from serenity to his busy everyday, and he can tell us that everything else in his life, like his flat-screen TV, his fancy fridge, washing machine etcetera, they were all leased from a leasing company called THORN.

With a humorous approach, the commercial told us that we all actually really need these items – even a Hindu with a holy cow as a treasured possession can’t really get by in life without a flat-screen TV. So the commercial sold the dream of luxury and the freedom to choose the latest models. But I remember that this Hindu’s first sentence really resonated more with me than the craving for a fancy flat-screen TV. I don’t think I ever will have only seven possessions, but I dream of a future where we all can get closer to it through using services for sharing, swapping, streaming etc.

For my thesis I want to explore the idea of ownership. What makes us feel like we need to own something, rather than just having access to it? Which factors need to be present for us to be willing to give up our ownership? What characterizes a successful collaborative consumption service, and what is the cultural and business context it lives in? How is the community around the service organized and moderated? How might collaborative consumption, like the use of CouchSurfing or ZipCar, change the people involved? What does a world of products based around access rather than ownership look like?

I believe that the right kind of services can make people think differently about their own life, their neighbors, and the world we live in. They can make us feel more connected to one another, which again can inspire trust, optimism and positive actions. Providing well-designed frameworks for sharing and collaboration could very well lead to behavioral change not only within the frames of the service, but beyond the focus of the service itself.

I would like to research different services that enable sharing and collaborative consumption, explore and compare their models, their communities, and their users. I will choose at least six services from the “Snapshot of examples”-list on the Collaborative Consumption website, and make sure they represent the different categories defined (product service systems, redistribution markets, collaborative lifestyles). Based on the research, I hope to come up with an idea of my own for a service in this area, where I can apply the insights I get from my research.

And when it comes to research, there’s a lot to get through this summer. This list is a start:

BOOKS TO READ

  • What’s mine is yours by Rachel Botsman, Roo Rogers
  • The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing by Lisa Gansky
  • Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky

EXAMPLES
Examples of services for renting, sharing, swapping, or trading of physical goods, time, skills etc:

VARIOUS LINKS

Helmet Head

New York streets are congested with traffic, and the subways are over-crowded. Our goal with this project is to get more people biking for transportation. Our target audience is 20-40 year olds that knows how to bike, most likely owns a bike already, but is still not using the bike for transportation. Our main findings from our initial research was this:

1. People have a personal perception that biking in Manhattan is dangerous.
2. Biking is not the easiest and most convenient way to commute – until it becomes a habit.
3. Novice riders don’t have enough knowledge about how to bike and where to bike.

But our Helmet Head will hopefully help the casual biker overcome the initial barriers to biking in the city. It’s a talking helmet that pairs with a smartphone app. We were encouraged to create a user journey to explain the concept in a compelling way:

So that was the storytelling. But we have been thinking a bit about how to make this helmet so incredibly smart, too. Behind the scenes, this is how we imagine that it would work:

This conceptual model shows how tips from seasoned bikers, weather reports, traffic data and bike lanes all go into the Helmet Head database. When the user inputs desired destination into the Helmet Head app, it suggests routes with different levels of safety. After choosing a route, the app can be put in the user’s pocket, where it will quietly track the user moving through the city. The user can concentrate on biking, while letting the helmets embedded headset give directions, encouragement, progress and tips.

When a Helmet Head user becomes an avid biker, he or she might not need the same type of directions, tips and encouragement on the daily commute. The settings in the app will account for this so it could work mainly as a tracking device. In addition, the pro biker would be encouraged to add to the pool of bike tips, to make sure the app has all relevant information for the bikers out there. We also thought about how the app could sync with a bluetooth headset – so we wouldn’t require everyone to buy our helmet to use the app.

CabReel

The problem
The screens inside the NYC cabs are intrusive and often ignored because they do not present information in ways that are relevant to passengers. News, weather, ads and celebrity gossip on a crowded, annoyingly loud screen – if you want to keep your sanity, the mute button is your only option.

Our solution
CabReel is a new screen concept that relays specific location-based information. It will give passengers new ways to discover the sights, restaurants, cafés and shopping facilities in New York City’s many neighborhoods. How? Check out this little video that explains it all.

