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I will never use the word: “smartwatch” (after this post)

4 Apr

It seems silly to be excited by one of the most interesting news from the CES 2014: “Pebble comes in a metal case”. The silly part: level of appeal of the news is close to zero. The interesting part: everyone will have a smartwatch in 10 years from now. 10 years is a long time, as this wave seems will take longer than smartphones and tablets. But be sure: we will drop our watches for new devices… that will not be actual watches. sketch-concept

Smartphones are not phones, smartglasses are not glasses, nor smartphones and smartwatches are not wrist-mini-smartphones!

The fact that they will be anchored to your wrist is just misleading. The name is deceiving too, pointing to smart, as in smart-phone, and watch; we are in presence of another clueless name we give technology that we still cannot fully understand as we develop it.

Those devices will be a lot of things and they might even tell you the time (as smartphones can do calls, although it is the least used feature for most of us).

The Pebble is a very nice device, taking stocks of early adopters, and Samsung Gear was successful only in convincing us that a smartwatch should not be a mini-smartphone. A plethora of new products is getting ready to hit the stores, and there will be a market for most of them, but soon enough most of them look like the Nokia 7110 (released in 1999) or a Blackberry Pearl (2006) compared to an iPhone.

So how will this “iPhone” of smartwatches look like? Here are the three most promising areas, to me:

1) Health/fitness

FitbitFlexThe obvious, has an incredible amount of good cases, huge markets, huge money. That is a serious, ready to explode market. A space that ranges from cheap, always on health tracking for patients to hi-performing athletes… and everyone in between!

The hottest in this space has been FitBit for a while, now it is likely the new Samsung Gear Fit, and a lot is going on already including the rumored iWatch from Apple. But I look forward to Google too (Google Wear), hoping that, in their vision, they will put health before all other use cases (see Why Google Has the Best Shot at Making the Killer Smartwatch).

2) Identity/Authentication

The second most interesting area of development, apparently not yet in the main players plans is that of identity, and authentication. This is the case where our shiny device will allow us to enter the building where we we work, our home, unlock our phone and our computer, exchange contact information with an handshake, etc.). Maybe this could be the good response from Google to the iPhone fingerprint scanner authentication. Bionym, with their Nymi product seems to be already quite far in this game.

3) Payments

Isn’t payment the Holy Grail all the big names in tech are looking for? Can we continue to use credit/debit cards and RFID cards as we are using them now?

As soon as the previous Identity/Authentication area is mature, payments will follow. With cards we got rid of our wallet, with bracelets allowing for payments we can get rid of cards too, and we will (almost) never forget or lose them, since they are securely attached to our body.

From the experience perspective the possibility of paying for a coffee, a bus ride and a parking just by putting our wrist next to the payment sensor seems very appealing to me and actually the idea has been around for several years, but the recent progress in digital banking make me believe we are getting close. Let’s just hope the approach will be to build a pluggable system: nobody feels the need to carry N bracelets: one for the metro, one for the VISA, one for the parking, etc. Finally, in considering the experience, I hope the devices receiving the payment will also get a some love from designers.

Connecting the dots

Combine the features above a lot of possibilities open up: possibilities to dramatically improve our experience around our own health, identity and payments. At this point we also expect those devices to be highly pluggable and extendable with “apps”.

Looking at the characteristics of this device-we-have-around-our-wrist, what does it offers:

  • can be always with us

  • can be securely attached to our body

  • can detect movement, heart rate and more about our body

  • can be always on, day and night

  • can be used in almost any context: while doing almost any sport, dancing, in a meeting, …

  • can be used without looking to it, just but pointing, dropping it on a surface, shaking a hand, …

All in a really small device, offering space for a small screen or display. A device you do not want to recharge, because you do not want to remove it from your body. Ever.

Many manufacturers will try the right combination, there will be more failed experiments, more acquisitions, a lot more buzz, but its all coming our way and I really hope to see, very soon, a product with all four of the above: a single wristband (as you can see I am not using the “s word” anymore) that combines, with an app system, the following:

1) Health and fitness tracking

2) Authentication

3) Payments

Will the iWatch get there first, or maybe, and hopefully, will we see a new player lead this market?



