Saturday, 13 December 2008

Flowers that bloom in the sand

So, it's over. It is now 30 hours since we closed the Digital Economy sandpit. All the participants, facilitators, mentors and funders have gone home - probably to a good nights sleep - and are hopefully reflecting on what was, even by sandpit standards, an extraordinary week. The people who took part were the result of an intense competition for places - 31 out of 240 who applied. The scope of the underlying knowledge-base stretched from computer science, through a number of areas, to design. The potential challenges were as varied - the initial ideas were broad, but once the various inputs were added, the participants had an enormous canvas to paint on (bit of an in joke - sorry). That they came up with 7 varied but compelling projects is a testament both to them and to the process. They will now go away and distill the basis of their ideas into a standard research council application form. One thing I hope they do is capture the non-confidential basis of their ideas and post them on this blog. Certainly once they have submitted the full applications and they are approved, there will be the potential for using this blog as a means of communicating their progress to a wider community. In the meantime, I think they deserve their rest!!


Tuesday, 9 December 2008

There's some powerful augmented reality stuff happening out there. I've just been listening to Rich Jenkins of Media Power Inc ( His company is doing some interesting next generation stuff on augmented reality on the iPhone, etc. Some of what he is doing may trigger some thoughts for the Digital Economy. 

Have a look at

Sustainable Innovation

Just listening to Judy Estrin, CEO of JLabs. Some thoughts...

Judy believes that we are presently in an innovation deficit - we are reaping the fruits of innovation seeds sown many years or even decades are go, and are not planting enough seeds today for the future.

So, how can we use the digital economy to up the pace of sustainable innovation?

Diverse perspectives are critical to innovation - and so the Sandpit process (hope day 2 is going well!).

Artificial Intelligence

A quote from Allen Newell's famous paper - Fairy Tales:

. . . Exactly what the computer provides is the ability not to be rigid and unthinking but, rather, to behave conditionally. That is what it means to apply knowledge to action: It means to let the action taken reflect knowledge of the situation, to be sometimes this way, sometimes that, as appropriate. . . . In sum, technology can be controlled especially if it is saturated with intelligence to watch over how it goes, to keep accounts, to prevent errors, and to provide wisdom to each decision

You can find more on this at:

As others see our future?

This morning has been a whirlwind tour through views of what may be important building blocks in the Digital Economy. It started with Sebastian Conran deconstructing the aspects of design that made things valuable. He was followed by Alan Newell talking about digital exclusion - with a particular emphasis on the exclusion of the older members of society. Next came Bronwyn Kunhardt, who talked about semantic searching and the problems of language. She was followed by Richard Halkett who gave a slightly scary review of how the education system probably wasn't right for the future and Simon Phipps, who proselytized on behalf of open source. Then we got to eat lunch!!!


Chairs are for wimps!

There again, they can be useful sometimes!

Monday, 8 December 2008

Day one, your chance to add your thoughts

One of the outputs from the first day was a list of research 'wishes', really just high-level thoughts about topics within the digital economy sphere. If you have any thoughts, connections or resources that you think might help to advance the conversation, please add them as comments to this entry.

Wouldn't it be nice if...

  • We explored non-conventional methods like storytelling and art–practice?
  • Things enrich our experiences with the meaning they draw into our lives?
  • We explored human emotions like desire in the things we design?
  • There was a physical and virtual flow of experience using non-invasive technologies?
  • Technology could defeat rather than encourage crime?
  • Technology could help to build trust and bypass cultural/social/language barriers?
  • Technology could drive community engagement?
  • Technology could encourage transformative government?
  • Technology could help reconnect different generations?
  • Technology could help in sustaining skills and expertise through knowledge sharing?
  • Clothes fitted people (in the ways they’d like to look)?
  • Design could be across cultures and generations?
  • Technology worked for everyone?
  • Technology brought people closer together?
  • We could predict how users might respond emotionally to a design?
  • Technology could enhance emotional well-being?
  • Users were at the heart of the design process?
  • Technology evolved through use?
  • We had open, collaborative development tools and processes?
  • We could make what we need in our communities?
  • Everything was bespoke – and as a result create a more ecologically sustainable future?
  • We could enable social inclusion by designing and making things that adapted themselves?
  • Everyone has access to the knowledge and resources to know the life cycle of things and act upon it?
  • Making overtook shopping as an activity?
  • Designers would learn from the entire manufacturing process and product life cycle?
  • The technology was an enabler, not a controller?
  • Emotionally augmented communication media?
  • There was true participatory design?
  • My computer could sense emotions and thoughts and react accordingly?
  • Connecting older people drove social and technological change?
  • Everyone could use technology safely and securely?
  • Technology connected us better with nature?
  • We could design out deliberate technological obsolescence?
  • Technology could reduce human error?
  • Technology reduced our impact on our true environment?
  • We could rely on all technology 100% of the time?

