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I’m looking through you

I’m looking through you, where did you go I thought I knew you, what did I know You don’t look different, but you have changed I’m looking through you, you’re not the same Your lips are moving, I cannot hear Your voice is soothing, but the words aren’t clear You don’t sound different, I’ve learned the game. I’m looking through you, you’re not the same

I’m Looking Through You, Lennon-McCartney, The Beatles Rubber Soul, 1965



My father had a tankard with a glass bottom, ostensibly for drinking beer. It looked like this.

He used to joke about the purpose of the glass bottom. He managed to convince me that the reason for the fundamental transparency was to prolong life. As in the life of a gunslinger. He made me imagine a bar somewhere like Tombstone. Batwing doors. Mirror lining the wall behind the bar, with the doors clearly in sight. Gunslingers could safely finish their drinks, looking at the batwing door, in the mirror, through the bottom of the glass. I believed him. Later on it even became a trivia question. Some people thought the glass was there so they didn’t miss even one second of their favourite TV programs. But the truth was more serious than that.


The King’s Shilling. Thirsty? Have a drink on me. Oops, is that a shilling in there? Welcome to the Army. (Or Navy).

Young men had reason to be wary of strangers buying them drinks. Pub landlords weren’t happy seeing their custom frogmarched out the door after being hoodwinked like that; they’d just about gotten over the shanghaied-by-having-a-burlap-sack-pulled-over-your-head time. So the landlords had to do something. Hey presto. Tankards had glass bottoms.


And so to tomorrow. Soon, we may have driverless cars that are paid for by other people. Advertisers. Cars that will spirit you away to wherever and whatever the subsidising body happens to be. Shops. Restaurants. Some slightly older professions. Patents get even more interesting. Soon, we may have anticipatory shipping. We’ve been watching you. You’re going to buy that rowing machine, aren’t you? We know you will. So we’re going to hide it somewhere handy, like behind your bike shed. Just waiting for you to place that order. I can just imagine all the different ways these things are going to be gamed. Literal free-riders doing their Georgy Girl impression:  always window-shopping but never stopping to buy…. Kids running league tables on the biggest and weirdest things they managed to get past the anticipatory-shipping-gaming-captcha. Oh frabjous day.

Posted in Four pillars .

Filters: Part 6: Trading Places

Note: This is the sixth in a series of posts I’m committed to writing about filters; I started with the principles of filtering, and will proceed to blow up each of the principles in as much detail as makes sense at this stage. Earlier I looked at network-based filters, and then spent time on routing, went on a tangent to look at bringing responsibility into publishing, then looked at “designing for serendipity”.  And now I’m going to spend a little time thinking about what it would mean for a person’s collection of filters to be transferable, even tradeable.

“The future of search is verbs”

There was a time, it must have been around 2 or 3 BG, when I used search engines with funny names. Names like Dogpile and Mamma and Copernic. I found each of them useful in different contexts. I moved off all Microsoft systems when OSX arrived, and that meant no more Copernic. If I remember correctly, Dogpile searched; Mamma searched across a number of engines, and let you choose which one(s) to use. But Copernic did some other stuff, really useful stuff. It let me put my search results into a folder, which I could save if I wanted. I could add one folder to another. I could subtract one from the other. I could mail the folder to others. And I could ask for the folder to be “updated”. Retain the old results, see the new ones that came in; compare the search output between two or more dates. I could even ask for the links in the search results to be revalidated, and mark some of the historical links as broken.

Those were the days.

Around 2008, I remember Esther Dyson quoted Bill Gates as saying “the future of search is verbs”. I have a lot of time for Esther, and if she thought something was important, it gave me pause for thought. And she thought that what Bill Gates had said was profound. I was then still stuck in my search/subscribe/converse/fulfil model from 2003, so that was the lens I placed on her comment. Aha. So the future of search is fulfilment. People don’t just look for things aimlessly: when they search, they hope to find something that they can do something about. For a search to be valuable, the output has to be actionable. Since that was why I had consistently included “fulfilment” as my fourth “pillar”, I was content.

