Off the Top: Gadget Entries

February 3, 2006

San Franccisco Reawakens the Need for a Smart Address Book

I am back home in Bethesda, Maryland from my trip to the San Francisco Bay Area this week, coming only a couple days after getting home from Seattle. Today I was wiped out, some from the travel itself (red-eye overnight flights and getting up at 4 am on the East Coast to catch planes), but mostly from 19 to 20 hour days this week. The brain begins to go a wee bit with this shift.

I met with many wonderful people and had great conversations and business meetings, as I always do in the San Francisco Bay Area. The downside it WiFi networks blocking secure connections. I have had more mail blocked or "reached my quota" notices to fill a year all in one short trip.

Need for Better Mobile/Portable Communication

I also realized we (those of us that are not always stuck at a desk or have friends or collaborators that are not stuck at some desk) need much better communication. We need an address book and multi-medium communication tools that are a hell of a lot better than the poorly thought through mess we currently deal with. I was needing to repoint a group of people from one location to meet-up to another at 4:30 for a 7:00 gathering. People may not be pulling e-mail (which I did not have access to the account I sent the initial e-mail from and that caused 6 of 15 sent to bounce back with spam challenges, which I did not get on my mobile device for some very odd unknown reason).

Solving Communication with People in Digital Context

What is the solution? Again, (again that is for those that heard or read my Design Engaged presentation on Clouds, Space & Black Boxes, that I have yet to write-up, but come to a same conclusion for a very different reason) I know we need a very smart address book. We need an address book that has exhaustive contact information, should the person permit us to have this information, for their communication devices and means of accessing them. The address book should have contact rules based on that person's preferences. Connecting to a calendar for that person could instruct our address book the best means to connect to this person. Another alternative could be a ping service that our address book queries that tells our address book what is the best means of contacting that person.

Smart Address Book Contents

Once we have a smart address book that has all of the rules, or could be easily updated through the same ping service for the address book, we prepare our message and our address book selects the best means of contacting that person. We would have some information going out to e-mail, a blast SMS/text message to mobile devices, voice script that gets dropped directly into voicemail, calendar updates, etc. Not only should our networks (WiFi, mobile device, broadband mobile, etc.) not inhibit out transmissions, but our devices should use the best or a combination of messages that work for that person, based on their current context.

The Smart Address Book in Action

Simply it would work like this (any device will do - desktop, laptop, mobile, etc): We create a message we need to send and mark it with the proper urgency and time to live (Tuesday night the message had 2.5 hours for time to live). In our address book we select the people we want to receive the message. Our address book pings that person's communication priority file, which checks who we are requesting the ping, the urgency, and the time to live of the message. The response back to the ping weighs our request and based on the person's preferences and availability (calendar or live settings) and a rating of how good we are in their eyes we are with our requests. The response tells our address book the preferred method(s) of contact for the information. Our address book adds the address/routing for the message in that person's preferred interaction mode and sends the messages. The smart address book and message preparation can be done on a device or on an external service. Either way we should easily have the ability to do it from any device we have at our disposal.

This should some much of the information routing problems we have. If our smart address book could also capture some of the addressee's preferences and rules it would be helpful too, such as they do not answer their home phone, but may answer their mobile phone, but their preferred method of hearing from us is IM or personal e-mail. I have really been noticing in the past couple of years that the world is made up of text people and voice people. It is all about preferences and understanding personal need and personal interaction efficiencies.

Attention to Personal Information Workflow

The rules could also account for often to contact a person when you have not heard from them on a request or deadline. There are cracks in life (some very small and some large) and things fall into these cracks. The smart address book and messaging system could trigger follow-up based on one's own known personal workflow.

May 27, 2004


I am intrigued with Dodgeball (location-based social software for mobile devices). Were I not home or at work most of my waking hours I would think this is a great tool. It is definitely one to watch as it could be helpful when I am out and about and can meet up with others and kill two birds (so to speak).

June 7, 2003

Gadget dreams

Danger announces a color Hiptop. Many are very excited about this, but some of the usability has me thinking I will go in another direction when my year is up with my black and white Hiptop.

Don't get me wrong I greatly enjoy my Hiptop and the functionality it has given me that no other device has done so far. But, I am now tied to three devices (and I do not have an iPod yet -- you are more than welcome to correct this malady buying it for me from my Amazon wishlist) my regular cellphone (nearly ubiquitous connectivity in area, vibrate function is strong enough to get my attention, speakerphone is outstanding, and clear auditory capabilities), Hiptop (for mobile e-mail, Internet, photos), and my Palm powered Handspring Platnium (synched calendar, addressbook, Strip, JungleSoft (city maps), and document readers (for books like Cory's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

No this is not optimal. I am seeking a Palm-based device that can pull pop e-mail and Internet using the phone, possibly through Bluetooth connection, while giving me the Palm apps that can be synched with my laptop and desktop address books and calendar. It would be nice to have the phone synch the addresses and calendar too.

