argnetpicnic2008.jpgEditor’s Note: Daniël van Gool, an administrator at the Unfiction forums, was on the scene at PICNIC ’08 on behalf of ARGNet. We were impressed with Daniël’s work covering PICNIC ’07 and, as media partners of the annual cross-media festival, were invited to a number of special events in addition to the speaker sessions. This is the fifth part of Daniël’s comprehensive look at this year’s event, a continuation of his analysis of day two of the event. All pictures are courtesy of Daniël as well.

Another very interesting talk followed, titled Commercial Collaborations: Tools, Things and Toys by Michael Tchao from Nike. This talk expanded some more on the theme of connecting the physical and online worlds and even a little bit on data visualization by addressing one of Nike’s most successful ventures of the past years: Nike+.

In short, Nike was looking for a way to connect the physical activity of running to a digital community, creating a buzz around their brand by creating indispensable tools that connect consumers to each other and the Nike brand.

Looking at runners, there’s only a small group of people that is actually self-motivated. A lot of runners need motivation though, and this is where Nike+ proved to be a valuable addition to the concept of running: digital technology can now provide data, such as distance ran, pace, and calories burned.

Another trend is that music is growing rapidly as an important factor when it comes to running. Forty percent of people say they would not run without music and participation by people who run with music shifted from 25% to 75% in a few years time. Also, fifty percent of iPod owners say that they use their devices in some form or other for sports. This is why Nike teamed up with Apple to develop Nike+, which builds a digital set of information around the iPod functionality: a website that collects statistics and has you set goals for yourself. In short, it provides motivation.

Upon request from its users, a Challenge function was implemented, so people could challenge themselves or others to reach certain goals and keep track of progress. People have met through this community, challenging each other online, but also making friends in real life. The community has taken on the challenge ability to make very interesting challenges (for example, Europe vs Japan, Cat lovers vs. Dog Lovers, Simpsons fans vs. South Park fans, etc.)

Expansion of the community element is still going on: Nike launched a web store, which sold selected T-shirts, available only for people who reached a certain milestone — the 100 Mile Club, for example. Also, you can now create an avatar that you can plug into Facebook to communicate your running progress to your friend and that will motivate you to run if you didn’t.

All in all, Nike+ is a great example of a very successful way of using a community in a commercial setting, which should tell other companies something about possibilities.

Expanding even further on the idea of connecting the digital world with physical objects was Rafi Haladjian, Chairman of Violet, a company intent on developing new concepts that bridge the rift between the two worlds. In his opening statement, Haladjian stated that virtual things in a virtual world are so passé! Violet developed several ideas that uses virtual input in the physical world, or the other way around. One example is the DAL Lamp, which is connected to the internet and changes color based on data input from several online sources.

The second concept Violet created is Nabaztag, the first internet connected Rabbit, which follows Violet’s business strategy of:

Step 1) Connect rabbits
Step 2) Connect everything else

The Nabaztag offers fun ways to interact with a toy rabbit that has several means of input — sound, touch, “smell” (in the form of an RFID-receiver in its nose) — which then translates the input to an online environment or to other Nabaztags.

Violet’s drive comes from the analogy of the clock tower: in the past, the clock tower was the primary means for knowing the time, but over the course of history, the ability to keep track of the hour came into your home. At first, this meant having a huge clock in the house, which then evolved to smaller models, becoming more personal. In the end, the clock ended up becoming portable and ultimately pervasive: every product can now tell you the time (microwaves, ovens, a VCR, etc.)

Violet wants to further this pervasiveness of functions. A product they are working on right now is a toaster that gets random images from the web and “prints” them onto your toast in the morning.

In the 90s, the job was to connect computers. We are now connecting mobile phones, but tomorrow is about connecting everything else — clothes, shoes, and everything else you can think of. An interesting notion.

A talk on a whole other subject came from Bas Kennis, a musician that plays in one of the most popular Dutch bands of this time: Blof.

Kennis spoke at length (again, a little too long if you ask me) about the innovative aspects of their latest two albums, Umoja and Oktober, trying to make an album more attractive than “just a collection of songs.” Granted, Blof have been quite successful in showing rather impressive growths of album-sales in a market that’s shrinking, but personally I think their attempts of turning their albums into “experiences” aren’t as innovative or impressive as they themselves might think. It has to be said though, Oktober’s choice to allow public access to their live recording sessions, capturing the atmosphere of the Irish Guinness mansion where they recorded their album, does provide for some interesting and compelling content.

Adam Greenfield was next, talking about The Long Here, The Big Now, and other tales of the networked city, which was essentially Greenfield dreaming out loud about the future of urban life. Greenfield is the head of design at Nokia, and author of “Everyware – the dawning age of ubiquitous computing.” He entertained the audience with a couple of examples of how computing starts to be everywhere around us, slowly creeping towards the concept of u-Cities (“u” standing for “ubiquitous”). The best example of this concept is the idea of the Korean city New Songdo, which is to be built from the ground up with everything digitized, so that it becomes a “networked city”.

The posed problem of such a project is that they start with technology, rather than an actual understanding of human desire. Would you want to have an RFID tag on your soda can so the trash dispenser knows how to recycle it? How does it feel to live in a networked city?

Questions like that should be answered first, before actually creating environments of which we aren’t sure they will actually provide solutions for social dilemmas. A trend seen more and more is that the physical constraints of the world are no longer the real constraints of our actions, yet they are overlaid on to each other. This is the concept of “The Big Now” – looking at a Twitter feed on a Saturday from all of your friends in New York City gives you sort of an image of all the superimposed possibilities the city has to offer: the “possibility space” of NYC.

Objects are now also “broadcasting” to Twitter — for example, the Tower Bridge in London Twitters about its current state and activities. There is a ton of information available online, but it only actually becomes useful and offering potential if it’s available on demand at relevant moments. It should not become the idea of Minority Report‘s electronic billboards that provide ‘personal’ content, because this is still mass-communication. Here, again, it is a question of researching what people actually want, and not running with the technological possibilities.

A little bit more back down to earth was Euro Beinat, who works for Geodan which is developing a project called The Visible City. As has been the case with many presentations, this has much to do with data visualization.

A rather fun example shown was the plotting of data from Dutch mobile operator KPN on a satellite image of Amsterdam to see the dynamics of text messages sent throughout the city. By visualizing that data in several fashions, patterns can be recognized, like the Queensday celebration on Dam square, or the huge spike in cell phone data during New Year’s Eve. Take a look at the video of said data representation.

Signatures can be found in this data by plotting it in different ways — on a time line graph for example — and people can find out about social footprints of different areas by comparing these graphs For example, the cell phone data from Amsterdam central station has a completely different footprint from the World Trade Center area.

The last part of Daniël’s report — day three of PICNIC ’08 — comes this weekend.