Google Wow, an experience that amazes for real.

6 Feb

What if there were more artists working alongside engineers at Google? I think many products will be different, and better.

Why Google?

  1. Google is the most amazing company out there, building forward looking products like Google Now, and investing in crazy projects we all love to talk about (mostly coming from Google X), that will change our lives, and we hope for the better.
  2. Google strengths is, and has always been in its software engineers. I am myself more an engineer than an artist, for sure, but isn’t the combination of art and engineering the most explosive one? Leonardo da Vinci was born 69.2 km from my hometown (according to Google Maps), and I have always been obsessed by his all-encompassing genius.
A Google doodle

Engineering+Art in a Google doodle.

Today, I was watching again the Google 2013 I/O keynote when a phrase resonated in my mind: “We want you to build the most amazing, delightful experiences for your users…”. I closed the video, and closed the office, those word buzzing in my head: “I am all in for this, dear Google”.

As I was exiting the office I pull out my phone and magic happened again: Google Now is giving me, for the 4th time this week, my commute time, as if I was driving home. Problem is I do not drive home, I do not even have a car and, frankly, I find extremely annoying to know in advance if I will home be 15 minutes earlier or 15 minutes later than usual. What if, instead, I was late home, but for a good reason?

Google Now shows more cards: temperature and forecast. Boring. I am outside, I can feel the heat, and I look at the sky. Looking at the sky delights me, the Google card… not at all.

Finally, the last card, is telling me of the latest package arriving from Amazon: Google is parsing my emails, something powerful and scary: the end result is that I receive a notification, a text message, an email for my package… and Now, also got a nice card. Annoying. Seriously.

Nonetheless I do believe Now is the future of search, a beginning for a new interface, a great product already and it is constantly being improved.

But, what if there were more artists working alongside engineers at Google? Art is beauty, surprise, emotions, and also uselessness:  let’s take a different approach to Google Now: instead of trying to predict my next search, my usual need given the context, it could try to predict what will amaze and delight me! A very appropriate name for it would be Google Wow.

a Google card

A cool, surprising card, since I just arrived in Jamaica!

How would the cards look like?

I really like music, and discovering new artists, so a music card would, from time to time, push some new music at me, an album to discover, but not when I necessarily expect it.

And I really like good food. Google might know or not my tastes (and it probably does) in any case it could throw my way a card with some cool food in the area that I never tried (Google knows that too).

We can get a lot more creative I am sure:

  • Instead of my commute time showing me a nice destination to a far away country, with pictures, travel cost and and an excuse to go there.
  • Instead of the weather in my location the weather in a location where one of my friends is now travelling, and a reason to send him/her a message.
  • Instead of the Amazon package info, a friend who just opened Google Now nearby so we can go get a beer together and be both late home.
Feeling Lucky?

Feeling Lucky?

From “feeling lucky” to “getting lucky“!

Can serendipity be designed into an experience? What if there was some randomness, a push to get outside our usual path and habits, actually giving us the habit of being more open, try more things, meet more people and ultimately get lucky for real?

Post inspired by:

What should NEST build next? An alarm clock, please.

19 Jan
What should Nest build next?

Alarm Clock + Nest = Love

Just a few hours after the announcement of the acquisition by Google, designers and experts worldwide were tweeting and blogging, as usual: there is no time to loose when a news hits worldwide geekness. @jonathanstark was asking the question on Twitter: What should Nest build NEXT? and the usual locks, fridge controller, etc. came out. Now, if there is something I have personally learned from Nest is that when of the smart/connected home you do not have to think of new&crazy appliances (like the home automation fans, and the industry have been doing for years): start by re-imagining the old and basic like a thermostat, and a smoke detector!

Nest has proven this is possible, valuable, and a lot easier to sell.