Now, instead of relatively static web pages that need spidering and indexing, we’re in the business of filtering firehoses. The same rules apply. Filtering eases comprehension. But that comprehension is usually for a purpose, an action to be performed related to the filtered stream.

Maybe I’m warped. But sometimes I think of search and subscribe a bit like we’re taught to think of add and multiply. Multiplication is repeat addition. Subscription is repeat search. With an understanding of what’s changed between “searches”.

Acting in the stream

None of us can deal with firehoses. So we filter. When we filter, we do so in order to act. So filtering is part of learning how to do something. When someone watches you do something, that’s teaching. So much of what I learnt, at school and in later life, came from observing someone else who knew how to do something.So when it comes to a time when we’re all living in the stream, a person’s ability to do something depends on her having learnt how to do it. Which may come down to knowing about the right filters to use.

A person’s collection of filters becomes some sort of toolchest, where the instruments that allow that person to do the job are kept and looked after. This is as true for knowledge workers as it was for artisans and craftsmen.

I’ve been fascinated by craftsman’s guilds for decades now; the history of the guilds in London is incredible, particularly when you see just how they were committed to social change via education, training and apprenticeship.

Which brings me to my final point, how filter-sets can help transfer knowledge and learning.

Learning in the stream

Many years ago, as I began to lose all interest in email, I tried an experiment. I opensourced my mailbox to my team, allowed them access to all my mail. [In point of fact I set up a separate mailbox for "private" mail, off the beaten track when it came to spam, corporate or otherwise, and proceeded to make my "official" mailbox open to my team.]. And then I sat back and watched. Something very strange happened. Rather than spend time looking at my incoming mail, I saw my guys spend far more time looking at my “sent items”. Most of them had gotten used to what was in my incoming mail anyway, I would always involve one or more of them. So what they wanted to do was to look at how I handled the things they may not have been involved in. In effect, some of them chose to learn not by watching what came to me but instead by watching what I did as a result.

In the world of stream/filter/drain, filtering is part of how we do something. So there is something to be learnt by looking at how the filters are set and chosen.

Since filtering is something we do on the “subscribe” side, it would mean each of us had our own set of filters, hand-crafted to our needs. Filters we knew how to use, how to refine and improve. This makes for some interesting possibilities for new hire induction and training, and in fact for many types of role-related training. You could take the filter set of an exemplary knowledge worker in a specific role, and make it available to others you sought to train in that role. A transferable set of lenses.

There are other interesting possibilities; in a hierarchy I could try and “wear” the filter-lens of a colleague, a peer, a subordinate, a boss, “see” the stream from their perspective. In a flatter, networked organisation those  labels may not have the same meaning, but the principle remains. Make it easy for you to see the world from someone else’s perspective. Make it easy for someone else to see the world from your perspective.

We’ve seen some of this before, initially with stuff like blogrolls, then with bookmarks, then with sets of subscriptions. Filter-sets have value.

And if they’re in digital form, and they have value, then it’s only a matter of time before people find a way to standardise inventory exposure. Discovery processes follow, and before you know you have valuations and negotiations and trade.

More later. Have you had enough? Or should I go ahead and complete the set, I have only four more to write. Please keep your comments flowing.





Posted in Four pillars .

Filters: Part 5: Designing for Serendipity

Note: This is the fifth in a series of posts I’m committed to writing about filters; I started with the principles of filtering, and will proceed to blow up each of the principles in as much detail as makes sense at this stage. Earlier I looked at network-based filters, and then spent time on routing, then went on a tangent to look at bringing responsibility into publishing. Today I’d like to spend time developing ideas that can help us avoid tunnel vision, blinkers, groupthink, the madness of crowds, heresy, narrowmindedness, herd instinct and a slew of similar ills.

The background

It is normal and natural to spend time with people who have backgrounds similar to you; you get along better with people who share your interests, who have things in common with you. This is as true in the digital world as it is in the analogue world; it comes as no surprise that humans have tendencies to be tribal in outlook, to “flock” as “birds of a feather”, to form homogeneous groups.