Off to a good start

6 Hours in and the sandpitters are happily exploring their skills and experience and seeking to define the sorts of challenges they think exist. It's early days and we don't what to be too specific, but we need to have goals to debate.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The Tyranny of Instant Access

I have just spent a few days in Boston at a conference I have been intermittently attending for almost 25 years. The opportunity to learn some new science was a "reward" for all the other stuff I have to do!! :-) As is normal, the other stuff didn't go away and I found myself waking up to new e-mails, skulking in the back of lectures with either my iPhone or laptop using the free wi-fi (when did conference organizers think that would add to learning capacity?) dividing my time between where I was and a place over 3000 miles away. That kind of geographical immediacy is a bed rock of the new digital age. We assume everyone is there all the time and get ever so slightly bent out of shape when they are not. I came to enjoy the evenings when Europe went to bed and I got to drink with friends without constant interruptions!! Arriving back in the UK I found that our little sandpit community has acquired a life of its own. We set out to use as many of the tools of the whatever number web we are currently on to maximize the effectiveness of the sand pit and ensure that the very best project get to the end of the week. Now my web pages are full of enthusiastic people wanting to do great things. Kind of restores your faith in the power of people to use technology really. :-)


Our Second Life island is nearly ready!

We are very excited about this - we have plans :-)

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Sandpit: what's in a name

Just to correct any misunderstanding, the title of this sandpit is 'Design in the Digital World: For the people, by the people'. The 'Digital Economy in Business' event was the (broader) scoping workshop preceeding the sandpit, where this sandpit topic had its genesis.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Sneaking up from nowhere? Or are we just not looking?

The other week I went to the launch of WebMission 09, the focus of which is Enterprise 2.0. This got me doing a bit of research, first on the web, but then by asking the younger members of my family. It turns out that this is more than a gratuitous application of the latest marketing terminology. There is a revolution going on in cyberspace and many in "normal" business are not giving it the attention it deserves. Some of the tools that have been developed don’t come labelled as “business relevant”. Some of them have their beginnings in distinctly odd places. Who would have thought that when Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Digg first started that they would play a part in the election of an American president? On Facebook, he has evolved to a new model post the election, on Youtube, almost 113,000,000 people have viewed his channel, on Twitter he has 135,000 followers, and on Digg his election night announcement got 36,000 diggs – he has the top 2. By comparison the Number 10 YouTube can’t quite manage 6,000 views!! It's not just social networking. Who could have foreseen the power of Wiki’s in capturing, rationalising and communicating the tacit knowledge held in a community? Who would have foreseen the proliferation of blogs, or that people could earn a living in Second Life? Yes, we need to think harder about what these tools can.


Friday, 28 November 2008

Another step on the journey

Yesterday we spent a fairly large number of hours at the sift panel for the sandpit.  We have been going through the 240 plus Expressions of Interest as individuals, but yesterday we met as a group of mentors and funders to select those who will attend.  None of us have ever seen such a huge interest and selecting 30 from the 240 was always going to be a difficult and taxing process.  Those of you who have filled them in know this, but for the rest of you.... the first page of the EoI covers the experience of the applicant and what they can bring to the sandpit in terms of expertise.  The second page addresses the processes that we use in a sandpit.  We have learned several things over the last few years.  The first is that this second page effectively determines who will be successful in a sandpit.  The second is that some applicants know this and spend time making their points.  A complication of this sandpit is the wide range of expertise we need to assemble to address the issues in the area.  We had to balance the numbers of "hard science" people, "soft science" people, designers and so on.  