So what shall Nest build next? An alarm clock, I say. Yes, that old device that is currently being put out of existence by our phones.  I believe the alarm clock has its place in our homes, should get along with our phones, and with the other devices in the house. I do not have a fancy, appropriate name for this Nest Alarm Clock, but here is how it might work:

“It is finally time to go to bed, I play one last time with my phone, adjust the time I want to wake up and drop the phone on the dock of the (Nest) Alarm Clock. The small appliance looks great, Dieter Rams is proud of it. The Alarm Clock syncs with the phone’s alarm clock data, it will charge the phone during the night, then wake me up with its crystal-clear sound using the sound or tune I setup in my phone. I sincerely love its soft-lit big button to snooze it, when slowly awakening. Time to get up, alas: I remove the (fully charged) phone from the dock and the alarm stops, this time for real.”

Nice, lovely product: it will also filter calls, messages and notifications during the night, automagically letting through only certain numbers or alerts, using its night-friendly display to pop up the notifications and calls, and of course the time and, why not, the temperature maybe. Wait, what?

Sure, if you have a Nest Thermostat it will get along with the Alarm Clock, exchange data to improve temperature settings, and more. Obviously, do not forget to connect it with the Nest Protect: should the alert trigger, the Alarm Clock will convey, as gently as possible, the message that yes, there might be a serious problem and you must get up, now!

Finally, you can ask it (her?) to track your sleep too, and it might post your achievements to Google+ without you knowing, but wouldn’t you buy the Nest Alarm Clock right away?

I would.

Trabaju, men and women working

12 Jan

A damaging and painful secret

(and women too)

It all began with frustration: I was looking for information on workplaces, wages and conditions and I spent several days searching the web but I have not found what I was looking for.

Wages, benefits, works conditions, workplaces information is not available, not accessible or extremely difficult to find.

Or how a friend of mine put it:

“In our information driven society the labour market information is a well kept secret.”

Information rules

There is nearly a complete vacuum of real, actionable information that workers, either alone or organized, and organizations can use.

It is possible to make a revolution in the labour market. It is needed, and would be good for the workers, and for the economy in general:

“Without the large market that a robust middle class provides, innovative companies don’t have buyers for their products, and without a competitive labor market and increasing wages, they don’t have much incentive to innovate on the production side, either.”

Tim Fernholz, GOOD Business editor

Our biggest, more important market completely lacks of accessible information.
Internet gave us access to billions of information and data, and showed us who has the wisdom and the power to act: the crowd.


  1. because everyone is a worker (or will be, or has been, or should be)
  2. because every worker has a very small, private part of the information, and can share it
  3. because these small private chunchs of information, alltogether, can bring the change we need

It is time to step into the labour market and to change it, and for the better.

In an way similar to how Wikipedia changed forever our approach to (enciclopedic) knowledge, there should be the same with labour market, to make labour market “work” better, to give power to those who have less, to show reality, to recognize the employers that are good and make them better, …

This is the idea of Trabaju (means “work” in Sardinian).

Issues -> solutions

Labour market is extremely complex, there are cultural barriers, there are privacy issues, there are legal problems. So how can we do?

All the people we talk to are bringing new energy and helping us move forward the idea, here are some of their suggestions:

  1. find very smart folks that have already faced similar challenges (and are still facing them): folks in Wikimedia Foundation, LinkedIn, Ushahidi, …
  2. hire very good lawyers
  3. it is business, but work for its social mission
  4. … ask for more help
So here we are, ready to tap into every human being willing to give us suggestions, expertise, or encouragement:
what do you think of the idea?
how can we move forward?

Idea inspired by:

Tim Fernholz - Why Fixing the Wealth Gap...
The incredible community of Crisismappers
Wikimedia Foundation

[Antonio, Francesco, Giorgio]

The context of the project:

New energies to help in humanitarian crisis

30 Jun

CrisisCamp, Paris

A room at the CrisisCamp, Elena Rapisardi presenting

A case study presentation (by Elena) at the Summit of CrisisCamps Europe, Paris

It was in Paris at the 2011 Summit of European CrisisCamps, that I felt, understood, the true power of  the Crisis Campers fast growing community: no tweet, blog post, article, or paper can replace the experience of being in person within that small crowd of extremely motivated, capable and genuinely devout people! (and yet I’m blogging in the hope that some reader will be inspired).

