Category Archives: Technology
With some tipping Google Glass to further evolve change our day-to-day experiences, DT’s creative technologist and Glass sceptic Tim Devine found some surprising results after a week with the device.
In a kind of tribute to Steve Mann, the father of wearable computing, and so that I might have at least something of an informed opinion on the subject, I wore Google Glass for a week — everywhere, all the time. For thirty years Mann has worn far less sophisticated versions, so I figured it couldn’t be that onerous, and if I was to give Mann and Glass proper shrift nothing less than full immersion would do.
Aside from my Mann crush, as a creative technologist and practicing media artist my work has at times suffered from crushes on various technologies. There is something wonderful about expectations for a new technology — beyond the new toy anticipation the potential for a leap to occur, even if only in the imagination, is sufficient to begin all manner of feverish speculation.
My relationship with Glass as a technology reminds me of a girl I was seeing a few years ago. While crashing on a friends couch in Brooklyn after an epic romance and break up I noticed a card that read, “I will always cherish the initial misconceptions I had about you”. Love is blind but temporarily.
So the question this led me to suppose was do our relationships with technologies form in a similar way to our relationships with people? A hot flush at the beginning, fading slowly to something you could reasonably take for granted but pine for when you’re apart, replace with the new and shiny, or even do away with altogether?
A few weeks ago I found myself, a youngish creative technologist, contemplating an arranged marriage with Google Glass. Our agency, DT, was fortunate enough to acquire a couple of sets and as I run the creative technology lab I felt obliged to engage.
To be honest, if I could solve a brief with a single fold in a sheet of A4 paper I would. I’ve spent years trying to neutralise the effect technology has on me, while endeavouring to deeply understanding it — when a technology like this is pre-released and inevitably polarises the community, it ends up shrouded in media hype, shrill denunciations and misrepresentative guesswork in the rush to be earliest non-adopter.
The most useful commentary comes from direct experience no matter the device. So I flipped the SIM from my iPhone 5 into a Nexus 5, (Glass needs to be tethered to an Android phone) and strapped on Glass for a week.
Wearing Glass is like dating a celebrity
All week I scored free drinks and double takes as I went about my everyday. It was with me everywhere — driving, golfing, the beach, cycling, the cinema, a rooftop bar, work, watching a band, a restaurant, rock climbing and importantly while I lay hungover in my lounge room hammock. I didn’t skydive, fly a stunt plane, frolic with reptiles, trapeze, sword fight, juggle fire, ice sculpt, own a catwalk, hot air balloon or figure skate — though I was ready for it all, Google.
Glass brings voice interaction into a far more functional context. You have to give over to it, to the point where it sounds like you’re talking to a puppy — very conspicuous if there isn’t a puppy around. If you enunciate, and the sound environment is at a reasonable level, it’s pretty good.
Halfway into my week I found myself engaging in conversation with other computer generated voices, similar to accidentally swiping a non-touchscreen, or mentally pressing “Command-Z” when you pour salt instead of sugar into your tea. In a most illustrative case I was in the part harried, part dazed condition induced by self-checkout in the supermarket.
When asked if I wanted a receipt I accurately turned to face the machine and robotically, in perfect oral formation, enunciated “No. (Pause) Thanks.” Under normal conditions I’m as irritated and diminished as the next person by the automated voice of those machines yet here I was naturally, if automatically, having verbal exchange with one as I would any corporeal service entity.
Fear of blinking in bathrooms
Glass is great for capturing content by voice or wink detection. It’s some kind of wonderful snapping photos with the wink of an eye. Every time I posted something to Facebook it was tagged ‘via Google Glass’, and shot from my 203cm perspective. The result is a peculiar kind of kink in the cultural and visual aesthetic to the content glass captures — it will always be shot from slightly above and outside your right eye, though I eventually figured out how to take a selfie without looking at a mirror. I did find myself trying to warp my neck or body for the best shot, but generally I took photos with a quick wink. If you wish to you can imagine my cold, blinkless disposition while I line up in a bathroom at the rooftop bar.
