Last month, I was fortunate enough to fly off to Austin with a group of colleagues for a week long IBM Design Thinking camp. It was an opportunity to get away from the day job, with laptops all-but banned, and have a deep-dive into what IBM Design is about and how it can be applied.
As a relatively new effort within the company, IBM Design sets out to bring a focus back to where it should be; the human-experience of our products and services. This isn’t just about making pretty user interfaces; it is the entire experience of our products.
As an engineer, the temptation is always there to create shiny new features. But no matter how shiny it is, if it isn’t what a user needs, then it’s a waste of effort. The focus has to be on what the user wants to be able to do. This is something I’ve always tried to do with Node-RED; we often get suggestions for features that, once you start picking at them, are really solutions looking for a problem. Once you work back and identify the problem, we’re often able to identify alternative solutions that are even better.
It’s often just a matter of asking the right question; At Designcamp, the very first exercise we were asked to do was to draw a new type of vase. Everyone drew something that looked vaguely vase-like. Then (spoilers…) we were asked to draw a better way to display flowers. At this point we got lots of decidedly un-vase-like ideas that were much more imaginative. It’s the difference between asking for a feature and asking for an idea. The former presupposes a lot about the nature of the answer, the latter is focused on not just the what, but also the why.
This relentless focus on the user isn’t a new idea. GDS, who are doing incredible things with government services, have it as their very first Design Principle. But it is refreshing to see this focus being brought to bear within a transformation of how the entire company operates.
Oh, and of course being in Austin, we got to screen print our own IBM Designcamp T-Shirts to commemorate the visit.
Today is one of those great days in Hursley when everyone lifts their head and gets away from their desk for a little while…
OK, so excuse the quality of that picture as it’s just a quick snap from my phone. Every few years we have a classic car fair on site, there seems to be no rhythm to when they’re held, possibly it’s just long enough since we’ve all forgotten about the cars we saw at the same show last time round – but I’m sure there are some different ones too.
Today’s celebration is under the guise of an Olympic celebration so in addition to the car show there’s a big quiz taking place, a careers fair, several different “sporting” events (such as egg and spoon race and the like) so it’s as much a summer fair as anything else; and it’s not raining which is always a bonus. The real draw of course is the free cookie or scone and drink of course, but however you look at it, to have these sorts of events on site (and such a lovely site on a summers day) is absolutely brilliant. It’s a great chance for us all to take a little time away from the desk in the afternoon, catch up with friends, see what’s going on while enjoying ourselves and having a bit of fun.
As part of the reorganisation of the Eightbar site recently I’ve been catching up with some of the honored past Eightbar members. We say past in the loosest sense of course, Eightbar was set up with the principle that “Once you’re Eightbar, you’re always Eightbar”. Here, I manage to muscle in on some of Ian Hughes’ (a.k.a epredator) time as he’s kindly answered some questions for us. What follows is a 10 question interview style post where I talk to Ian about life after IBM – in more than 140 characters. I think it’s a really interesting read, enjoy…!
Ian, you worked for IBM for a long time (somewhere around 20 years!) before making the big decision to leave and form your own start-up at Feeding Edge nearly 3 years ago!
1. What have you found are the main things keeping you busy now?
Just as when I was at IBM my work life is very varied. Living and working with technology and social changes, and being a bit of a polymath I find myself mixing a lot of skills.
Sometimes I am coding or combining code, usually on open source platforms but often in Unity3d. Building some game elements for a startup. Other times I am on the conference circuit helping
people to see the future by showing examples of how various things have changed already and how they link together to form a disruptive future. i.e. carrying on as an evangelist.
Much of this is still related to virtual worlds because they form a social and technical glue that still surprises many people only just getting to grips with Twitter and Facebook.
Stardom is a very strong word 🙂 It was an ambition I had tucked away to do some more TV work. Like many things though it was serendipity that brought that about.
As I still blog many of my ideas and things about interesting advances many of my friends still read that. A good friend and IBMer Scotty (Kevin Scott / @starbase37) had told his friend John Marley / @marleyman007 who runs a TV production company Archie Productions about all the stuff I was talking about. Games, 3d printing, virtual worlds etc. So we got connected and had a meeting about a new show John was looking to start.