Paper is a wonderful thing! This video is actually the third in a row of videos about Emily using CabReel. It is definitely the most successful one when it comes to storytelling. Still, I love to see how our videos evolved over the course of a few weeks. It started out as a simple screen by screen walk-through, but ended up as a love story where Emily is the heroine, and CabReel her little «helper». These are our first videos:

CabReel v.2
CabReel v.1

I’m proud of how the video has evolved, and extremely impressed by classmate Catherine Young’s drawing skills!

My son skips school

Once in a while I get a message to my voicemail about my son being absent from school. This is what it sounds like. Even though that’s not a very empathetic robot voice, it would be great to be informed – if only I had a son. The fact that I don’t, makes these robocalls more of a disturbance to me than I guess they would have been for this boy’s actual parents… So what do I do when I keep getting these messages – and I’m pretty sure I don’t have a son?

Being an observer of this system from the outside, this is how I believe the parent notification system is intended to work:


Model 1: The school’s goal

The school’s goal is to create conditions in which the parent can take action to help change their child’s behavior. The school tries to create these conditions by informing the parent through an automated message. However, if the school for some reason has the wrong phone number, the system breaks.


Model 2: The broken system

When I receive the robocall, I can worry all I want about this boy’s behavior considering that he obviously tends to skip school a couple of days a week. Unfortunately, I am not in any position to influence and improve his behavior. Based on the robocall, I cannot even catch his name, even though I hear some mumbling that I believe is supposed to be the name of the child…


Model 3: I try to fix it

But as an observer of this system, I can try my best to fix the broken link between the school and the parent. Maybe this child’s parents have no idea that their son is about to go down the wrong path in life! I try calling the school, but they simply tell me there is nothing they can do to erase my phone number in the system unless I can give them the name of the child. So the messages just keep coming – about my son being absent, the principal wishing me and my whole family a happy holiday and so on.

This is when I figure that this is the perfect case for my cybernetics final project. I find that I can look closer at the system to see how it can be improved.


Model 4: Communication between school and parents. How the system works now.

The model shows my interpretation of how the school uses the parent notification system, and how it might affect parenting, which again would affect the child behavior. The robocall might not affect the parent’s overall goal of teaching the child good behavior. But based on the messages received, the parent might focus his or her efforts towards teaching certain behaviors such as the value of being on time, respecting the teacher, being nice to classmates and so on. Both the parent and the school will evaluate the child’s behavior, to let that inform their next actions within the system. The child’s behavior might be influenced by “disturbances” out of this system’s control – like friends and the media.


Model 5: Communication between school and parents. Opportunities for improvement.

When it comes to the disturbances that affect the messages from the school to the parent, like having the wrong contact info, bad sound quality, and the potential language barriers – I think there are ways to improve this… Another thing that my suggested improvements might solve is the fact that robocalls tend to be very interrupting to the receiver. These messages often require a person to find a quiet place to listen through it because of the bad sound quality, the impersonal and unfamiliar tone of voice, and the fact that you can’t ask the robot voice to repeat any part of the message. If the receiver already knows the point of the message, he or she still has to listen through the whole thing – you can’t skim it like you could with text. So as improvements I suggest the following:


Model 6: The improved system

Quality control of the contact information: To add some kind of quality control of the contact information to make sure the messages from the school actually reach the right person. Making sure it’s the parents themselves that register the contact information, and perform a check once a year or so could be a way to solve that issue.

From robocall to email: If the parent notification is done through email instead of through an automated phone call, the bad sound quality would not be an issue anymore. When receiving the notification in text form the potential language barriers might be smaller too. The parent gets more time to read the message, can use translation tools, and can even print the message out and ask others for help. An email could also potentially contain more valuable information, such as how many times the child has been absent this year, and how close this is to the limit.

Let’s say your child is home sick and you are well aware of that fact, and you still have to call your voicemail to listen to the whole message about your child being absent, just to delete it when the message is finished playing. The very nature of the email would allow the parent to spend less time on the notification. If the parent recognizes what the message is about from the subject header of the email, that could be enough information in some cases, while the rest of the message could more easily be ignored, or be skimmed through quickly. That’s why I believe using email would probably not interrupt a person’s workflow in the same way as a robocall does.