Crisis Camps are a special breed of barcamps, born to connect a global network of volunteers who use creative problem solving and open technologies to help people and communities in times and places of crisis. 

Senior information managers, developers, bloggers and journalists, project managers, designers from big NGOs to small non-profits, volunteers or professionals, very young and less young, the very diversity of the people gathered there was so powerful to me.

We spoke a lot about technology, sure, but the common ground for all people there is not to invent radically new tech (maybe sometimes) but how to use, mix and shake existing tools, to solve immediate problems.

This changes everything!

At a CrisisCamp you might find yourself developing an application to help refugees find their relatives, designing a system that processes Tweets to provide assistance after an earthquake, brainstorming around a mobile application, open data, transparency and security, and discussing a hundred new ways to volunteer and help, and build a more resilient world.

Among all wild ideas and new technologies, there is one central aspect that needs all of our attention:

people, the very people affected by a crisis are getting connected!

Not all of them, no, not everywhere, not all the time, but they are there. They might not have a pc, but they might access Twitter, and be on Facebook, and this changes everything!

Tools liberating new energies

people in Haiti working on the OpenStreetMap project

New energies in the fields (Haiti, OpenStreetMap) - (C) Kate Chapman

The opening case study of the CrisisCamp is the story of #CIVSOCIAL (slides here), a beautiful, immensely human story, of how a group of friends and volunteers reacted to save lives in recent Cote D’Ivoire crisis, using ordinary technology (Twitter, Skype, etc.) and leveraging the energies of extraordinary people. Thanks to Jean-Patrick (@ jpehouman) for sharing his great story.

Have you ever heard of Ushahidi? Per se, it’s a great idea: with it you can crowdsource geotegged information, provide visualization and interactive mapping… quite powerful. But you should listen to the stories of Anahi (@anahi_ayala) and others that have been using it, to really grasp the revolution that happens behind: hundreds and hundreds of people collaborating worldwide to create accurate maps, to translate messages, requests for help, reports, to harvest information from the Internet aggregate and validate it, and more. The output is information, rapid, often good and very valuable information, to inform people, coordinate, and act, in crisis: for the Haiti earthquake, Chile earthquake, Pakistan floods, Egypt, Lybia, Sudan, …

Other major projects presented, discussed and worth our attention are: OpenStreetMap and Global Voices, and there are many many others, and all of them share the goal to build a little piece of a better world, a more prepared, transparent, resilient, open and human world.

People in humanitarian crisis are getting connected: connected one to each other, connected to people in other countries and willing to help, connected to the rest of the world, when listening. The names of the tools that connects us all are not new: Facebook, Twitter, Skype, WordPress, …

Tools liberating new energies, the energies of:

  • volunteers across the globe translating, validating reports, spreading the information and spreading awarness,
  • geeks, mappers, developers, hackers, creating new and better tools,
  • and most of all, the energies of the people there!

Few have yet acknowledged such a big change and big opportunity.

The new paradigm in Crisis Management

Social, partecipatory web is liberating new energies, energies that have already shown their impact, so where do the well established agencies, NGOs and institutions stand?

An important debate that took place in Paris: “Civil Society & institutions in Crisis Management : New Paradigm of the Participatory Web.”, a roundtable on the current understanding and acceptance of the new paradigm from the Institutions. The main outcome of the debate was that not only the Institutions but also most humanitarian agencies and  large NGOs have not yet seen, understood, nor accepted the change. And it was great to have people from UN OCHA and the International Committee of the Red Cross at the table, OCHA in particular has already done much and is leading the effort of collaborating with the volunteers communities defining the new challenges.

CrisisCamps collect the enthusiasm, the appeal, the dream of the many that have experienced the change: volunteers, humanitarian geeks and technoutopists, a movement born from the bottom, very young, and unexperienced. On the other side the institutions and international organizations that have been working in humanitarian crisis for decades, with their experience and knowledge (and rules and procedures) aimed to ensure quality, safe, transparent and effective action.