The aim of the meeting was really a friendly catchup and for me to give John a list of things that he could put on his show. Somewhere in the conversation he said “and then you will come on set and explain that to camera and the other presenter?” Which I still thought he meant he wanted me to be tech advisor for the kids show. Then it clicked and I realised I was being thrown in at the deep end. It was one of the few shows ITV/CITV has commissioned over the past few years.
So really because I have always shared what I know, used the web and social media to explain and offer a kind of open source advise I ended up with a character and role on the show. Which we have done 3 series of too!
3. You must enjoy being the CSC resident g33k and teaching the viewers, what do you learn from them?
It has been the most fun and rewarding thing I have done. The third series in particular we moved from a studio and just the crew to being on location with schools in a Top Gear style. Whilst we were making a show for a mass audience it became even more important to be able to reach kids directly. I learned, and re-learned that the willingness to go with the flow on some ideas because they just are cool is still a magical thing. The things I say on the show are the same things I say in boardrooms and at conferences. The kids put many adults to shame though in not worrying straight away about ROI or marketing blurb. They get the idea and then fly with it.
It was also great to be able to reclaim geek/g33k. In a few schools the kids who were the tech geeks were suddenly allowed to be cool too. After all there was a bloke off the telly they could talk to.
We always had questions at the end of my future tech slot and I often didn’t get to know what they were up front, they were their questions and they were always taking me by surprise with their new angles or just the depth of understanding they showed. Once again putting many adults to shame.
4. Your time on Eightbar was mainly filled with Virtual Worlds work, what’s going down with the 3D Internet now, has it progressed as you thought?
It’s interesting as in many ways parts of the metaverse are now so mainstream, yet still not so much in the “business” world as you may have expected. We know that people tend to have to evolve through things, hence the struggling to understand the power of connection in social media is still a struggle for many decision makers in business. In a time of global recession with restricted travel it seems that the obvious use for communication and understanding via virtual environments is still not being exploited. Much of this is due to people being risk averse when they think their jobs are on the line. I find that many of the things we do and talk about are still reaching an audience who then say wow I didn’t think of it like that.
When they are used in their various forms they have a huge impact. Imperial College have some of the best examples, even with just a simple Opensim environment to help people plan a particular event it showed up real world procedures needed fixing after the first 5 minutes which saved more than money.
Lots of companies have floundered who where virtual world providers, but equally lots of their code is now open source. At the same time though lots of the games industry has been turned on its head by the arrival of minecraft. Which is a “game” but that uses co creation tools live in the environment. It has done a lot to help the games industry (who also did not understand virtual worlds of this sort) to look and say “oh! thats what its all about”.
So none of it has gone away. It hit the usual Gartner trough of dissillusionment after the confused hype and now is ploughing up the right slope.
Regular business will get hit with a minecraft moment though. A game changer in the same way open source software hit the IT industry, or Amazon hit retail. It’s just about being prepared to go with it when it arrives.
Another great development has been the ability to self build game tech environments with products like unity3d (a huge nod to Rob Smart for spotting unity3d way back too!) and have socket servers like photon and smartfoxserver.
I should also mention gamification, a horrible word, another thing for people to misunderstand, yet it covers the principles of applying both gaming and game technology into places it has not been before. It is often used in a lazy fashion slapping badges on things and giving out points, however at its heart the elements of playing with identity and expression online with a virtual environment in a business context provide way more benefit.
5. What has the past 3 years done for 3d printing, another of your interest areas?
3d printing has gone from strength to strength. It is appearing in more places and often more people have seen something about it when I talk about it. It is linked to the virtual worlds work as when you consider that a virtual environment is often about distributing digital assets from one place to another, you bolt a 3d printer on the end of that and you get digital design and distribution of physical product and the world changes.
The increase in open source builds like the RepRap make the hobby end of this accessible (around £400 of bits to build one). Makerbot provide some very cheap, but clever printers too that were featured heavily at CES 2012 (Consumer Elecrtonics Show) note the Consumer in that 🙂 ! Services that print for you, like Shapeways, initially funded by Phillips, have grown and moved to New York.