Additional thoughts
The focus of this analysis has been on the parent notification system. I felt these impersonal messages were not really a good way of trying to change behavior – but more of a tool to let the school inform and be done with it. My first instinct when looking closer at the system was to make the teacher call the parent instead of letting a robocall do the job. This way the teacher would know that the message was received, and the parent would get to give feedback to the teacher about why the child might be absent. They could even discuss what both the teacher and the parents could do to try to change the behavior of the child.

However, based on my observations, I can’t really know anything about what kind of relationship or dialogs exist between the teacher and the parent today. That is why I have looked at this system as one piece of a larger puzzle; that the parent notification system is just one way of informing the parent, while I just have to assume that there are other dialogs between the school and the home too.

Getting to know the hoods


I have been playing around with this crazy idea for a few weeks now. About getting to know Manhattan a bit better. In a rigorous kind of way. My inspiration is partly this cool PacManhattan game, partly our class Design in Public Spaces taught by Jill Nussbaum (R/GA, working with sports data tracking, Nike+), and partly our class Information Visualization taught by Nicholas Felton (the guy known for tracking his whole life through beautiful annual reports).

So. You might see where this is going. But will I be able to walk in the footsteps of these guys, eating virtual breadcrumbs in all the streets of Manhattan? And do I even want to, or is that a project doomed to fail when the semester starts getting more and more demanding…? Am I that anal? Or are there other rule-based ways to get to know the neighborhoods without having the goal of walking more than 700 miles? Cause I can assure you – I will not run an inch, even though it seems that all New Yorkers have the running fever.

I walked 3 miles in an hour the other day. Which means I’m looking at the daunting task of 240 hours of walking. Minimum. Which will be about 4.5 hours a week if I were to spend a year on this project. But then we’re talking speed walking when it comes to walking in the city with traffic lights and dog poop and tourists in the way. And I sort of want to look around, document stuff, get the feeling of the hood, grab a coffee or snack, and also get my experiences neatly placed in this blog (or a separate blog) in the end.

What does that mean? Perhaps I should just visit each hood, walk around without making sure I have placed my foot in each street and avenue? Or I could visit each neighborhood with a special theme in mind? Pub crawl (haha), bookstores, all streets, but no avenues? Or is narrowing this down from EVERY street to every hood what we call cheating? And how can I best document this? GPS-tracking with what tool? Do I time it? What about my coffee breaks? Photos with geo-location at Flickr? How to visualize it best – each walk, the progress, what’s left? What would be my rules for each walk? One neighborhood at the time? How can I make sure I visit the right spots in each hood? Suggestions from you guys?

I want to make sure this does not end up being way too geeky so I spend so much time preparing and programming that I never get out in the city to actually do this. I also do not want to spend too much time «gadgeting» and documenting during the walks (although I’m sure my iPhone 3GS will join me), and I would definitely not want a 10 hour blog post writing session when I get home from walking.

Finally – any name suggestions for my little «Get to know Manhattan»-project?

So there. Now I’ve shared it with the world. Cannot. Go. Back. Yikes.

Illustration at the top is a tiny bit of Alexander Cheek‘s nice map of Manhattan neighborhoods.

Paint a song


I stumbled upon this beautiful interactive video where you can paint your way through a song by the Spanish band Labuat. The interaction is quite simple. As a user you’re basically just letting your mouse movements lead a paintbrush around on the screen. But no worries if you do not consider yourself an avid painter, because your artistic skills are magically influenced and enhanced by the music and the lyrics of the song. It’s captivating, and I have already painted the song Soy Tu Aire twice today. Now you try!

This site won the FWA people’s choice award way back in 2009. Even though it’s «old», it still is inspiring and makes me very excited about our upcoming Flash workshops at school. Thanks to Norwegian blogger Krabbelure for sharing, and to these guys in Barcelona for turning me into a music video paint artist.

Alarm clock for life

First assignment after winter break. Just design an alarm clock on your own, and present concept, audience, user scenario, flow chart, wireframes and a physical prototype. The amount of deliverables just forced us all to get more familiar with our sketching skills. Oh, how I wish I was better at it. But no matter, the particular assignment twist I got from the teachers, design an alarm clock you can have for your entire life, was kind of cool!

I ended up with an alarm that encourages you to take one photo each day – to get you to document your life in a very structured way. Whether you (or basically your parents at first) decide to snap a photo of yourself each day, or you choose a particular object, I think the idea is compelling. It gets you into this habit that can leave you with a bunch of possibilities for data visualization of your own life, and it might make you more observant of the small details in your everyday life, because one little detail can possibly become the representation of this one particular day.