The bottom line is that we selected 33 people who will be hearing from the EPSRC in the next few days.  Apologies to all those we didn't select.  What we do now know is that this area is ripe for investment and there is a strong capability in the knowledge base.  I suspect the EPSRC may well be thinking about whether to invest more... but then it's not my decision.


Thursday, 13 November 2008

in loving memory

I found out today that i'm not the only one who cant bring himself to delete the contact details of deceased friends and family from his mobile phone.
It seems to me to be a little bit too..... "Final", to simply erase an old friend from memory - and perhaps this is the problem - perhaps I have personalised the word "memory" and consider my phone now as an extension of my very being. I have no doubt that these past friends will stay with me for ever in my head, so why does it feel so wrong to delete them from my phone?

And the realisation that other people might have the same anxieties, made me think - perhaps in this digital age we need a 'digital resting place' where we could go with our mobile phones to transfer the 'memory' of a deceased friend with a little more respect and dignity than simply clicking 'delete'

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Location Anchored Virtual Reality

This involves anchoring a virtual reality experience at a physical location. Thus the experiences in the virtual world can only be had at a specific real location. Eg.

• A virtual command post can be set up at the scene of an incident. This command post involves the sharing of information in the virtual world but can only be accessed by those at the scene of the incident.

• A set of blogs and media files are left at famous outdoor sculptures. Groups of friends can contribute, copy, and share files only while they are viewing the sculpture.

reference -

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Be careful what you wish for....

The time limit for expressions of interest has passed and we now have to sift them to decide who gets to come on the sandpit.  Usually, for a sandpit, you need between 25 and 30 people.  Too few and you are starved for interaction.  Too many and you cannot get progress on a small number of impactful projects.  From my experience, there are about twice as many applicants as places, so the process is fairly civilised.  On Friday afternoon, I got the pack of 260 applicants.  This gives us a logistics problem and the applicants an aspirational one!!!

We now have to have a longer sift meeting - to give those who have applied a fair crack of the whip, it ought to last a couple of days!!!  We are now working on how to manage the process.

To those of you who have applied, you have to lower your expectations.  You have a 1 in 10 chance of taking part.

The question we are musing over is whether we picked a particularly attractive part of this space to explore with you, or whether there is so much to do that you all applied because this is the first open call in the area.  If you have any thoughts, please let us know.


Monday, 3 November 2008

Will the DE eliminate my need to travel?

I love Paris in the springtime, I love Paris in the Fall.... etc etc but man, its a pain in the neck to get out of during the rush hour on a cold, wet Thursday evening. As I sat at the drivers wheel of my car staring at the miles of red brake lights ahead of me, I had a lot of time to think.
Why on earth had we come into to Paris for the day? We're we mad?
I love Paris. We had walked from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe, through the Tuileries and along the Champs-Élysées. We visited the Centre Pompidou and of course we shopped. All fabulous real-world physical expereinces - there is no substitute for "being there"..... or is there?
A quick search on the internet suggests that maybe we are not so far away from being able to experience foriegn travel without the hassle of rush hour traffic jams.

There are hundreds of websites that claim to provide a "virtual tour" of paris - certainly some do provide great photos of the scenary and interesting snippets of history -

want some sounds too?

why I can even do my own walk through paris with google streets -,-95.712891&spn=47.167389,92.8125&z=4&om=1&layer=c&utm_campaign=en&utm_source=en-ha-na-us-google-svn&utm_medium=ha

How about if i want try some of that lovely French wine? Well it looks like i can have an online wine tasting with

But what about the smell of being there?

Ah but surely you cant experience that miserable feeling of the rain online can you? Well it might not quite be rain yet, but the idea is getting closer -

So perhaps, we're not so far away from being able to enjoy the experiences of foriegn travel without the traffic jams...... without the travel..... without the foriegn???

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Let's do some quick research on people's attitudes to privacy and consent

And just to make sure we have a reasonably big sample, let's get the data from one million people.