Participatory web, and notably the direct participation of the affected communites, will have a growing impact on the information, knowledge sharing, privacy and security, and action before, during and after a crisis.

As Anahi puts it:

“people have access to these tools and they will use them, anyway!”

and also:

“people are now in the information loop and can provide and will also benefit a lot from information.”

I urge all international organizations, NGOs and Institutions to look at, explore and embrace the new paradigm: the debate is open, while communities are growing and social web spreading more and more.

And only these organisations only can provide the experience, the training, the wisdom and the resources needed.  And I’m sure the “new energies” will listen, learn from them, and organize, develop new tools, practices and continue to innovate.

I really hope that in the next years international organizations will foster and help accelerate such change, fully understanding that the social web is an everyday tool to fulfill their very mission.

What’s next?

The Paris Summit of CrisisCamps has motivated me more than enough to move forward and start bringing such new powerful ideas and tools into my everyday work in Reflab, and engaging in the community: together with Elena Rapisardi (@erapisardi) and Marco Boscolo (ogdabaum) we have kickstarted an Italian group. Thanks to Header (@poplifegirl) and CrisisCommons for the support. Huge thanks to LaCantine for giving us a great location, wi-fi, food and everything we needed and to Claire (@ClaireInParis) for leading and guiding us all.

Related resources
Disaster Relief 2.0 (report)
Volunteer Technology Communities (paper)

Playing for a better world

1 Mar

Foreword: a few things worth a lot of attention

This post is about an idea that came some time ago and that I’d like to share; before  getting to the point there are a few concepts I’d like to introduce. I’m writing this post mostly for myself and my friends, but I hope if it can inspire people to dig into the concepts I bring here, if they are new to them, and enjoy the very early stage of a crazy idea (yes, yes, another one).

Videogames matter! (confession of a videogames addict)

one of my pg in wowI’ve grown up with video-games since they exists. I’ve been playing a lot,  too much. Beside the fun, I’ve always tried to study them, evaluate, analyse and enjoyed a lot of discussions about them with a couple of friends, passionate as I am. World of Warcraft has been my second life for several years now, an unbelivable source for learning and the ultimate time-sink.  Videogames are, at the same time, bliss and a curse.

No matter if you are a videogame addic, if you never understood them or if  you and never played or hate them: videogames is not something that can be ignored. (I suggest reading the book Fun Inc.: Why games are the 21st Century’s most serious business by Tom Chatfield, for an introduction to the role of videogames in our present and future).

More than fun

Then something I would have never imagined started to make his way into these discussions with friends and colleagues: gaming can be used with different purposes than “fun”! About two years ago we started imagining several possibilities to engage people in real world  using “games” and game techniques. The original idea came from looking at the emerging social gaming, especially on Facebook, and analysing some of the best in leveraging the network of friends, creating a new wave of time-sinks and ultimately a lot of fun and some little good.

Since then we discovered Games for Change: a multitute of innovative and often very experimental games aimed to change the world for the better: in education, training, democracy, politics, climate change, etc. etc. We have been inspired by Jane’s talks and articles, and we’ve been studing and working to be able to bring this passion into our professional future.

Good changes can be brough to the world leveraging the little gamer that is inside each one of us… with a Purpose.

Gaming as an interface

The last important concept I need to introduce is that games can teach us a lot on how to design powerful engaging applications and tools. Learning from psycology, motivational design or BJ Foggs work on behavioural changes, the message seems always to be that what some game developers is very relevant and meaningful for application design.

The phenomenon is hyped as gamification: “Gamification is the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications, particularly consumer-oriented web and mobile sites, in order to encourage people to adopt the applications. It also strives to encourage users to engage in desired behaviors in connection with the applications” from Wikipedia.

In other words Gamification is the concept that basic elements that make games fun and engaging can be applied to things that typically aren’t considered a game, to bring real-life changes and behaviours (see also The Gamification Encyclopedia): nice examples are Foursquare, Wii Fit, Jinx and …

But, as some of my friends, working in psycology put it: gamification focuses on using gaming as an interface. The approach is definitively much more than only badges, points and achivements. All literature on the topic dates 2010 or 2011, the very term “gamification” is too recent (and ugly) to describe the concept and the approach new and not mature at all; there is too much hype about it and a lot of promeses about it that will not be fullfilled.