It is still something that when someone has never seen it they think it is witchcraft, somewhat like google used to seem to people 🙂 That magic is nice to share, but then applying the extrapolation of the change to the entire world economy and manufacturing business as it moves on then scares and excites in equal measure.
6. What would you like to see Eightbar doing more/less of after the departure of Andy Piper from Hursley recently?
When we all set up eightbar it was an antidote to the west coast US tech bloggers getting all the kudos. We’re doing some great things over here too 🙂 Just as tech blogging has evolved I would love to see eightbar carrying on as a mini brand and a voice of that same attitude wherever it needs to be.
7. Looking back at IBM, any regrets about leaving? Things you miss?
I miss all the people, well nearly all 😉 Though in reality much of the work was with people all over the world having a base of people in the same timezone and same place eating lunch in the same canteen provides an anchor. As does having to battle the same corporate resilience to change, or political short sightedness. There are still a great many sparky, slightly subversive but for the right reasons, renegade thought leaders under the radar at IBM.
Oh and the regular pay 🙂
8. What’s been the best thing about moving on?
Diversity of experiences and freedom to explore them. Like the TV work, it was just because of being open minded and master of my own calendar. I like to link everything, let one piece of work and ideas flow with another. That is tricky in a billable utilisation environment when you are not in control of the finances and the workload. It is why big corporations will keep getting side swiped by very small fast moving organisations with huge world connectivity at their finger tips.
I have also had to learn a lot about the various forms and processes needed to run even the smallest Ltd company. It’s an odd and archaic system, but they are the rules 🙂 It has also been fun picking various ideas and developing them getting people with the money to get interested. It gets all very Dragon’s den.
Freedom also allows me to try and pick things based on if I think they are beneficial in some way, not purely just because they are there. I have always prided myself on trying to act honourably in everything and with positive principles. So now it is up to me to stick to that and help others try and do the same.
9. Your personal life and work-life balance must have adjusted, what does a day in the life of epredator look like now you’re self-employed?
Aha! I called myself self employed once and my accountant was quick to point out I am not 🙂 This is part of what I was saying about companies and rules. As Feeding Edge is a limited company it is a legal entity in its own right that I happen to be a director of. At the same time there is a person on its official payroll, an employee… me 🙂 So as many twist and turns in business language as in any piece of tech 🙂
My day is much more thinly sliced than ever. I get up check a few streams of information, spot anything urgent, then do the school run, back home for 45 minute workout on UFC trainer on the Kinect, do some calls afterwards whilst cooling down. Most of the day is spent talking to the US and or my other biz partners around the gaming startup we have, building some code, pitching how bizarre the idea is. This is usually interspersed with some contacts from previous conferences getting in touch or some BCS animation and Games Dev SG business. Several times a month I pop along to a convention or meeting to talk about Tech and usual with Cool Stuff Collective as a backdrop. So the cycle continues.
Then there are the ad hoc conversations around other possible TV shows, or helping other startup businesses who are focussed using new tech with some connections or ideas.
Evenings are mix of cooking for the family, putting the kids(predlets) to bed, some gaming, heading to a Choi Kwang Do class or late night calls with US west coast for an interview or in Second Life.
However there is not start or end to a working day, a tweet on the way back form the school run may lead to something as much as a scheduled Skype call at 2pm. The emphasis is still on talking and sharing online.
10. Finally, give us a plug for Feeding Edge, who might I be if I were your customer and what might you be able to do for me?
Feeding Edge is a vehicle for people to get help from me, consulting or hands on development. As I say I am taking a bite out of technology so you don’t have to. All the years of experience with corporate tech and now several years out in the wild having to use what I talk about gives me a view on the world that many people don’t have time to consider, in person, in writing, on the TV, on stage, in the lab. I cover how technology feels and changes your life as much as the more obvious version x with version y tech.
In conferences I am usually the one put there to shake everybody up. So if you need a jolt of inspiration and a view of the future. well thats Feeding Edge and epredator. Cue show reels again 🙂
Well that’s it from Ian again for now. It’s really good to hear him talking in a wider context again, reading about the mix of drawing inspiration from such a wide variety of sources is really refreshing. It’s certainly reminded me to go “heads up” more often than I generally manage to do, so easy is it to keep too narrow a view on your immediate work tasks.