In the past, when our ability to migrate quickly and affordably was somewhat constrained, we tended to live our lives within a short distance of where we were born, with our kith and kin and in communities that had been stable for a considerable while. When we did migrate we tended to ghettoise, we formed districts and neighbourhoods full of parvenus. It was hard to integrate easily into a homogeneous community, so the new entrants stayed together as well. Often they shared a common language, a common culture; in many cases they came from similar locations. So we had the Latin Quarters, the Chinatowns, the Koreatowns. We first formed relationships with people we had much in common with, then proceeded to integrate at glacial rates. Which was fine, so long as integration took place.

When it comes to the digital world, the cost of discovering people with similar backgrounds, interests, attitudes has fallen dramatically; the speed at which we can group thus has increased significantly. Our digital tribes form at breakneck speed, and run the risk of being too homogeneous and insular. Maybe it’s a variant of first-mover advantage, this tendency to form like-minded and closed groups, emphasis on the closed.

I don’t tend to meander into politics here at confusedofcalcutta, and don’t intend to start doing that now. What I will say is of late, as our ability to form digital tribes has improved in leaps and bounds, so too has our ability to polarise every debate. Which is not a  good thing in countries that have two-party systems in practice. Everything soon becomes about Blefuscu, about Big-Endians and Little-Endians. [I've written about this tendency before as I saw it evolve within the IT industry, spurred by the simplicity and speed of connecting to others]. I used to think that elections could be about Red or Blue, but government had to be about Red and Blue. That there was a distinction to be made between electioneering and governing. But nowadays it appears it’s all electioneering: the purpose of government has somehow been mutated into one of being re-elected and not much else.

[Enough politics! Ed.] When groups form with strong homogeneous characteristics, it’s easy to lose perspective. Our ability to look at multiple sides of an argument weakens, our ability to tolerate dissent erodes, our ability to take in ideas that challenge the status quo atrophies. The importance of diversity is not just in how we evolve and develop as flesh-and-blood humans, it holds as true in our digital lives.

When it comes to “business” there are a few more frills to consider. Firms have boundaries around them, walls build to keep the enemy out. Departments become silos as people with shared incentives optimise what they do to maximise their payoffs against those specific incentives. This tends to have the effect of making departments compete against each other within the firm, with appropriately negative consequences.

Innovative ideas tend to form when two or more well-bounded edges rub against each other; the frictions and latencies that get exposed through this contact become fertile ground for creative people to envision how to make their lives, and those of the people they care for, better.

It is important to ensure that the filters we set, as subscribers, are formed in such a way that the heretical consequences of extreme homogeneity are minimised.

I think it was Einstein who said that common sense is made up of the prejudices we collect by age eighteen. We all have anchors and frames that prevent us from looking beyond the promontories of our proboscides.

There’s also the issue of the filter-bubble, what Eli Pariser has been so eloquent on. It’s a natural consequence of supply-side filters. And it needs fixing.

All this leads me to the importance of serendipity and diversity in our streams. Allowing chance as well as differentiated viewpoints to emerge and surface, to teach us, to challenge our thinking, to inspire us.

Designing for Serendipity

It seems to me that you can do five things by design:

(a) Listen to people outside your cosy circle, starting with customers

When I was at Dresdner Kleinwort I had a fantastic team working for me, people who have gone on to do greater things because that was always going to be their destiny. It was a privilege to have been there. They were so good that I could spend time looking at unusual things, in efforts to try and improve our ability to create business value through teamwork and collaboration.

One of those unusual things was this: every now and then, I looked at the patterns thrown up by our email usage. How much of the mail we generated actually left the bank’s boundaries. Very little. How much of the mail sent by New York left New York (or for that matter any other location bar London”. Very little. London enjoyed “Head Office” status and therefore generated lots of mail for other locations, but in principle the pattern was the same. Most of the time, people sent mail to colleagues in the same location, to people they could have walked over to speak to. And very little of what they sent by mail went outside the firm. If you have the time, the inclination and the ability, take a look at what happens in your firm. It’s unlikely to be pretty.

