To Twitter and Beyond

March 9, 2009 — 1 Comment

Over the past few years technology has been caught up in a broadcast phenomenon. Facebook, Twitter,, XBox Live, and the list goes on. We like to tell people about us, what we are doing, and the things we like. Apparently, it seems like people care. These services have become enormously popular and, frankly, have become life-changing for many. They completely change how we often go about our day.

So that begs the question, what’s next? These services require some sort of input. Users have to actually log in and then type in the information that is subsequently broadcast. In its basic form, it is instant, short-form citizen journalism. Sure, these can be kind of fun and they allow us to be selective in the information we disseminate, but it just seems like so much of this can be automated. We are not talking about the uses of these services for sharing interesting sites and articles, but rather the integration of these services into other programs and the automation of status broadcasting.

Application Announcing

What if in real-time we could share our work? Perhaps supervisors could quickly switch to a program or webpage that allows them to view their employees’ current work. Teachers could view their students’ current progress and offer suggestions to improve their work. Instead of broadcasting short messages, we could broadcast the current state of our designs.

Of course, this participation should be voluntary (unless company mandated) and be a feature that can be turned off within the application. However, I think this takes peer reviews to another level. It allows for real-time feedback instead of waiting until a design is at a “stopping” point, which creates quicker redesigns of individual elements. Comments from reviewers would show up in real-time in a view that fits within the program. Comments can then be tagged and layered to help organization of the redesign process.

Sharing control can also be built in to allow a powerful tool for controlling the broadcasts. Collaborators can be assigned that can then edit and comment on the file. Saving the file locally would then also update the file on collaborators’ machines as well. Managers would not have file rights, but rather user rights. They would be allowed access to all files from all users that they manage. Developers, clients, and PMs would then also have selective access to particular parts of a design. Designers could choose to broadcast a particular design or area of a design to send to these people in order to review the design.

The advantage of this type of set up is that those who work with the same program used for the design could just use that program for reviewing and those that don’t could have a small module used for viewing and reviewing that would be sent back to the designer’s native program. Other than the small module, this eliminates the need for any separate reviewing applications.

Context Sensitive Broadcasting

The above section talked about broadcasting our work, but what about the rest of the things we do throughout the day? Currently we can send messages from our cell phones, iPods, and other mobile devices, but what if we didn’t have to provide input to send these messages? Automating these status messages might be more useful.

Every Tuesday and Thursday at 9:30 am I have my 3D Virtual Spaces class in the Skiles building at Georgia Tech. Right now, I would have to update my status every time to say I’m in the class. Wouldn’t it be better if my mobile device knew what I was doing? It could easily locate where I am, and then based on the time and day of the week learn that it was time for class. The mobile device would then automatically update my status based on the time and location. This could be done by inputting a schedule or the device could even employ some machine-learning techniques to learn of repetitive statuses.

Some locations wouldn’t even need any time information to determine your current action. For example, if I’m in an Arby’s then I’m probably eating. Based on the time then we could append ‘lunch’ or ‘dinner’ to the status. Taking it a step further we could create some device communication between the register and the phone that would then broadcast what you bought for lunch. Of course, security questions would need to be addressed before something like that was put into place.

Current Sports Broadcast

Current Sports Broadcast

Speaking of device communication, what if we could broadcast real time sports scores or video game progress. This information is already broadcast through things like Xbox Live and ESPN MVP, but they are active forms of broadcast in that they require a user to go to a certain page to view this information. I’m speaking of a passive broadcast that would send a message every time an update takes place. Let’s say I’m watching a Georgia Tech game. My computer or mobile device could communicate with the TV to see what I’m watching and then provide the option of synching my broadcasts with the scoreboard. Every time someone scores my device would then send out a message with the new score. A similar action could be taken with my video games whenever I start up my Xbox and then progress past a level in one of my games.

Questions Raised

Security. Any time you start sending out things about your life or communicating with data-sensitive machines then security has to be top priority.

Privacy. Maybe you only want some people seeing certain things about your life. This is where sharing control comes in. With sharing control I could limit my video game broadcasts only to my friends who play video games.

Broadcasts of things I don’t want shared. Automation is great until it sends out something we don’t want the world to know. Some form of confirmation and/or level of control of types of broadcasts sent is crucial for widespread adoption.

XenoAbe’s Final Say

This is my vision for where things appear to be headed. It seems that we’ve only taken the first step into personal transparency. Is it where technology wants to go? Is privacy becoming less of an issue? I don’t think so. I think there are things we just want people to know and care about. We certainly aren’t going to start sending out our deepest, darkest secrets on Twitter (unless we are anonymous). I believe its a technological movement that is centered around the idea of technologically augmenting our social lives. It’s a movement towards blurring the line between our real lives and cyber lives.

I encourage you to leave your thoughts, comments, disagreements in the comments.

Justin Smith

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One response to To Twitter and Beyond

  1. Lots of good thoughts here.

    My biggest concern with a lot of the technology that we have in place right now does, in fact, revolve around the issue of privacy. Of course, everyone is comfortable with their own level of privacy; however, I specifically remember whenever Facebook began to grow I became a little weary about having photos available online. This wasn’t because I had anything to hide, but it was because people in my extended network – people that are friends with my friends that I don’t even know – could see what I was doing. That doesn’t sit well with me, so I greatly welcomed the ability to maintain “friend lists” on Facebook. Essentially, these lists encapsulated exactly what I want out of my social networking services: control over the information that I publish and share.

    To that end, I used to be pretty skeptical with all of the various network services that were popping up. It’s a bit overwhelming at first, but whenever you take time to educate yourself about the various services and what each offers, then, to me, it’s all about finding your niche. I’ve practically been absent from Facebook for months, but I use Twitter practically every hour simply because Twitter offers what I want out of a networking service – it’s not pictures and videos, but it’s short pieces of conversation, interesting links being shared from friends, and ways to connect with people that are involved in things I am interested in (be it music, software development, blogging, exercising, whatever).

    Finally, the last thing I wanted to comment on was your thoughts about how far will we take social networking. If I recall correctly, Boost Mobile had a service that would allow your friends to see where you are (that annoying “Where you at??” slogan) that behaved very similar to what you’re talking about. Google Latitude now allows you to do a very similar thing. In my mind, we’ve got the crude building blocks in place to do exactly what you’ve discussed – at this point, it’s all about writing some software against the various APIs and publishing it to the desired platform. For example, write an application for Facebook that takes your status and applies it to your Google Latitude account which already notices where you are because of its native location-based service. Just a thought.

    I guess the biggest thing is to make sure control over the information that’s published is left in the hands of the publishers – not the service providers.


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