It’s my last day in the office today before I leave IBM, so it’s time to have a final cup of tea (and pint of something stronger) with my many friends at Hursley. To mark the occasion, I spent last night building Lego representations of the Emerging Technology Services team, with whom I’ve had such a great three years. Several of them are contributors to Eightbar, and as well as everyone’s individual blogs (Twitter, Flickr, etc) of course I will be following Eightbar closely after I’ve gone to stay in touch with what’s interesting at IBM.
Wimbledon is like a very very long plane journey. We all tune into the event and our various roles and focus completely on them. Having added the extra extreme sport of standing in Second Life at the same place for 15 hours a day for 14 days (except middle sunday), and having spent many of those hours talking to people in world and in real life about what we do I thought I would share a perspective on it.
I can explain why I have been saying “People stopped asking why? and started asking if?”” Our real life clients and visitors were fascinated this year more than the previous two year. In 2006 it was “ha thats funny”, in 2007 it was “why are you doing this?” in 2008 it has been “Oh! I didnt realize there was so much to it, so can I do x?”
We had less visitors in Second Life this year, but the ones that came stayed longer and asked more detailed questions about the various modes of working. We also still had more visitors than the physical hospitality tours. Business opportunities arose too in virtual discussions. The depth of conversation and the quality of interaction proved to be way more important that the volume. This is a change that many marketeers would not yet understand, but clearly need too. I realized that in many ways I had turned into a Social Media Strategy Consultant. We segued from the official RL wimbledon tour showing the website and how it was reaching out to social media sites allowing people to take feeds and widgets wherever they happened to be. Metaverses are on that continuum. The 3d wiki, mixed with social network, mixed with being a fan, mixed with behind the scenes blogging all merge in a virtual world event.
Identity versus expression through avatars came up alot. Many people see my predator AV and assume I am hiding. “I wear a mask but I dont hide behind it”. It was very useful to have Judge Hocho there too in SL and in RL. Judge’s choice is a more real world expression of his physical form. Though interestingly he refuses to have photos of himself in RL. Those two ends of the spectrum allowed for me to explain that visual representation is not the same as knowing who someone actually is. Persona’s are difficult and many people are not confronted by that balance. Proving who someone is from a trust and security perspective is not based on what their username is or their avatar appearence.
Shared web browsing worked really well. The embedded web browser, albeit read only worked very well. It is a pity it did not do flash as much of the widget content was flash based as it the realtime scoring feed for the pub-sub elements. However, showing people the wimbledon.org site either in world or on a RL tour worked very well. Demonstrating in the RL room the SL version of the website at the build allowed me to show how I would say the same things to people in world as Andy and Elizabeth would have just said to the visiting customers on our tech tour. The power of the familiar worked. Also in world we drove a few extra people to the site, more traffic. The official numbers will be published soon.
The complexity of shared web browsing becomes more apparent when actually trying to do it. I spent a good few conversations in RL and SL showing people why shared web browsing is complicated. It is not obvious to many people until they see this or do it. The web is a single user experience. There may be 8.5 million people hitting the same site, but your view is your view. Content gets personalized, you login etc. The LL implementation has an embedded client render a URL provided to it. After that it is your client creating the session. If the pages are not personalized in any way then thing will remain in synch. We will all see the same page. If you were able to just click and navigate following links etc, soon the web would start to personalize to you. Each view may start to diverge, cookie trails of browsing, preferences etc. Also being able to see any page on the web would mean peoples browser may be taken places they dont want to be. NSFW sites etc. Judge built the monitor for browsing so that it had a menu of defined Wimbledon pages. So people got to know they had shared control. We then had the odd occasion when two people asked for different pages at the same time. They would then feel the shared problem of losing the page they wanted to see. The facebook page also highlights this. Its asking the user to logon. If the SL user used the break out object judge provided they would be able to view the URL in their personal embedded browser not on a prim. They could then logon to facebook. The prim object would then show them they were logged on and show their page. This woudl cause concern as they would ask if everyone could see thier details. The answer in this case is no. Each user’s embedded browser forms its own session with the website, just like any browser. So very quickly content gets out of synch. The alternative though, a server based proxy to show the same content to all would mean that people details once logged on would then be shared. All these problems are solvable, but we need some new metaphors in web browsing to make it obvious what is happening. The same as when https started to be shown as a padlock on the browser. We will need standard iconography for shared pages, individual pages but similar view, divergent pages etc.