Designing the network such that externals can participate is a good place to start. Making sure that you can recognise the presence of an external easily is very important, otherwise the environment becomes so error-prone that trust is weakened. Show the presence of externals using differentiated colours and fonts, as an example.

Build mechanisms that track how many of the people you follow are from the outside; from your partner and supply chain; from locations other than yours, from departments other than yours. If the only people you follow are people who look and feel and act like you, you’re not going to learn very much, your thinking isn’t going to be challenged, you’re not likely to spot the frictions in the handoffs.

(b) When listening to customers, bring in two dimensions beyond just traditional communications/conversation

Most companies get complaints from customers. There’s usually an abundance of complaints in comparison to unsolicited goodwill messages. So why not take advantage of this abundance? Make your complaints follow-able, embody them in the form of a person who publishes complaints into the stream. Make it even better, allow the complaints to be classified semantically. Follow the voice of the complainer, by theme or topic if possible. She’s unlikely to have the same biases as you do.

When you do this, try and retain the original words the customer used. Avoid the temptation to summarise-by-triage, throwing away useful and valuable information. Let me give you an example. Customer complains that her broadband is not working. Traditional scripted methods will go through a plethora of well-designed engineer-responses. And fail. Because the reason for her problem is she hasn’t paid her bill. You’re more likely to spot that if you see the words the customer used, rather than the “trusted” commentary that summarises what was said.

A second route is to use some way of collecting ideas from outside the firm and plugging that flow into the network. Companies like Starbucks and Dell have shown what is possible as a result of doing this.

(c) Always bring in some fresh thinking whenever possible

There are so many ways of doing this. Find out who’s joined the party recently (a new hire; someone from graduate intake; a new-name customer; a recently-formed partner). Start following them. In fact from a design perspective every time someone joins the network, they should be discoverable somewhere as newly-joined. Welcome them in by following them.

When someone follows you and you don’t know them, follow them back. I do this as often as possible, once I’ve verified that the person is a person and not a bot, and once I have checked that the person “speaks” rather than spams.

When you follow people, make sure you make a point of following people who are interested in the same subject but with a point of view that’s different from yours. If they’re interested in music and they’re all about country while you’re about folk, follow immediately; if they’re vegan-foodies while you think man and meat were destined as a pair, follow immediately. The point is to be in touch with people that have similar interests but not identical ones.

(d) Learn from the trends around you

Watch closely what’s trending in your network, amongst the people you know and trust. But keep an eye on what’s trending elsewhere. In a perfect world I would want to be able to say “Let me look at the stream as if I am in India; in Somalia; in Iceland”. Let me look at the stream as if I’m Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Pastafarian, atheist. Let me see how 18 year-olds view this. Let me see what a new joiner sees on day 1. This idea, one of being able to encapsulate and transfer lenses, is something I will come back to in a post very soon.

When you see something trending that you don’t understand, do something about it. Find out what it means. Who’s involved. When it began. Stretch yourself.

(e) Go for a random walk

Stumble, just as in StumbleUpon. Go somewhere different; do something that’s not habitual, with people who aren’t habitues, in places that aren’t your natural habitat.

Again, more later. I’m still building on the arguments, delighted with the comments and mails and tweets and links I’ve been given. Please continue.




Posted in Four pillars .

Filters: Part 4: Publishing responsibly

Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts I’m committed to writing about filters; I started with the principles of filtering, and will proceed to blow up each of the principles in as much detail as makes sense at this stage. Earlier I looked at network-based filters, and then spent time on routing. Today I want to look at something a little broader. I want to look at the issue of publishing responsibly.


We live in a world where soon everyone and everything will be connected, one where everyone will soon be able to “publish”.

When I enumerated the seven principles of filtering, I took care to state that we should not design filters on the “publish” side, we should only design them to be used “subscribe” side. There are good reasons for this, mainly to do with avoiding “censorship by design”: we do not want to build structures that allow bad actors to dictate what everyone can see, read, hear. And if we design publish-side filters, that’s what will happen.

