- Ambient Findability (August 28, 2002)
I have never been an early adopter of technology. I'm more of a
skeptical fast-following frugalist. So it's not surprising that I
only recently entered the promised land of the wireless web.
Equipped with a Dell Latitude C400, a Minolta Dimage X, and a
Motorola V60c, I can finally sit in my backyard, write an article,
check the polar bear's sales rank once a minute, email pictures of
my feet to friends, order pizza, and utilize pre-attentive
processing to make sure our three year old is looking after our baby
Having achieved this network nirvana, the question is inevitable:
what's next? For an information architect with library roots, the
answer is obvious: ambient findability.
I want to be able to find anything, anywhere, anytime.
What's surprising is how close we are to making this impossibly
strange dream a reality. Ambient interfaces, sensors and small tech
are about to intertwingle the physical and virtual worlds in
shocking ways that will make history of the Diamond Age.
At this year's Advance for Design in Las Vegas, David Rose brought
some cool toys to his show-and-sell session. David's company,
Ambient Devices, embeds information representation into everyday
objects, enabling lights, pens, watches, walls and wearables to tell
you when you've got email, when it's going to rain, when to take
your meds, how your stocks are doing, and how long you'll be stuck
in traffic today. While I'm not convinced we're about to undergo
a "paradigm shift to glance-ability," I do want an Ambient Orb and a
Jeffrey Huang of Harvard University then told us about the
Swisshouse , a "radically new kind of consulate located both in
Boston and on the Internet." This prototype for convergent
architecture creates social spaces that seamlessly combine the
physical and the virtual, transforming places into portals and
putting the web on the wall.
Sensors and Small Tech
According to the experts, advances in MEMS and nanotechnology will
soon kick small tech into the big time. While smart dust and
personal fabricators are more exotic, sensors will drive change
faster and further in the near future.
In a Ten Year Forecast , Paul Saffo explains that we're about to add
eyes, ears and all sorts of other sensory organs to our devices and
networks. Sensors and small tech already make it possible to access
real-time traffic reports on the Web and to find your kids using a
GPS Personal Locator.
Before long we'll have sticky sensors and radiofrequency (RF) tags
the size of a postage stamp. You'll be able to stick them to the
back of your remote control, the inside of your purse and the bottom
of your spouse's shoe. Yes, our ability to track the location of
everything all the time will raise some privacy concerns, but
privacy is history anyway.
Designing for Ambient Findability
So how will the convergence of ambient interfaces, sensors and small
tech change the work of information architecture and design?
In short, it won't.
Consider the following bold predictions:
* Keyword Searching Reigns Supreme. Ten years from now, users
will still enter one or two keywords into a search query box, and
they'll still be frustrated by the results. Hopefully we'll have
some algorithmic advances that take us beyond Google, but ultimately
we won't escape the ambiguity of language.
* Metadata Goes Mainstream. We're going to create an explosion
of metadata. In order to identify all of the people and objects we
want to be able to find, we'll need to tag them with metadata. This
will usher in the era of personal information architecture that
Jakob Nielsen predicts in our book's foreword.
Okay, so you're disappointed by my predictions. Well, what did you
expect from a skeptical fast-following frugalist who's multi-tasking
in his backyard? Please, tell me your predictions.