Check out the concept and my sketching skills in this pdf.

Personified chair

Our goal for this project was to make a chair that would remind the user to take breaks when working. By giving the chair a voice, it would interrupt the user once in a while with some funny line that would change based on how long the user had been sitting in the chair. So that was our initial idea.

Then the hunt for the right chair personality began. That meant finding the right physical chair, the right voice, the right script, the right logic for when to say what, and the right story to frame the chair personality. We prototyped and tested on our classmates, we tried and we failed. But in the end we had the chair (almost) right where we wanted it:

The right physical chair

…ended up being the chair I bought in a thrift store in Williamsburg when I just moved here. I donated it to the project, and all we needed to do was to add a pillow to put a switch inside that would sense when the user is present.

The right voice

…we found this amazing voice talent on YouTube, and he was just happy to make the chair come alive with his voice. But he did need a script…

The right script


We struggled a bit with deciding whether or not the chair would be creepy and perverted, or just plain grumpy. We ended up using the more creepy version, because we felt that personality would work well with our goal of trying to get the user to get away from the chair without necessarily having to be explicit about our motivations.

The right logic
We grouped the quotes into different categories to make sure the character would evolve in the right way over time – with some random lines squeezed in between the more rigid logic.

GREETING

  • 1_1 Hiya *
  • 1_2 Hey there
  • 1_3 Hey there creamy ham strings.
  • 1_4 Well looks like the good lord just sent me a gift from above.
  • 1_5 There ya are. *
  • 1_6 Holy molly, it must be my birthday.

30 MINUTES

  • 2_1 You feel nice.
  • 2_2 Ahhhh, that’s the spot.
  • 2_3 I’m starting to get warm.
  • 2_4 You know if you get sweaty and like to take your shirt off that’d be just fine.

60 MINUTES

  • 3_1 You feel so right.
  • 3_2 I think you’re startin’ to grow on me.
  • 3_3 You feel soft

120 MINUTES

  • 4_1 I’m countin’ every second we’re together.
  • 4_2 You’re working hard, really haaard
  • 4_3 I can’t think of a better way to spend our evenings.

180 MINUTES

  • 5_1 Drop your cock and grab your socks. It’s time to get up!
  • 5_2 You gonna razz my berries if you stay here much longer.
  • 5_3 Why don’t you stretch out those creamy ham strings?

240 MINUTES

  • 6_1 Oh you startin to piss me off you piggly son of a bitch.
  • 6_2 You get off me you pervert.

RANDOM NOISES INBETWEEN

  • x_1 [raspy cough]
  • x_2 Hmmmphhfft. *
  • x_3 Hmm. *
  • x_4 Hmmmmmmmmmm.
  • x_5 Mmmmmmm.
  • x_6 [Ach!] *
  • x_7 [Sneeze]
  • x_8 Dag-gummit.
  • x_9 I think I’ve got a little to much stuffin’, why don’t you fish in there and dig some out?
  • x_10 I know what boys like [song]
  • x_11 YMCA [song]
  • x_12 Snoring

WHEN USER GETS UP

  • left_1 Where ya going?
  • left_2 I hope you’re coming back soon.
  • left_3 Come on over here.
  • left_4 Awww don’t be a wet rag. Come on back. Wonderin’ if you’re ever gonna come back…
  • left_5 It’s getting lonely.
  • left_6 Where are ya?
  • left_7 You’re a lazy fatass son of a bitch.
  • left_8 Wondering if you’re ever gonna come back?

So we had a plan for the logic, but when we started coding and testing it, our chair got into silent mode every time the user had been sitting in the chair for a certain amount of time. Although the pattern was clear, it took us a long time to figure out why our chair got all shy after about 35 seconds of rambling. The last night before our final presentation we kept staring at the screen below, tested different time periods, timed when the chair got quiet, and got all confused.

After a long time of troubleshooting (scanning both this and this site for answers), we got this vague idea about it maybe being a RAM issue in Arduino. The problem was that we had no time to solve it at that point. This meant that when we presented our chair, the whole act was condensed into 35 seconds of chair fun. Even though we wanted it to be functional for a little more than that, the 35 second show worked well in the presentation format as long as we could explain our intentions to the audience. Our 35 seconds chair show was based on this code.