But there is still a case to be made for publisher-level filters, an exception to the rule. It’s a filter that most journalists are well aware of. It’s a filter that is quite different from any other filter I speak of, because it is not programmatic. It is code-based, yes, but it’s to do with the code we live by as human beings, rather than a set of instructions for a machine.

Publishing responsibly

Liberty is not licence. As the right to publish becomes universal, we have to perceive the right in the same way that we need to perceive any other universal right. The right comes with a duty, a set of duties. Duties that we owe to society in exchange for the right to publish. As I said earlier, this is something the world of journalism has needed to understand for centuries (even if it not always clear that they act according to that understanding. But that’s another matter).

When I started blogging back in 2002, I had to be very careful what I said and where, given my role and how that role was perceived. So the bank I worked for weren’t too keen on my blogging publicly; that didn’t happen till 2005. Since the audience was largely constrained to Dresdner Kleinwort folk, I wrote principally about work. Then, as things began to open up, I had to think about this whole area differently.

Initially I took the view that I would not share anything unless I could figure out whom it would help and how they could gain value from what I was saying. Between late 2005 and early 2007, I first went public-open with my blog, then started with Facebook, then joined Twitter as well.

As I learnt more about how these things worked, I began to refine my thinking about why I would share anything. And for some years now, this is where I’ve landed up:

Now I use a different test. Before sharing anything, I ask myself “Could this hurt someone?” And if the answer is yes, I hold my (digital) tongue.

How can we hurt others through what we share? Let me count the ways.

Not hurting others


Way 1: Make sure what you’re saying is accurate. Look for corroboration. Check it out. Where relevant, point to the source as well. Learn which sources to trust. Use your noggin, sanity-check it. It’s very easy to help inaccurate rumours circulate. There are also a lot of trolls about, looking to attract attention to themselves and to sensationalise as part of what they do, often with exaggeration and paucity with the truth. Think before you retweet them.

When I was at university, my namesake and erstwhile godfather, Jayaprakash Narayan, was known to have serious kidney problems; he spent a lot of time on dialysis. Which meant my colleagues used to have fun at my expense if I failed to turn up. Roll 7? Gone for dialysis, sir. And then one day it was reported that he’d died. The BBC World Service, no less. But he hadn’t. There was then a localised mini-rumour that I’d died, my personal Mark Twain moment. Why did this happen? It was because the BBC had said that JP had died. If it wasn’t the JP, then it must have been some other JP. And so the rumours began, albeit short-lived. With trust comes responsibility.

More recently, I had to learn this lesson again for myself. I saw reports that Michael Schumacher had been badly injured in a skiing accident, then read a story, from a reputable source, that his injuries, while serious, were not that serious. So I linked to that story. Soon afterwards it became clear that the reputable source was wrong, and I had to correct my earlier tweet.

Which brings me to another important point about accuracy. If for any reason you publish something that isn’t accurate, correct it as soon as you know that to be the case.


Way 2: Respect the audience and context. Think about who’s going to be reading what you publish. Okay, it’s get-on-my-high-horse time, please humour me. Take the term Not Safe For Work or NSFW. I’ve been bemused by this, sometimes even mildly needled. Is work the only place where the “not safe” label has meaning? Why isn’t there a not-safe-for-home? Or a not-safe-in-front-of-the-children? Once you go down that path, you will soon lead to a list of not-safes. Before you know it, someone will decide it’s a good idea and then (heaven forfend!) legislate for it. And we will land up with forced labelling of everything as not-safe-for-something-or-the-other. Warning. Contains Nuts. So before that happens, we need to start using some other signal. Something closer to “May shock or offend”, something simple that covers a whole litany of not-safes.

This is particularly important when it comes to use of images, especially those of the “graphic” variety. Today, more and more of the streams we live in now open up the image and display it as default. Not a good thing. As subscribers we should be able to turn that off. Which reminds me of another awful irritant. Web sites that burst into song without being asked. Puh-lease!

