Social Technologies Summit – Day 3 Part 2

May 17th, 2009

The 3rd day of the conference started with a keynote from Adam Greenfield. Adam comes from a user experience background, having worked with Razorfish before moving into areas of ubiquitous computing and is now the Head of Design Direction at Nokia. His keynote was focused on describing the concept of networked urbanism. What is networked urbanism? It is a term used to describe the increasing generation of data through networked devices and infrastructure in urban areas. What’s is driving this? Two factors according to Greenfield:

1. We are becoming an urban species, as by the end of 2008, more than half of the world’s population will live in cities (source: United Nations)
2. By the end of 2012, network sensors will account for 20% of non-video internet traffic (source: Gartner)

Where is this data coming from?
— networked devices (e.g. mobile phones)
— networked buildings (for new buildings)
— networked vehicles (e.g. embedded GPS)
— networked infrastructure (e.g oyster card, RFID cards)
— networked institutions (e.g. government data like census information )
— networked people

Being able to harness this vast amount of data offers massive potential to the inhabitants of the city. What could access to these data mean? Potentially it could offer:

— More awareness (for e.g. using Google maps to find out local services and shops)
— More control (for e.g. finding the least polluted route to work)
— More choice (for e.g. using Camvit to plot alternate routes around the urban landscape)
— More convivial (knowing who your neighbours are through localised networks)
— Richer experiences (for e.g Chritian Nold’s work on emotional maps which asked participants to record their feelings of a place onto maps, anchoring subjectivity to places so that it could experienced by someone else)
— New creative possibilities of urban spaces (for e.g. Tom Armitage’s work on making the Tower Bridge in London, ‘Twitter’)
— Visualising every single potential of a space

An open networked urban environment will offer a local, on-demand and actionable information for individuals. How can this be achieved? Greenfield suggests embedding networks in all public objects that will have an open API (Application Platform Interface) to enable open access and allow the data to be used in anyway imaginable.

An open access networked environment has inevitably a downside too. Greenfield was careful to present these negative aspects in order to highlight what he considers to be design challenges must be addressed. He warned against:
— Seduction of data visualisation. Visualisation is only as good as the quality of the data. Data should be not be used to deceived and manipulated.
— ‘The big sort’ where technologies can intensify the divide between the poor and the networked.
— Attack surface possibility. How much potential vulnerability does a system have? There will be a need for a greater better sense of security awareness.
— Emergent behaviour (behaviours that wasn’t designed into the system). A glitch in the system, especially in a network is difficult to trace.

Whatever the challenge, Greenfield hopes that it will be tackled with knowingness, awareness and most importantly, with compassion.

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