A World of Enchanted Objects - Avoiding a Cacophonous Internet of Dings

Last night I learned of David Rose's book Enchanted Objects, and watched his fascinating talk at Google from last month. Highly recommended, and I plan on getting the book.

His examples are subtle, often with warm and positive emotional impacts. The hooks on your wall gently reminding you of friends, or that you can use those running shoes today. Your doorbell alerting you to loved ones' locations as they make their way home. Your umbrella by the door alerting you as leave that it will be needed today based on the weather forecast.

If you take a look at Rose's "psychoanalysis" of traditional furniture forms, you can see how to get a lot more ideas on new "enchanted objects":

A Rose[tta] Stone for Generating Ideas for Enchanted Objects
Results of David Rose's "Psychoanalysis" of Traditional Furniture Forms
(from 1:05:23 of his talk at Google)

Per Rose, these "enchanted objects" should be tangible, haptic, incidental, embedded, natural, expressive and humanistic. For the first few products out the door, this will be exciting. But a world full of these things could be a different matter. However subtle these devices are, when there are enough of them all around us, we will need to deal with a cacophonous Disney-topia where every everyday thing is "magical."

And as cheap as these objects will be to make, it seems inevitable that WalMart could become a Brookstone Death Star, filling all of our homes, cars, offices - anywhere we go - with devices that can watch us and (hopefully just) want to helpfully communicate with us.

But enough simultaneous "subtle" tones and alerts could result in what are effectively loud "dings" that counterproductively irritate and distract.

We need to avoid the Internet of Dings.

And don't get me wrong - I love the examples he shows in his talk at Google last month. Both my wife and daughter thought the "Internet of Things" umbrella was "cool."

I think that we'll muddle through this. It's just another side of what's coming when the evolution of it trying to scale meets reality.

And I'm going to use that table by Rose to think of other ideas for enchanted objects :)

Note: After I wrote this this morning, I found that Joshua Benton had used the term "Internet of Dings" in a tweet in June 2, 2014 (https://twitter.com/jbenton/status/473617737164816384). I also saw it used in this 2005 blog. There may be other references as well. I am pretty sure it has popped up before several times, given the recent interest in the "Internet of Things".

David Rose - Enchanted Objects

A tweet by Alberto Cairo came across my timeline earlier this evening:

Intrigued by the sonorous "enchanted objects", coupled with my eye latching onto the phrase "Ambient information displays don't require any effort or cognitive load" in the snapshot from the book, I went and looked up what the book was. It's "Enchanted Objects" by David Rose, a book about the coming "internet of things", released this past July.

There is also a talk on this book on youtube from last month, too:

In the talk, he highlights the four "very different" futures he discusses in the book.

Future One: Terminal world - glass slabs and painted.

There will be more screens and more gesture, but the interaction will be the same as we have today: a call and response to a device waiting on us that requires a lot of our attention. That's the problem with these - how much attention they demand. Market incentives keep this "terminal world" in place.

Future Two - prosthetics: superhuman selves.

It is transformational for amputees and those receiving cochlear implants, but problematic for wearable computers (like Glass - note that he is giving this talk at Google's Cambridge office), as it keeps users in their own "visual space" that will limit us socially.

Future Three - Animism: social robots.

The "outsourced model", the "Downton fantasy". "The more that these agents can look like us and reflect our emotional states and have their own emotional states - that will accelerate how much we bond with them."

The Future He Foresees: Future Four - Enchanted objects.

"Neither convergence, nor on us, nor personalitied."

They will anticipate their use. His initial example is the "ambient umbrella," that can alert you that you'd need it later in the day by being able to check the weather.

He also mentions the Anoto pen, which you can write with, but it also has a microphone and will watch as you write (on special paper) so that if you want to listen at a certain point in time, you can put the pen in the place where you writing at that point and it will start playing back. The point is, the "enchanted object" does not have to be a "bizarre other thing."

He discusses several of these types of objects (some of which he invented), but one of the main themes is that they do not have a screen, instead communicating in other ways.

Enhancing creativity is another focus: to create, make and play. I want the magic paintbrush!

Seven Abilities of Enchanted Objects
  • Glanceability
  • Gestureability
  • Affordability
  • Wearability
  • Indestructibility
  • Usability
  • Loveability

And how might you discover what enchanted objects to look for? He did some mental experiments where he "psychoanalyzed traditional furniture forms," looking for app ideas that would "allow each to be a better version of itself."

Searching for Ideas for Embedded Apps
Results of David Rose's "Psychoanalysis" of Traditional Furniture Forms
(from 1:05:23 of his talk at Google)
Summary Quotes from His Talk

"Enchanted objects will make interfaces tangible, haptic, incidental, embedded, natural, expressive and humanistic."
"If you look at the diversification and complexity of life on a coral reef, or of any mature toolset, like chisels, or shoes, or drinking glasses. As these categories mature, you have huge diversification, and specialization, and redundancy. And that's what I would hope we would have in terms our tools. That we don't have convergence into one thing. But we have this huge specialization and divergence."

More Optimization of a D3 Viz: Fitting Initial Display Content in the "Initial Congestion Window"

I have been continuing to work on improving the performance of a D3 visualization. The things I have been doing lately are independent of the fact that it is D3, and apply to web sites in general.

On Google's PageSpeed Insights page, they refer to something called the "initial congestion window":

If the amount of data required exceeds the initial congestion window (typically 14.6kB compressed), it will require additional round trips between your server and the user’s browser. For users on networks with high latencies such as mobile networks this can cause significant delays to page loading.

With this in mind, I spent some time trying to get the minified and combined html/css files used to show the initial content to have a gzipped length of less than 14.6kb. There are several large files that still need to be downloaded and processed after that, but my goal is to communicate to the user as quickly as possible that something is happening, show the basic page, and not leave them staring at a blank screen.

I believe I have done got things down below the 14.6kb threshold: the initial html/css is downloaded in a single file that is 12.3kb compressed. Theoretically, this should mean that (usually) all of the materials needed for initial display can be obtained with the first trip to the server after SSL negotiation. I haven't checked the raw packets yet to see if this is actually the case.

Here are the (simple) steps, on top of the optimizations that had been done previously:

  • Put the contents of the main css file directly into the main document (done via the grunt task grunt-inline).
  • For html that appears in an "About" popup (if a user clicks on a link on the page), move the text out of the main html document and insert it into the DOM after the page loads.
  • Use a smaller inline image animated gif progress spinner - the one I'm using now is about 3kb, compared to about 18kb that had been being used previously.

Here is a comparison between the latest version of the visualization and https://www.google.com. This comparison video was built easily via the very awesome(!) http://www.webpagetest.org.


Comparison of Page Load Between Latest Optimization of Site and google.com
You can also view this directly on webpagetest.org
(both tests done from Miami-FL with Chrome using http://www.webpagetest.org)

And here is a comparison of the pre-optimized site against this latest optimized version:

Comparison of Page Load Between Pre-Optimized and Latest Optimization of Site
You can also view this directly on webpagetest.org
(both tests done from Miami-FL with Chrome using http://www.webpagetest.org)


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