No, I do not like the Hiptop apps for calendar and addressbook. One, they do not synch only have bulk over write capabilities, or at least that I have found. Two, I personally find the Hiptop calandar to be almost completely unusable. I can not move about the calendar easily, nor change and drill into the events from various views. When sitting in meetings and trying to assess my availability for follow-up meetings or deliverables the Hiptop calendar does is not easily usable for that purpose. I am also bugged by the lack of copy and paste. I do like the keyboard and the form factor for typing and surfing, much more than any other handheld I have tried.

I am thinking Sony Clie and a Sony Ericsson phone may be part of the solution. I have read many reports on the location services tied to cellphones, which use triangulation from cell phone towers and their extreme inaccuracy, I may be interested in having GPS on the one of the devices to better use location based services.

May 22, 2003

Pocket PC only for Solitare

It dawned on me this morning on the train into work that I don't remember seeing anybody not playing solitare on their color Pocket PCs. I see one or two Pocket PCs each day and everyone is playing solitare. I realize it has been a couple of months since I have seen any other application used on one. I see many other PDAs on my trips to and from work and on travels. Many others PDAs have text that is being read, calendars updated, lists being prepared, or e-mail prepared and sent. Me on my Hiptop I am sending e-mail or playing one of the arcade games. On my Palm OS device I play DopeWars, backgammon, working on outlines, reading news through AvantGo, or looking up reviews in Vindigo.

Has is the Pocket PC the sign of Agent Smith? A narrowly pedestrian agent with narrow interests?

March 18, 2003

Unfortunately Hiptop does not think like Palm

Cory discusses the problem with the Danger Hiptop development plan, which is a controlled development society. I liked the sound of the Hiptop because it not only had much of the mobile functionality I was desiring, but also it had an open development environment. Well, that is not exactly the case. One of the fantastic things about Palm OS is it was made wide open and any schmo could scratch their own itch and create software that worked for them selves and then offer it to others. The Palm platform has a gazillion software apps that will work for anybody. This is too bad the Hiptop folks do not understand this. I really hope they will change their mind. I would happily dig back into Java to knock out some of the apps I need and add functionality to the Hiptop. I really like the Hiptop device, but I would love it if it had certain features and apps, which come from open development.

February 4, 2003

Moblogging and Joe Average persona

The Online Journalism review offers up Moblogging the next big thing, which brings "Joe Average" into play. I am not sure Joe Average would want a Hiptop or find a use for a Hiptop. I do like the idea of the Smartmobs, but it is not for everybody.

In a discussion at the DC IA book reading group (this time it was The Tipping Point) we ventured on the topic of using mavens as a persona candidate. The person said they were looking for somebody less adept at finding information, like a "Joe Average". This is often how many of us build personas we go for the less adept, or make sure they are represented across our personas. The discussion later came to how to keep the mavens intrigued, which is also a valid discussion.

February 3, 2003

Hiptop helps show extending the model of attraction

I am already enjoying my Hiptop for much of the reason that I picked it up. I wanted access to information. More importantly I wanted information to be able to follow me. I found information or thought of information I really have been wanting to have access to that information from where ever I am. I wanted the ability to share the information from where I was and have others be able to use that information to better their understanding.

Yes, I have had cellphones and have called others, but the information is not that useable in voice form. The information needed to be convered to data elements that could easily be used and reused. Voice only (at the current time) allows us to hear then act upon the information and not store that information in a searchable repository or to easily share that information back out.

Yes, I have PDAs (Palm-based handhelds), but they need to synch with other devices to share information and the e-mail capabilities were not the best around. The 3rd party applications on the Palm and the fantastic operating system that is fast and small are great features that will be hard to beat by anybody.

I have been looking for a solution to have the information I wanted when I want or need it in my hands. The Hiptop gets me much closer to that goal. I tend to use e-mail to share ideas with myself and others. This weblog is another method of doing the same. Being able to search for an address and get a map is a solid tool to have at all times.

This is a personal quest to have the Model of Attraction (MoA) extend back to myself. The MoA not only helps us think about the attration between the user and information during the finding tasks, to help improve findability, but in phase where the user wants information to stay attracted to them. My Hiptop is my information attraction device. I can push an e-mail to myself that has the name, address, time, and phone number needed to do to a party with friends that have come in from out of town. I can access my Amazon Wishlist when I am in a store to help remember the author or title of a book, CD, or DVD I have been seeking. This bookstore amnesia (or musicstore amnesia) can be a thing of the past. The Hiptop provides me the information in my hand and gives me the access to the information I do not have at hand wirelessly.