Being unusually tall I’m used to people compelled to ask questions about my experience up there. With Glass I’ve added an entirely new set of icebreakers. Mostly I found myself looking awkwardly out of windows on trams so as to not to have passengers opposite feel like they were in my camera’s field of view. Maybe there will be a mechanical shutter door in future releases to alleviate this awkwardness. Or better still, maybe we need a new type of necklace that emits powerful infrared light visible only to Glass and not the human eye, blowing out all photos taken with Glass, like a kind of urban camo! Tech, counter tech.
Google Glass sits somewhere between the hype and a hands free bluetooth headset with a screen/camera
My original view of Glass was that it was a thing you wore all the time and that it would more or less replace your phone. Personally I wouldn’t wear it all the time. In the Glass Explorer forums there are countless tips on when it’s appropriate to wear it or how to avoid confrontation — like a dojo really. That said, it’s been 24 hours since the end of my experience and I’ve caught myself peering longingly up to where my Glass once satiated my visual cortex… I miss it… if only a little.
Some people will love Glass and wear it all the time (afforded the excuse to wear prescriptionless designer frames). For others maybe it’s a part-time screen, with similar utility to a hands free earpiece. Either way Glass, or some other brand of face-screen coming soon, is definitely going to be part of our mediated life.
Tim Devine is a Creative Technologist at DT.
This article was originally published on mUmBRELLA.
There’s no need to talk too much on the recent algorithm change by Facebook; a thousand blogs have covered that already. In short, Facebook recently made a significant change to how it determines how many people see content from brand pages. No longer can you rely on the fact that a fair portion of your ‘fans’ will see your content. In fact, brands have seen organic reach drop as low as 0.5% of their total fan base.
Mark Zuckerberg now answers to shareholders and making money sits atop his priority list, somewhere alongside connecting the world and user experience. Make no mistake, Facebook is now a juggernaut corporate entity in every sense. This means that brands are left with a few extra things to consider when thinking about their Facebook marketing efforts.
Pay-to-acquire and pay-to-reach is leaving marketing managers with a bitter taste in their mouths, and some would say rightfully so. Brands have invested significantly in social strategies, community management and acquiring fans through advertising, giveaways, campaigns and competitions. Now they have to invest even more to get their message in front of people.
In terms of audience and engagement from users, Facebook still leads the way by a considerable margin. Here are a few simple tips for maximising your Facebook marketing spend in light of the recent changes to the algorithm.
1. Using your own data will save you money
Time and time again I notice a significantly reduced cost-per-acquisition when uploading a custom data set for targeting purposes. Facebook allows you to upload email addresses from your database into the advertising module, which then locates those people based on the email address matching a registered Facebook account. Serving these users an ad this way is typically far more effective given they already know at least something of your brand.
2. Find look-a-likes based on your data
Once you’ve found users from your database, you can build out a look-a-like pool of similar users – based on demographics and interests, with the goal of attracting people similar to those you already attract – making the barrier to acquisition somewhat lower than that of less specific manual targeting.
2. Go hard or go home
Saying ‘Happy Friday’ and posting a cat meme is all well and good for business-as-usual content, and if your aspirations are to just be one of the pack – but if you want Facebook to work hard for the dollars you’re spending, equal investment in quality content production and planning is needed. Custom and branded images, content pillars and key themes should be developed and revised on a regular ongoing basis
3. Identify what purpose Facebook serves and build around that
Does your page act as an efficient alternative to in-house customer service methods? Did the recent offer you promoted give you a viable alternative to using Groupon or similar? Does the insights gained from interaction and engagement provide your sales team with a new target market to focus on? These are the type of questions you should be considering when figuring out exactly what purpose Facebook serves for your brand.
5. Consider what would happen if you stopped using Facebook
Look at your website analytics to measure Facebook referrals in the past 12-months, apply an attribution model to determine the effect Facebook has on brand term search and direct traffic. Measure your brand sentiment online, and determine the part Facebook plays in that. In most cases, brands taking Facebook seriously will see that it impacts many facets of the branding and marketing mix.
That’s just five essential points to consider right now. In an ever-changing social media landscape, using Facebook and other social channels to promote to consumer and prospects is only going to get more expensive. Making sure every dollar spent is spent with the confidence it’s working hard is essential.