Fairy tales can be scary. Grandmothers turning into wolves. Parents abandoning you and sending you into forests in the dark. The reason that children don’t find such stories scary is because their own imagination stops them from dreaming up stuff that can really scare them. There’s a self-correcting mechanism there. That mechanism worked fine when the stories were oral. It continued to work fine when we moved to text and reading. Early illustrators stayed with the program and drew non-scary scary things. But nowadays we seem to forget all that. That’s a problem.

We should think about what we share and whether it has the possibility of being seen by someone who can’t handle it…. and then it falls upon us to prevent that happening. As individuals, not as society. As individuals using social conventions rather than through regulation. Here’s a simple example. A few days ago, I saw a video to do with spiders. It was fascinating, all the more so because I have no fear of spiders. But my wife would have nightmares if she saw the video. Which means I would do everything I can to ensure that she is not exposed to that video. That’s the sort of reason why films and games are age-graded and certified. So when we publish “in public”, in common space, we need to think about who else is able to see what we publish, and to show some responsibility.


Way 3: Don’t spoil things: There are very few things people now read, listen to or watch “live”. We have had the ability to Tivo so many parts of our lives for some time now. So people record things and replay them later. Catch-up services make this even simpler, by recording it for everyone and then making it available for a limited period for replay. We all know that this happens. So why do we bother to tweet or post stuff that has to do with TV programme contest results, sports results, film plots, book plots? Obviously there comes a time when it’s not that easy to avoid mentioning a “result”. But we have to learn how to do this safely. TV news stations have been using spoiler alerts for a while, where they audibly warn that a result is about to be flashed on a screen, given people the chance to look away if needed. IMDB provides spoiler alerts within film reviews, warning you not to click further unless you want to run the risk of having the plot exposed to you. We have to learn how to implement spoiler alerts as part of our sharing practice.

Sometimes the “spoiling” is subtler and your responsibilities are far more serious. You could be playing with other people’s lives. Now that everyone has a smart always-on alway-connected mobile device 24×7, every public event can be live-tweeted. Say you’re watching a hostage crisis play out. Be careful what you say because you could inadvertently tip off the hostage-takers and accelerate extreme and unwanted reactions. This is serious stuff. A couple of times as I watched what was being said, particularly on Twitter, I wished I could yell to the tweeter to cool it.


Those, then, are the three main ways we have to show responsibility in what and how we share. Of course we have to obey the law as well…. except when the sole purpose of sharing is to protest against the law…. in which case it is reasonable to break the law, knowingly, and to face the consequences. That’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about avoiding being racist or sexist or ageist, stuff like that. We should not be in the business of fomenting hatred by “sharing”. But that’s why we have laws. Sometimes those laws are asses, and deserve challenge. These are exceptions. The rest of the time, what we share should respect the laws of the land in which we do the sharing.


Posted in Four pillars .

Filters: Part 3: Thinking about routing

Note: This is the third in a series of posts I’m committed to writing about filters; I started with the principles of filtering, and will proceed to blow up each of the principles in as much detail as makes sense at this stage. Earlier I looked at network-based filters. Today I want to spend time on routing.

When I talk about routing insofar as filters are concerned, I’m talking about three things. One, the time when the filtered message is delivered to the subscriber. Two, the place that it is delivered. And three, the device to which it is delivered. Nothing less, nothing more. There are more things to consider but I want to keep it simple for now.

Some years ago I was on vacation in Austin, Texas. We used to love going there every summer, when everyone else appeared to leave Austin. We tended to stay at the Barton Creek Resort there, unkind people would call it Connally’s Folly.

I was woken up in the middle of the night, around 130am, by the sound of a car alarm going off. Tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. The alarm wouldn’t stop. Then I noticed my wife had been awakened as well. So I muttered to her that I was going to ring the hotel reception and give them a piece of my mind and ask them to do something about this pesky alarm. She took all this in quietly. I should have known something was up. Then, just as I picked up the phone to call reception, she spoke.

