Archives For context

There is no question the future is contextual – it has to be.  The volumes of information thrown at us is increasing at such a pace, we can’t keep up if it isn’t contextual.  So many people are talking about it.  Scoble believes it so much, he is writing a book on it called ‘Age of Context’.  

But, so far, the main piece of context we’ve known is location.  Surely, there are cool things you can do with location, but that is still not the absolutely key contextual question you can answer.  The contextual future will really arrive not just with the ‘where’, but with the ‘when’ – the ‘where’ is just a substitute for the ‘when’.  Using the ‘where’ and certain other bits of information, the ‘when’ is derived by the human brain and ultimately used as the context.  A good case for this was made on Techcrunch today. 

When you look at traffic, you really want to know when or how long it will take you to get to your destination. When you get alerted as your spouse leaves work, you really want to know when he or she will get home. When people are waiting for you in a meeting room, they want to know when you might get there.  Since the ‘when’ is more complex to get right, systems so far have been using the ‘where’ – e.g., telling the user that the spouse left work or where a person is, so that the rest of the blanks can be filled in by the human brain.  

The real breakthrough in contextualization will come when devices can answer the ‘when’ – many efforts are underway by many major companies and the players that are able to understand how core the ‘when’ is to this equation and piece together solutions towards the vision of answering that question will drive our contextual future! 

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It is certainly the era of user experience.  An era where Apple is teaching the rest of the world about the importance of user experience – one where others are learning fast to figure out how to get it right and be a player.  An era where user experience as a science is getting its due credit.  One where it is clear that computer science in isolation does not make or sell great products.

This does lead to the question of the end goals of a perfect and intuitive user experience. Is it really about the user? Do Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others care so deeply about their users that they feel compelled to pour billions into getting this right? Maybe – but, just a little bit!

As is evident from the numerous patent wars, no one wants to get along in this game. Sure, the patent wars are broader than user experience at the face of it, but isn’t everything about the user? Faster speeds, lower power processors, better networks, more memory, better applications, slicker UIs, you name it – if it isn’t about the user of the product, there would be no incentive in investing in it.  So, why then can the players not get along to create the best unified experiences?

The end game here is hypnosis – yes, it is an era of digital hypnotism.  Wikipedia describes the characteristics of hypnosis as “The hypnotized individual appears to heed only the communications of the hypnotist. He seems to respond in an uncritical, automatic fashion, ignoring all aspects of the environment other than those pointed out to him by the hypnotist.”, among other things.  Every player in this game is trying to be a hypnotist and the subject is the user.  User experience is a means to an end.

Let’s parse it a bit further.  Apple has demonstrable success in the art of hypnotizing the user.  By creating intuitive, simple to use products, they built a faithful user base.  A user base that will adapt to their products and swear by their products.  They look past flaws in their products to the extent that flaws appear to be a feature.  Having established that loyalty, they enjoy the luxury of rolling out a flawed product (Maps of course!), a highly important one at that, and still not losing the user base!  It is a perfect win for their years of investments in user experience!

There are no incentives in working together – when everyone wants to claim the user, there is no question of unity.  After all, multiple simultaneous hypnosis is proven hard in psychology!  As every one of these major players try to grab every piece of data about the user that can be used to bring them under their influence, the users themselves are undergoing a transformation.  We talk less and type more.  We smile less and use more smileys (more on this later).  Running out of battery on our phones is our biggest fear.

It is a new world.  As long as the net result is making our lives better, being hypnotized by one of these players may just be par for the course.  We win some, we lose some.  As in psychology, you can only be hypnotized if you want to be hypnotized.  As every big player tries to do everything, they are trying to take over the users’ lives in totality.  They want to know our past and present and predict our future.  Or, better still, lead us towards paths we will be happy to follow.  The trick is in having enough snippets of what we, the users, want to do.  Once we are hooked (err, hypnotized), we will do as we are told!