Is Facebook still worth it? It’s only worth the dollars you spend, based on the effort you spend on making sure every dollar counts.
This post is by Peter Feltham, Solutions Architect at the white agency.
I went to a talk titled ‘Is Code Poetry?’ during the Sydney Writer’s Festival last month. My immediate answer to the titular question was ‘no, of course not’ – in fact it brought back the embarrassment I’d feel when my Dad would suggest filling in ‘Java, C++…’ on forms asking for ‘Languages spoken’. Seriously, programming doesn’t even begin to approach natural language – for a start most programming languages have less than fifty words in their vocabularies and besides, who ‘speaks’ in code anyway?
Well, the talk soon answered that question: there actually is a small movement of writers producing ‘code poems’ and ‘electronic literature’. More interesting to me though was a story told by the second speaker, the Australian futurist and co-inventor of VRML Mark Pesce.
Mark told the story of a time he was hired to do a kind of forensic analysis on the source code of dozens of well-known videogames. The unnamed company that hired him wanted to find instances of graphics algorithms that might infringe patents it had cheaply acquired, so it could prosecute them. Although I’m appalled by the ethics of such a mission, what programmer wouldn’t love to read that code? I’ve read the source code to Quake (its maker, Id software, open-sources its code after five years), and it’s like watching a master at work.
Ghosts of coders past.
So Mark spent weeks in isolation reading videogame source code, and in so doing he was absorbing the stories of the programmers who worked on those games. He told us about the three broad types of coders he met through their code.
The first were the kids straight out of school, landed miraculously in their dream job and being ground half to death by its relentless demands. Don’t like it? Well there’s a long line of hopefuls dying to take your place. You don’t have to look hard to find horror stories of young coders who’ve been chewed up and spat out by the big videogame studios.
The next contained those Mark called the ‘Journeymen’. They’d made it through to the other side of the gruelling first years and had developed a workmanlike style, turning out practical, effective if uninspiring code. You could see their battle scars in their practical constructs and their tried-and-true bags of tricks.
The last and rarest were the masters. Reading the source of one game had Mark scratching his head over a seemingly disconnected set of data-like modules, each similar but subtly different, and which seemed meant to fit together in some way but whose overarching purpose eluded him. It wasn’t until he read the final piece that the whole was revealed, a revelation that Mark says gave him the same sensation of beauty and elegance as when a poem’s closing word reveals the meaning of the rest with irreducible succinctness.
The game was Miyamoto’s Mario Kart.
What does your code look like?
Something that has long fascinated me is what makes for good code. There’s an unlimited variety of ways to tackle any programming problem, so what makes some pieces of code better than others? And for that matter what makes some coders better than others?
As I matured as a programmer I learnt a series of lessons that made me a better coder. I learnt that a bit of planning before coding isn’t a waste of time; that writing ‘clever’ code usually isn’t smart; that reusing existing code is almost always better than writing your own; that bugs are inevitable but you can minimise the damage by coding defensively. As I reflected on Mark’s story, I found a common thread that led me to my new coding motto: know your audience.
Programming is communication, but with whom are we communicating when we code? I have a feeling that many programmers instinctively write for the compiler, and I think I started out that way too. But the compiler doesn’t care. Your audience is other programmers.
As Mark’s story shows, code is more than just instructions for a machine; it’s written by people and read by people, it’s subtle and carries implicit information that the compiler doesn’t comprehend. When people read code it’s because they need to understand its meaning, perhaps because they need to fix a bug or add a new feature, integrate it with something else or even incorporate it into something new. If code is well written, it’s easy to understand and work on; if not then it can be a nightmare.
Writing this kind of good code means writing with your audience in mind. It means trying first and foremost to be understood by other people, not just by the compiler.
Coding for humans
Now I can see that the lessons I’ve learnt so far about writing better code all contribute to making code easy to read and understand. I’ve learnt to use patterns and conventions, even if I need to research whether one exists, because they’re easily recognised and they convey my intention implicitly; to choose common code libraries, because my audience probably already knows them; to think hard about what to name my objects; even to never cut corners, because the way I code influences others.
