Monday, November 28, 2011

The future of information access, part 1

Earlier this month, Sean Branagan, who is the director of the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship in the Newhouse School of Public Communications, asked that I guest lecture in his class on the topic of the future of information access.  The class is seeking input from a wide variety of industries on what the future may hold and its impact on communications (e.g., news).  In my 1.5 hour lecture, I spoke about the following ideas, some of which are evident in today's environment:
  • Game-like interfaces - more digital controls are taking on the look and feel of game-like interfaces.  In some cases, the impact may be subtle.  Why is this happening?  Considering the number of people that play computer games, these have been test grounds for what works and what doesn't, in terms of interface design.  A good game needs to be quickly understood by the player, which is the same thing that we want from our other digital technology.
  • Gamification – the use of game design techniques and mechanics to engage an audience - Gamification is happening everywhere, including in education (and that's not a bad thing).  If engagement is the goal, then we need to use whatever design principles that work.
  • Virtual reality - It wasn't surprising to me that only a few students had heard of Second Life, which was the darling of virtual reality.  Virtual reality has not caught on as it was hoped, due to a number of factors including hardware requirements.  It is has caught on in gaming and has influenced augmented reality.
  • Augmented reality - Overlaying a virtual environment on top of a real environment is being done in some games and smartphone apps (e.g., Yelp).  This allows for information to be displayed or overlayed on what a person is seeing, based on what the person is seeing.  This could even be information that has been digitized from a local history collection that is displayed - using a smartphone app - when the user look at a specific street using the camera on the phone.  The camera (and GPS) would know what the user was viewing and then would use the app to also display additional information about the area.
  • Personal, unique experiences – sixth-sense technology – Rather than trying to explain what I mean, watch this 9 minute video and imagine that you could interact with information in this (or other) ways. Yes, this is the ability to literally interact with information.

  • Access in your hands – mobile devices –According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 83% of all Americans own some type of cell phone. Increasingly, access to information is happening in people's hands and not on other devices.  Results of the Pew survey show that people are being impacted by the ability to have information literally at their fingertips. Pew also notes that 35% of adults  have a smartphone, and that number is growing.
  • Technology provides an expression or experience of the information – e.g., the weight-shifting and/or shape-changing mobile - A picture is worth a thousand words, so watch this video in order to understand the concept:

    Interesting, huh?! I'm not sure how this would really be implemented, but I can see some benefits to the idea.
  • Tactile (haptics) – “Haptics technologies provide force feedback to users about the physical properties and movements of virtual objects represented by a computer.” - Educause. For example, "Medical students can use haptic devices to develop a sense of what it feels like to give an epidural injection, perform laparoscopic surgical procedures, use dental or orthopedic drills, or any number of other highly tactile techniques. Such simulators give users the opportunity to develop a tactile sense of the structures, organs, and tissues of the body."
  • Technology helping to aggregate information from friends - We see this already in Facebook and Google+, for example, but I wish it worked better.  I want technology to understand really what I want to see and know, and to be able to refine that selection criteria based on what I click on or ignore.
  • Information as entertainment - Stephen Cobert and Jon Stewart have already proven that serious information can be delivered as entertainment.  And it is clear that people respond to receiving information in this way.  May of us may remember a teacher that taught history (or some other topic) in an entertaining way, and how it helped us learn.  Can we do more of this?  Should we?
  • Who you know, not what you know - Because more people are using Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. as their news sources, who you know is important.  Who you know will influence what news or information that you see.  It will likely bias what you are exposed to, unless you work to include people (friends) who have opposing viewpoints from you.  Even if you visit a news site, it is likely that what you see will be impacted by what your friends (contacts) have "liked".  This will make it harder for some news to get in front of your eyes and it could make you world smaller, not larger.
I know that this topic raised several questions in the classroom and so I wonder what questions (or comments) that you have?  Do you see these trends?  Are there others that should be mentioned?  Leave a comment and let me know.

Thanks to Christopher (Toph) Lawton for his help in researching this topic.

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