The right story
At 3AM the night before the presentation, our group decided that the story that would bring our chair to life would be narrated through me, the chair owner, in a video format. With no acting experience, no make-up, no energy, no real script, and close to no sleep the last couple of nights, I was placed in the spotlight to explain my relationship to this obnoxious chair. The only thing I actually «had», was a well-developed fear of the video camera. All things considered, I think it turned out quite well, due to Benjamin’s skills within interviewing chair owners, filming, and editing. So here’s the story about me and my chair, Rufus:

Story of Rufus from Benjamin Gadbaw on Vimeo.

The presentation
I think the presentation went well – we got some good feedback about how we could possibly develop the chair further. Most of the feedback was touching upon ideas we had early in the process, but had to abandon due to limited time and/or technical skills. Either way, I’m happy with the project, and am also looking forward to getting Rufus home again after the Winter Break.

Skitching my finals


2 out of 5 finals done. It’s time for the 3rd one tonight when my class will be presenting our cybernetics models. I am making some final adjustments to my presentation using Skitch right now. Skitch is a fast screen capture, image editing and sharing tool, according to their website. Personally, I use it mainly as a really fast tool for drawing. While Derek is more into the perfect circles, I guess he still enjoys a demonstration of the Skitch awesomeness. I’m happy both to share the Skitch love, and to capture one of many moments in the studio – considering that I have spent more time here than anywhere else in New York these last months.

Okay. Back to presentation mode now.

TWIN//KNIT

Strategy is hard. Just to make that clear. My business goal is to make this world a warmer place for all of us – not in the global warming kind of way, but more in the «let’s save the world through knitting woolen delights» kind of way. Idealistic, optimistic, and basically just plain stupid? Maybe. But this is grad school. I can have crazy ideas.

So this is a a not-for-profit with the mantra: one knitwear sold, one knitwear donated to poor people. No one likes to freeze, so let’s help the homeless through the winter! So far this idea is based on the same model as TOMS shoes. Except that TWIN//KNIT will give all profit from product sales to a good cause – selling products mainly through our website. And while the TOMS story is about those who can and can’t afford shoes, the TWIN//KNIT story is about those who can and can’t afford quality knitwear – and the knitters.

TWIN//KNIT will offer quality handknitted products knitted by you and me and a bunch of other people that know how to knit. So we’re outsourcing the production of knitwear to the eager knitters out there through knitting challenges based on knitting patterns provided by knitwear designers. By extensive use of social media, and by partnering up with knitting communities online and offline, the TWIN//KNIT name will hopefully be known as the go-to place for socially conscious knitters.

While knitters can be all smug because they’re knitting for a good cause, TWIN//KNIT is also enabling the non-knitters out there to help the cause while they’re doing what they enjoy doing anyway. Shopping, that is. We’re targeting young professionals that are quality-conscious, in search for authentic products, and might be interested in saving a little piece of the world while they’re at it. Embedded generosity is a marvelous thing.

The authenticity and transparency is addressed through providing a compelling One for One-story where you actually can see both the product you are buying, and the product that will be donated side by side on the web site. We will also be using a lot of resources to let pattern designers and each and every knitter and their product shine on the web site next to their product. This way, the potential buyers of knitwear can visualize all the work that went into the creation of the product. The web site itself will shine in all its minimalistic glory too – to differentiate itself from the look and feel of most other knitting sites out there. We believe the potential buyers will be willing to pay more when they’re faced with the faces of all these knitters that are donating their time to save the world. Not to mention that they’re faced with a product that has no owner yet, but that could very well be owned by a person in need – if only you hit that BUY-button!

I’ll sum it up with a model of all the actors in action:

I believe knitters are optimistic and patient by nature. They know how you can make something beautiful one stitch at the time. That is why I feel they are the perfect group to work with towards the goal of reducing world poverty. But while knitters are optimistic and actually go through with their work to make beautiful products, I doubt I’ll ever be the head of TWIN//KNIT in real life. But wouldn’t it be great if it actually worked?

Ready for some more models, and numbers and all that? Check out this pdf.

Interaction designer Kristin Breivik blogging about work and life in general.