Why have we not modelled all the players? Another common question. There are several answers. The whole Wimbledon SL build is still done effectively for free. A lot of volunteer effort. Building hundreds of player AV’s is complex and time consuming. Down the line when the virtual worlds can represent things even more accurately we would be able to completely reconstruct the match in intricate detail. We know where the ball is, where the player is, what stroke has been played. All this information is mashed together with video in a DVD we (IBM – the atlanta sports events team) provide to the players and coaches after a match. So we know we can take crowd noise to indicate an exciting rally and index video based on that. To take a virtual event to the next level it needs this detail. However we then run into player image rights. Even the top video games do not feature all the player models in tennis. Wimbledon does not feature as a brand in any of the tennis gams either. The blur of copyright, players image rights, broadcast rights and sheer politeness (do you like you AV) gets complicated. Who knows where we could be for things like the 2012 olympics with a virtual presentation of the event live? For now though we keep it simple. Though if we do it again I still want to have more data and more atmosphere.
Any event or build needs people. The single biggest draw had to be being able to talk to people at the RL event, behind the scenes. Everyone was always amazed and interested. Are you really there? Wow that must be great! It is of course great, but never for the reasons people assume. For me it is the amazing sense of doing something so well known and immediate. Having the whole of IBM behind us helping and people interested in our work. Pride does not pay the mortgage, being away from home and family for so long is awful, but its worth it. I could have done SL Wimbledon from anywhere, but the truth of being there came through the build and the avatar. Nothing beats Real Life, and reporting on that in a virtual world at a human level is the important thing to remember
Maybe see you all next year. Thankyou for all the support and conversations. Hi to Sean Krams our most regular visitor, always good to see you there Sean. It meant a great deal to Judge and I.
You may have noticed that Wimbledon this year was doing lots of interesting social media related things. Letting people join in with the Wimbledon experience wherever they are. One of the things that was going rather well was the facebook page. I mentioned it way back a week or so ago in this post. Well a few days ago the Facebook page dissapeared. We initially thought it was an admin error from one of the writers, but now it turns out that Facebook decided to remove the page as it breached some elements of the terms of service. This was a pity as in the few weeks of the championship it had grown to over 9,000 fans. Maybe it was that volume of interest that attracted some attention.
Anyway with my social media strategist hat on, i have to say I am more than a little annoyed at this. All the groups and pages that exists on Facebook in a grey area of companies and political parties and pressure groups. A globally loved tennis event with lots of interest was kicked off Facebook for the smallest bit of administrivia around whose ID created.
I am not going to get into details as thisis really between Facebook and the AELTC, but as our I and my collegues are very passionate about Wimbledon we feel part owners, as I am sure do those 9,000+ people who know have to be told that Facebook doesnt want them to use the platform for gathering together around and event like this.
Web 2.0 is as much as anythng about letting go of brands, putting things in the hands of the people that consume them. Attempting to “own” customers and make strange laws will lead to the end of a platform. People will cotton on and drift away. Just sayin’
There are some notable absences from this video that quickly zooms around some of the people behind eightbar and its extended family. They are by no means all virtual world people, but there is a healthy coverage and interest along with all things web2.0
Just a shout out to the band really as we were saying goodbye to Alice (well sort of goodbye as she is back on Extreme Blue as a student contributor on monday)
If you click through to youtube you will get something annotated using the new youtube annotation feature.
I dont want to get too gushy, but you guys rock 🙂 (as do those who could not be in the pub that night)
A common theme often emerges when showing people virtual worlds and metaverses. The theme is that of identity. Whilst sometimes this is the more usual business side of identity “how do we know someone is who they are claiming to be” that is actually a slightly different problem to the one that is actually expressed “people are hiding behind their avatar”.