I’m not sure what will be the true role and evolutions of the concept but I’m firmly convinced that yes, “gaming” can be used as a paradigm to design new powerful applications. In paricular observing the latest developments in MMORPGs, gaming platforms, and “social gaming” (Zynga, etc.) there is a LOT to learn.

This very week at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco gamification enthusiasts and traditional videogame designers are meeting and joyfully fighting (The Great Gamification Debate!).

“Better World” project

So here is the idea, crazy and worth pursuing: build an environment to match resources (time, ideas, money, skills, etc) needed by NGOs and resources availables in the world (from all people) in a huge games-like experience aimed to changing the world.

The idea came while working on Miomood (a startup on mood tracking&sharing): to build an application, a Facebook application or Facebook “extention” that would help engage users in quests, missions, “call to arms” and battles… in the real world. The application would make it easy for NGOs to develop it’s social mission (whatever it is) using the Social Network.

The pain it addresses: activism, social engagement, volunteering, lobbying, etc. are quite painful, hard and complex activities for most of the people: the result is that there are millions of “sleeping activists”, marginally-engaged people, lost volunteers-to-be. Becase these issues are complex, the contest is complex, true engagement expensive and time consuming.
The good news is that social engagement seems to be very important in the “personal network” of a person, as it relates to “shared values”, moreover, a lot is about “education” and “information” and gaming is excellent at both training and forming.

io senza frontiere scheenshot

Game-like Facebook application by MSF Italia

The opportunity it delivers: move huge amounts of spare-time, game-time (& cognitive surplus) into changing the world for real.
NGOs  would “create” the content in a guided, simple, clear format: the same way they manage a Facebook page they would be able to add a “Quest” or a “Mission” or an “Action”. Title, difficulty, location, requirements, goals… storyline. NGOs would need to well design their contents, their messages and stories, but will not have to develop any mechanic, user interface or web platform.

A world-changer, the user, the player would join the “call”. The identity of the “world-changer” would be his/her real identity, enriched and customized with special skills and abilities, experience, place visited, language spoken, etc. The world-changer answering the call would need the help of his/her friends very often to complete the Quest, the Mission or the action. She/he would along the way socialize with others, maybe even people of distant countries. Along the way discover new and more complex ways of interacting. And be rewarded.

Here is an overview of the main motivational drivers that should be considered the design:

1) Achievement

  • Advancement (points, badges, medals, titles, stats, experience, talents, …) example: “green points”
  • Mechanics (how to spend points, talents, get rewards, …)
  • Competition (there can be good competition too, even in social engagement) example: “world-travelling ladders”

2) Social

  • Socializing (within the personal network and beyond) example: exchanging messages with the volunteers in Haiti.
  • Relationship (everywhere is the design!)
  • Teamwork (everywhere is the design!)

3) Immertion

  • Discovery (new people, new problems, new landscapes, both local or very distant)
  • Role-Playing (world-changer would be taken into being THE BEST possible themselves, right?)
  • Customization (background, avatar, objects carried, t-shirts weared, photo uploaded, …)
  • Escapism (very different from a MMORPG, not sure how it fits, right now)

I’m sure someone have more than enough imagination to “see” how such a project could look like.

It is worth noting that Facebook is already evolving to support some of these needs, expanding our “online self”. Moreover such platform is not only about game mechanics, badges or points, but an evolving system to allow the design of rewarding and joyful experiences when acting in changing the world!

Key design challenges: simplicity, cleanness, avoid transforming serious things in a game (but “play” for real changes!), avoid retoric, avoid frustration when approaching real-world problems as complex as hunger, poverty, etc. and reach the MAXIMUM number of people (get the “marginal” engagement of millions).
A lesson we have all to learn again from WOW: it has brought to a MMORPG millions of people that where not even gamers before! Now popular games such Zynga products and loads of online and social games are expanding this territory. I feel it is the right time to expand into more massive “serious” gaming.