Before the digital economy, that would be the sort of ambition that would probably get your funding proposal filed in the circular basket. But now, those sorts of data sets are readily available. In fact, Yahoo Research conducted a very interesting study on the topic, very recently. You can read about it here.

So, to paraphrase Microsoft, "what interesting questions might you like to ask today?"

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Obtaining user feedback in the digital age

Google's email program is flawed. One of the labels in the 'labs' section says Enable, when it really should say Enabled (the meaning is reversed). Granted, this could hardly be considered a show stopping bug, but I felt the urge to point this out, and so I clicked on their 'give us feedback' link. A few moments later I was signed up to the Google Group for the Gmail product. Two minutes after that, my feedback was posted, and I went back to work.

What I hadn't realised was that I was about to receive a major insight into just how powerful Open Innovation can be. Five minutes ago, I received an email, from the Google group, containing a digest of the suggestions that had been submitted. There were 25 of them. Out of curiosity I scanned through them, and found that they were all useful contributions. Not one of them was enticing me to buy a time share in Vanuatu, or some dodgy pills. But that's not the amazing part. The truly astonishing part about this email was that it was very similar to the one I received an hour earlier, and the one before that. In fact, as far as I can tell, Google is receiving dozens and dozens of useful suggestions every hour.

Obviously, a company of Google's size is likely to attract a lot of feedback, but I simply hadn't realised just how much they receive. It would seem as though a key problem for many organisations will be how to make sense of the huge amount of feedback that is available to them, and how to integrate it into their design process.

How can they identify priorities from the fire hydrant of comments, and how can they evolve their products fast enough to take advantage of the stream of ideas?

Friday, 24 October 2008

There is a time and a place ...

The use of technology is not always appropriate - there is a time and a place!

The question arises, how might we stop people using technology, stop them making use of the always-on nature of the DE? Which comes back to the theme of work/life balance.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Economit Intelligence Unit reports on the Digital Economy

The EIU has released a couple of, survey based, reports on the Digital Company in 2013. You can download them here.

As I was reading them, I was struck by the difference between my experience of the digitial economy, and the one that CIOs were describing for five years hence. Practically everything they discussed is available, and in use, right now. By way of example, I learnt about these reports, not through a flyer arriving in my post box, but via David Gurteen's Knowledge Newsletter. Having read the story, I looked over at my Skype contact list and noticed that David was still in Australia, and so not available for an instant (and free) video conference. And, the surprising part, of course, was that this way of working is completely normal for me, and hundreds thousands of other people.

So, what is holding these, predominantely larger, companies back? Perhaps, the technology just isn't simple enough to implement and integrate. If so, the real challenge for digitial economy researchers may be about making existing technologies simple enough to facilitate their widespread adoption, at an acceptable cost.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Now everyone is a fashion designer

The Finnish company, Vallila Interiors, has opened a, crowd sourced, fabric design site called Bon Bon Kakku. The site's welcome page nicely captures the mission.

Bon Bon Kakku is pioneering net store where you can design your own fabrics. If your design is a success, it will be also sold on the site. Every fabric designed on our site will be published on our site for viewers to see and vote for. We will choose the fabrics to sell on our store based on the results of viewers voting.

For a fashion designer, this would seem to offer instant market research for free. However, the moves to crowd sourcing also raise large questions about IPR. The future of design looks exciting and potentially quite messy.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Will young people watch television anymore?

I have to confess that, until recently, I hadn't paid much attention to youtube. I knew it was there, and had visited it when I was looking for something specific - my most recent occasion was when I wanted to know how to cook an omelette. Thank you, no need to share your comments on my culinary skills!

Anyway, the point is that I saw youtube as a video streaming site for short, and discreet videos of variable quality. That was, until I watched my nephews, one evening. They were bored, fed up with their video games, and couldn't go out. So, they turned to youtube. For the next hour, they built their own customised TV show, simply by searching for topics of interest - in their case, it largely revolved around people engaging in various escapades that were clearly going to end badly, and did.