I need to talk about code comments because educators always stress their importance. Good code can explain itself so comments shouldn’t just paraphrase it. I think comments should be used to add context. Code itself can’t tell you when and how it is used, or why it was written that way, or what bug it fixes but comments can. Good comments can even guard against well-meaning attempts by others to ‘improve’ code that was put there for a good reason.
So code may not often be poetry, but it is a form of communication, and therefore (although it’s not the stereotype) good coders are great communicators. My message to my fellow coders is: you might be being crunched by a tight deadline right now, but spare a thought for the next person to read the code you’re writing. It might even end up being you.
Peter Feltham is Solutions Architect at the white agency. He finds beauty in the abstract and theoretical; loves to make and to take apart, to explore the complexity behind the façade. He is fascinated by minimalism, recursion, street art and Four Tet. This post first appeared on white’s wonderful blog. HT @mike_barry.
Newness is a strong currency in any creative industry. What determines the value of one new thing over another is its attractiveness on scale; a.k.a. is it trending?And so, this is a short post on three big trends we think everyone in a creative business should have an opinion on, not just technical folk.
1. The future is 3D printed
There are some great TED talks about it, thousands of blog posts written on it, and a lot of people starting to capitalise on it. Rapid prototyping, or better known as 3D printing, using special plastics and metals, forming layer upon layer to produce something tangible, something real from a software file.
It’s been around for the last 30 years in the industrial design and medical fields, but only now is it starting to be cheap enough to creep into ground level hands. From a consumer level, 3D printing will fundamentally change the way we interact with products we use and want everyday. From a business level, never has it been easier to conceptualise, prototype and manufacture something as quickly and cheaply as it is now with these 3D printers.
What this means in a nutshell is that it’s easy to create something physical from an idea and basic CAD skills. However with this new tech comes a slew of copyright issues surrounding the IP of product design. The Pirate Bay has wasted no time in creating a category where you can download such files. But what if you own the copyright, like most brands do for their products. Imagine what you could do with it as a medium to connect with people with personalised products.
Quick thinking businesses have popped up giving people a chance to design and 3D print anything. Check out Ponoko, Shapeways, and Cubify to see first hand the beginning of building organic, super-personalised products with software.
There is enormous potential for people in our business to personalise and create something for consumers that is fun and efficient. This will be the next level of product personalisation from brands.
2. Code is the new arithmetic
Let me start off this section with a bold question: What if Germany won the Second World War? It’s probable that we would be speaking German day-to-day, or at least learnt German in school.
Germany didn’t take over the world. But something else has. It’s software. It’s crept into our everyday lives via our phones, computers and TVs, making our lives easier, all the while disrupting traditional business models in the process. If software has become entrenched in our everyday lives (“taken over the world”), why don’t more people speak or understand the language?
There is a big movement in getting non-coders to begin to understand the basics of code. From a business POV it’s empowering, you’ll have a better understanding of all things digital, and you can start to hold your own with the techies in your team.
Most likely the kids you have – or hope to have – will know how to code (one man describes it as the arithmetic of tomorrow!). Even New York Mayor Bloomberg recently announced one of his 2012 New Year resolutions was to learn programming. That’s right, the Mayor! In my eyes, if it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander!
Some resources to get you started:
- The easiest way to get started: Codecademy
- An email a day to get you to learn code: Code Year
- Earn badges and work your way through design code too: Team Treehouse
3. Offline rules
Having an online store is no longer a strategic differentiator; it is no longer the reason why your business will succeed. It just buys you a seat at the table. Yet there are a lot of large Australian businesses that continue to believe in the ‘build it and they will come’ approach. While traditional businesses are trying to figure it out, the other online-based businesses are making their way offline and trying to cut their lunch.
This movement is based on one very simple nugget – people do more offline than they do online. While online has its own problems, there are real-world frictions that people need help fixing. Innovative online businesses are heading offline to alleviate these frictions, and making them loyal customers in the process.
With the friction of cash and the infrastructure needed to accept credit cards, both Square and PayPal Here have made enormous steps into mass uptake of a cash-less marketplace.