JP, I think the alarm is coming from you.

That stopped me in my tracks. As usual, she was right. It was my pacemaker. It sounded like I had swallowed a tiny ambulance which was then complaining, sirens blazing, about the way it was being treated.

I tried to remember what I’d been told. Three types of alarms. One that let me know my battery was running low, and that I had to check in within the next month or so. A second that said it was a problem with my leads, could be a disconnection, could be fluid buildup. And a third which said drop everything and see a doctor immediately. Which one was it? Which sound was which? What was I meant to do?

It sounded like type 2, lead or fluid problems, but the timing didn’t make sense. I had been assured that type 1 and type 2 alarms went off sedately around 830am, so that I knew not to panic. Why, if it was type 2, was it going off at 130am?

And then I thought about it. The device was probably somehow hard wired to think it was in London, and that it was December. Made sense, I’d had it implanted in December in London. But I wasn’t in London. And it wasn’t December. I was in Austin, in late July. And 130am in Austin in July was ….. 830am in London in December.

Problem solved. I slept, and slept well. And woke up at an earthly hour, rested and refreshed, spoke to the cardiologist back in London and all was well.

Context matters. We live in an age where we expect alerts to be delivered to us sensitive to the time and place of delivery, all the more because the cost of knowing where we are and what time it is there is trivial.

When we convert firehoses into value, the filter process needs to bear this in mind. Discover location and time where possible, test for delivery conditions in consequence.

There are other important considerations, more social than anything else. In the early days of smart devices, we used to have this strange phenomenon jocularly referred to as Blackberry Prayer. This was where you were seated, in company, and then proceeded to clasp your hands and stare at your crotch for a few minutes, in the benighted belief that no one else would notice what you were doing.

As we move into wearable computing, the social side of what we do will start mattering more. You know how it is when you’re chatting with someone and you realise that he/she gets distracted every time someone enters the room? There are people who just have to “work the room”, and many of them don’t realise how discourteous it is, and what signal they’re giving you. Some of them don’t care about the signal they’re giving, but that’s another matter.

Soon, with wearables, particularly with glass-style devices, we run the risk of regular inadvertent dissing, as you watch the person you’re in conversation with “wipe the windscreen” of their eye-borne device.

In social company, it’s one thing to glance surreptitiously at your watch, or to take a quick gander at your phone. It’s something else altogether to pull out your tablet and start reading it in public. Whatever you do, your engagement with the message has to be quick, which means it has to be short. If it cuts across conversation, it had better be urgent as well as important. Say if your partner or child was in hospital… Then people would understand.

Context matters.

As we continue to separate signal from the stream, we’re going to have to learn a lot about conditional routing. What IF THIS THEN THAT or IFTTT seeks to solve. Years ago, when I was at BT and we were talking about the connected home, the example I would use to explain things ran as follows:

If the doorbell rings and you know that the only person at home is your aged aunt who happens to be hard of hearing, then please make the light that’s near the TV blink a few times because that’s the only way she’ll know that someone is ringing the doorbell.

The doorbell is a node on the network. The light near the TV is a node on the network. So is the hard-of-hearing aged aunt.

Firehoses exist because everything can publish. Filters exist so everyone can subscribe.

As we learn more about conditional routing, we will see that the principles behind stuff like IFTTT will pervade our consciousness in ways we haven’t considered. Children will learn to write the code needed to make conditional routing happen, just like they learnt to program VCRs and work their smart devices. These won’t be specialist things.

And as this happens the routing mechanisms will learn to know more not just about person and time and place but device as well. Form factors, graphic capabilities, likely locations of use, all these will matter and form part of what we need from filters.

Why do we filter? Because we want to get the right information to the right person at the right time in the right location and to the right device.

Who chooses all these “right” things? The subscriber. How can these choices be made possible? By designing filters than subscribers can use to make these choices, using all the contextual information possible.

It’s past one am, it’s been a long day, so I’ll sign off for now. If you want to see more of this, then do let me know that you’re finding this series useful.

Posted in Four pillars .