They were untroubled by the lack of plot, the variability of quality, and the fact that they had to stitch it together themselves. In fact, this latter point was a major positive. And, at no time during the this event, did any of them think about turning on their humungous TV, to see what the channels were broadcasting.

This shift away from mainstream media has important implications for how people co-create their digital lives. Demos, the think tank, has just published a report on this topic. Understandably, given their background, they are exploring the idea from a more political perspective.

Cheap digital technology and broadband access have broken the moving-image monopoly held by production companies and broadcasters. In its place a new theatre of public information has emerged.
It is a messy, alternative realm of video creation and exchange that extends across the internet, television, festivals and campaigns. This report charts the rise of the ‘Video Republic’ across Europe, a new space for debate and expression dominated by young people.

Is mainstream media a dead zone for the next generation? What do you think?

Monday, 6 October 2008

The call is open!

The call document for Expressions of Interest should be going live at overnight. The deadline is 4pm, Thursday 6 November 2008.

And why is this one different - part 2

When it comes to innovation, we believe it is essential to practice what you preach. So, given that this event is all about digital design, and the new modes of collaboration, we are hoping to explore all sorts of internet technologies before, during and after the event.

If you have any suggestions of tools we should consider, please add them in the comments.

And why is this one different?

Normal sandpits last a week.  They are intensive and tightly focussed.  This is the first one run in an experimental format known (internally to the EPSRC) as 1-5-1.  The 5 is the normal sandpit, but the first 1 is a "scoping workshop" held with a wider community to help pre-form the ideas that might be explored in the sandpit.  That workshop was held on 24th September in Canary Wharf and we are getting to the end of the analysis and discussion that generated.

The final 1 is a feedback meeting, where the projects are played back to the wider community to validate their goals and make sure we take the community with us.


Sunday, 5 October 2008

But what is a sandpit??

This is taken from a review I wrote of a sandpit on nanotechnology I took part in a couple of years ago.  I am sure all of our thinking has moved on, but it's a good starter!!

Ideas Factories, or Sandpits as they are also called, are a novel way to define research programmes. The EPSRC has run something like 15 over the last two years, ranging over a wide variety of topics. The premise is disarmingly simple. The academics compete to be part of the event, demonstrating a knowledge of the area under consideration and a commitment to team working.
Once there, they have to all agree about the best projects and how the money is spent. The EPSRC call this real-time peer review. In practice the Director and the mentors, and the EPSRC personnel, all take part in the development of the ideas, but the scientists have to be the core of the ideas – for it is they that take forward the work.
The premise of an Ideas Factory is simple to state and very difficult to implement. No matter how hard they try, every participant will come to the event with an idea of what the outcome should be and how they can contribute to it. The first day is dedicated to assembling these ideas into the first round of potential projects. Once they are derived, the groups are hybridised in order to disrupt these pre-existing ideas and networks. The second day is therefore concerned with rebuilding potential projects from pieces of the first day’s projects. Just as everyone is beginning to get comfortable, an external speaker is brought in to give a totally different viewpoint of the problem – and the teams are once again scrambled. That means that the third day is once again taken up with building projects – but this time with a doubly mixed-up set of experiences and prejudices. The experience in the room was such that many things had to be discarded through these first three days – not because there were not interesting or challenging research projects, and not because they were not valuable areas to explore. What survives this process are ideas that everyone thinks are challenging and that (probably) would not have evolved in the course of normal academic discussion and interaction. The fourth day is then taken up with developing the ideas and presenting them back to the wider group.
It is worth noting that the concept of real-time peer review can be inhibited by too much politeness, or the sense of fair play that the English often prize too highly. At this point, the projects – and the teams that have assembled to develop them – are in competition with one another for the funds. The EPSRC nominally allocates an amount of money at the start and unless everyone agrees (including the EPSRC sponsor, the Director and the mentors) that the projects are of real value, then no money is spent. There is a ‘‘dragon’s den’’ at the end of the fourth day where the teams present to the Director and mentors – it is not always a cordial affair!! The final day is for costing out the agreed programmes and the tailoring to fit the available budget.


Monday, 29 September 2008

Welcome to the Digital Economy Sandpit blog

Please watch this space for updates.