Much of what I present to people is around my online persona as epredator. This is intended to help them understand that we all have projections and labels that we deliver in online interactions. The avatars in virtual worlds just make that slightly more obvious as we have a humanoid puppet with some elements of our name or reputation attached to it.
In SL I tend to be a masked science fiction predator avatar. In my explanations I go on to show that that is not something I hide behind, but is in fact a very expressive facet of my personality, with a link to my regular offline self in that I wear the same leather jacket in RL and SL. I am not choosing to hide who I am, but show more of who I am through the avatar puppet.
This approach is not an obvious one, as very often we take on avatars for games, such as Nico in GTA IV and take on a role to progress a story.
As having an online persona is a bit of a shock to some people, I try and explain they already have one, when they email, or sametime IM someone. Bloggers know they have a voice and a persona they develop for a particular style of post. What people are less likely to contemplate, but are led to do so by the principles of online personas, is that they exist with multiple facets to who they are all the time. People are slightly different at work to at home, with friends and with family.
In business someone might act tough and hard nosed as they are expected to blend with an ideal, yet at home they may be gentle and caring. Having to think who you are and understand how your persona(s) alter those around you is not something many people do. The people who do do this effectively are usually the leaders in organizations, they use their persona(s) in various ways to gather support and push things forward. (There are also people who lie, cheat and steal using multiple personas).
So, the premise here is that being online and having avatar representations or social media profiles is no more dishonest than anything else used in the wrong way. In fact I think there is a lot to be said for trying to make sure that all your personas are integrated, that it is really you, that you do not hide behind any of them, be it position at work, fame and fortune or just an unusual lifestyle.
I was very pleased to see that my anecdotal pop psychology on this matter was justified by this fantastic quote “We get so used to disguising ourselves to others that we end up becoming disguised to ourselves” by the French writer and philosopher The Duke de La Rochefoucauld. I came across this on the fantastic blog Slow Leadership in an article about leaders being genuine at work and not just playing the part. (Which was in turn inspired by an ft article by Stefan Stern.
The Slow Leadership article is specifically referring to bosses and reportees, but I think it has much wider relevance as we start to alter those traditional structures in business (or enterprise 2.0).
The bottom line though is that we can hide behind avatars, just as we can hide behind a desk, a suit, a name plaque, an email address, a front door or a process. Likewise we can actually get to be more integrated and honest individuals able to work, share and play with others with avatars just part of the mix. The disingenuous nature of some people in any field is not a reason ignore metaverses in business.
**Update: I recently read this brilliant description of a change in the generational divide. The term Generation V is used to alude to the change in attitudes across generations. We no longer need to consider Gen X, Gen Y etc, but instead those people that have merged across those generations and operate online with varying degrees of engagement and persona.
The article is well worth a look here from Gartner analyst Adam Sarner
Thanks to Malburns for twitteringGiff Constables piece on it that led me to it
As a follow up to yesterdays post members of the “Sport Relief Fund Raisers” have now received a pair of springy shoes ready for the racing fund raisers. As you can see they go well with any avatar though not my usual choice of footwear.
Whilst the sim can be opened up for members of the press we have also received a teaser poster. Lets face it its tomorrow that it starts so we can all go along together.
Roo is off at the fantastic SXSW conference in texas. You can follow his fun and frolis over on his blog I found it quite amusing that we posted individual photos up on flickr customizing out respective laptops, which I thought worth a comparison.
Mine was the arrival of my epredator Moo stickers with QR codes which I thenk stuck on my work Lenovo T61 Thinkpad epredator.com and eightbar.
Roo on the other hand had got his new personal MacBook Pro custom laser etched in Texas with an autobot logo
Just to keep the linked flow of things Roo also twittered he was just off to the Moo party 🙂
Note also how this was not about us hooking up and following one another via one single social network or virtual world. Both Twitter and Flickr and various blogs also feature in keeping us appraised of what one another is up to. Even though in this case Roo is having the lions share of the fun and a little bit of Metaverse Evangelist PR 🙂
*update I just noticed this said comments were turned off. That was unintentional despite the spam we get, normal service is now resumed, it must have been the mad UK weather ATM.