Eventbright didn’t want their business customers, those selling tickets to events, to have to try and keep tabs of their ticket inventory manually from online to offline (at the door sales). So they created a real world solution to consolidate and remove the friction so their customers can work more efficiently.
And then there’s Uber. After a few bad experiences in a taxi, some people actually want to pay a premium for a nicer and more reliable service. So they created a platform that empowered individuals who wanted to participate and earn money, while alleviating the friction created through years of complacent attitudes in the taxi industry.
These smart online-focused businesses are going to take over the world because they know how real people are moving, they aim to reduce the real world friction, and create real world experiences around them.
People in creative industries need to attach themselves to the new and upcoming and find the common ground for their brands. You need to be part of the trend; immerse yourself, put it in your back pocket, use it when necessary. Because if newness is the currency we need in this industry, you’ve gotta make sure you’re always dealing in cash.
DTDigital/Ogilvy strategist Athan Didaskalou last appeared on Nextness when he curated a visual diary. Follow him on Twitter @ATH. Thank you to DT Digital for this blog post, which first appeared on the DT Digital blog.
Image: Back to the Future screenshot by Baller House.
What do you feel at the thought of making a game? Fear?
People tend to get scared because games typically take a long time to build. But there are ways to make games simple, cost-effective and fun.
First, take a look at the common traits of the most popular games.
- There has to be some fun physics to play with. Whether it is Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds, physics makes the game feel intuitive. It also gives the player a great sense of reward when things happen just the way they expect.
- The game needs a sharing function, or a leaderboard for the player to compare their scores with their friends’ scores.
- The game needs to be absurd – something whacky and wonderful or unexpected.
Enter Zombie Ninjas.
Based on these traits, my friend and I set out to build Zombie Ninjas. The storyline and the gameplay became an obsession for us. We went crazy creating the world, the setting and the backstory of the game. We also created this sprawling interrelationship with multiple characters, and characters’ histories.
This code sample from Zombie Ninjas was written completely by accident:
It’s telling the program ‘if there are zombies loaded, run.’ But we realised, it also has a humorous double meaning outside the game context: ‘if there are zombies, run!’ I felt like Homer Simpson, reading prophetic words formed in a bowl of cereal.
It took two guys a couple of weeks to create this game in Flash and make it available for the Android Marketplace. Of course, we had to cut back on a lot of our more adventurous ideas so that we could feasibly do it without interfering with our main jobs.
But it’s not game over yet!
I mentioned how we can make games cost effectively. Part of this is what we call sprite sheets. These are large image files containing the animation frames for a game.
Our senior designer edited the above sprites and created an entirely new game called Bonkers the Clown where you play as a psychedelic clown on a jumping castle.
And we built it without the need for additional programming time.
A sound artist then finished the project by creating an entirely original soundtrack for the game. This was all done in less than two weeks. Flash (not dead!) is fast. As was the case for the last decade, Flash is still the fastest way to build or prototype a video game. With so many devices already running Flash, it also has a huge audience reach. And with Flash Professional 5 and 5.5, Flash developers can even export directly onto an iOS or Android device, thanks to the Adobe AIR platform.
Now that we have a pinball game engine from Zombie Ninjas, we can theoretically build any pinball-style game with less development time than creating it from scratch. We can give the sprite sheets to each artist in the studio and create a whole genre of games with fresh artwork.
Imagine if we had more game engines ready, like a puzzle engine, a racing-game engine and a platform game engine. Every time a client wanted a game, we could simply re-skin and rebrand an engine, making games a fun design job, rather than a drawn-out development job.
Games are fun to build, and they’re fun to be involved with.
You will find that when designing a game it’s easy to come up with many ideas, but it’s hard to fit all your ideas into the final product.
And when having discussions with your game development team, you may find that the topics revolve around the most bizarre arguments, like what the proper sound a ninja sword should make, or the right way a zombie is supposed to explode…
Finally, a personal tip.
Senior developer at the white agency, Garry Law specialises in RIA (Rich Internet Application) and game design. In the last 2 years, he has created solutions for some of Australia’s most well-known brands like Commonwealth Bank and Lexus. He is currently a level 26 Trooper in the new Star Wars: The Old Republic video game. Follow him on Twitter @garry_law.