There will be some experiments to see if I can improve on the information attraction to keep the information closer to me. Am I getting rid of my Palm? No, as there is information in it that I prefer in the format it is in. I will be keeping my cell phone as it has great reception and is CDMA (I found having a non-dominant cell phone technology is an advantage during emergency times, like being in San Francisco during September 11, 2001, which is a TDMA and GSM dominant city. I was one of a few that had no problem getting a signal to call out). It is rather awkward having three devices with through out the day. We will see how it goes.

February 1, 2003

Posting from Hiptop

This is a test post from my Hiptop. This post was done from my regular management page.

January 31, 2003

Hiptop Here

Yes, my Danger Hiptop arrived today. I celebrated by posting to HiptopNation. I already have a wish list of features for the Hiptop, like the ability to use iSynch for my calendar and addressbook. The boxmodel is not so pretty on the Hiptop/AvantGo browser.

I am happy with my purchase as I now have the ability to have my information follow me easily. The mobile e-mail is a great tool. Yes I know Blackberry has this funtionality, but the price and other added functionality, including phone was far more enticing. The form factor on the Hiptop is very inviting to the hands, although the thumb-fu has my bad thumb kinda wanting a rest.

I may build an administrative interface for Off the Top that I can use in the Hiptop and other mobile devices.

January 19, 2003

Smart Mobs and the Man

Jeffrey Veen reports on the mobile technology at the San Francisco anti-war demonstration. It is just another glimpse that the Smart Mobs are taking hold here in the U.S. (the Smart Mobs site captures smart mob use at SF anti-war rally too).

In a quasi-related vein the U.S. Congress is fighting to keep its mobile technology. It seems that members of Congress and their Senior staff are hooked on their BlackBerry devices. The BlackBerry is caught up in a patent infringement case that may limit the use of the BlackBerry (yes there is irony here as Congress set the copyright and patent laws that are making this a problem for themselves). Congress was not smart in creating the laws, but wants to be a part of the smart mob. It seems like they need to figure out what they are doing before they pick up their pen to write any more laws and may want to undo some of the poor laws they created.

May 5, 2002

WiFi voice offers freedom

Vocera has a nice little gadget that uses WiFi and voice. This would be nice freedom to have. [hat tip Bill]

March 14, 2002

Great flat sounds reports about a device that will turn any flat surface into a speaker. Now that would make for a booming iPod.

November 12, 2001

Including the Synch

MIT's Technology Review provides Simpson Garfinkel's article The Net Effect: Super Sync", which gets to the core of the Internet... information usage and cross contextual usage. Garfinkel's idea revolves around synching, as one would do with their Palm Pilot to their computer so to have the same version of information with them while the person is mobile and not at their desk. Having this information at easy access whether we are connected to a network (large or small) or not is central to how people work with and use information. On a simple level prior to home computers and PDA's many of people kept a large address book at home and carried a smaller version and calendar with them as they went about their daily routine.

The Palm HotSynch software is used as the center piece to explain the idea of synching and keeping versions running at work, home, and on your Palm. Garfinkel discusses the Concurrent Version Systems that are used to keep versions intact as different people work on the same document or software code.

This synching of information is one area that still needs a lot of work, in my view. I keep and carry separate devices, because that is my choice. But getting information from my Palm to my cell phone is not a viable option at this point. I like each of the tools on their own merits, but having them synch or share information would be very helpful. Even using the Palm to read AvantGo is problematic because it does not allow me to use the information in a manner that works in the way I do. I often read an article from AvantGo and want to e-mail it to others to read or want to post comments about it in this space so I can find it and reuse it at later date as well as share this information. I can't with out going through the work of digging the information out off the Web. It does not need to be that many steps and should not be. After all I can click on an ad that is above the article I am reading in AvantGo and it will send me more information to the e-mail address stored for this purpose the next time I sync. Now just go that extra step and e-mail me the link to the article.

This is just a peak at what is around the corner as we get information applications in our dashboard that help us with direction routing, location based services, and other information. Keeping restaurant information we like synched from out car, our cell phone, to our handheld, to our computer at home is the next step. If we are driving around and have been stuck in traffic and get off the highway in a somewhat unfamiliar area, we can ask to find local restaurant located based on criteria we prefer. The location based service (LBS) may provide options and read you the review, we select which one we want and the LBS provides directions. The LBS if it is connected to our hands-free mobile phone could pass the number of the restaurant to the phone so to call to verify it is open and make a reservation, or could use a service like Open Table to do the same. Once we have had our meal and we liked the restaurant we can mark our review so it can be stored as a place we like, which would pass to our PDA to store and add to our favorites list on our central computer. Sound like George Jetson? It may not be too far away. Each of the applications to make this happen are available and the remaining component is synchronization and sharing of the information.

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