Today’s Social Internet (web 2.0)

The Internet has developed dramatically during the last five years. The openness and connectedness of the Internet have helped people share their own contents and create unlimited connections with people all around the world. My thesis idea starts with the social impacts and cultural phenomenon that was generated by the Internet. I began by investigating and understanding the current trends in user-generated content and social media.

- User-generated content (archiving, publishing and sharing our experiences in physical space)
One of the interesting aspects of today’s Internet culture is user-generated content. In the early stages of the Internet, people just consumed the information in a one-way manner. Presently, people can not only retrieve information from the Internet, but also publish their own content and share with others through blogging or social networking sites like YouTube and Facebook. Moreover, as the camera got cheaper, anyone could own a camera and easily document every single moment in everyday life. Video camera technology has also catalyzed the phenomenon of archiving and publishing contents generated by the Internet users. Not limited to simply publishing content, the interactivity of social networking website allows people to share their experience and communicate by commenting or responding to the original video. By creating and sharing contents through the Internet, we are sharing our experiences and culture.

- Social Web
The Social Web is currently used to describe how people socialize or interact with each other throughout the World Wide Web. Such people are brought together through a variety of shared interests. As the Internet has become prevalent, there has also been a big shift towards creating social networks. We can connect with the friends that we already know in the physical world, and the openness and global connectivity of the Internet allows people to connect with new people all around world and create a more diverse social network. For example, the Internet-based social media sites such as flickr and YouTube allows for groups and forums based on mutual interests and goals. People who have passions about certain activities or interests create communities or groups and share the experiences or knowledge with others. In the book, Virtual Community, Howard Rheingold states that many people the world over feel an emotional attachment to an apparently bloodless technological ritual.[1] Virtual communities provide sharing knowledge and create a different level of emotional bond than was possible before the advent of web 2.0.

- Flash mob
A flash mob is another interesting phenomenon of today’s Internet culture. A flash mob is a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and pointless act for a brief time, and then quickly disperse. The term flash mob is generally applied only to gatherings organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails. It is very interesting that the connection of the Internet could instantly make people gather in the same place and same time and perform the same behaviors. A flash mob forms new experiences of social interaction and creates new kinds of social network.

The phenomenon of today’s social Internet makes me raise questions: How does user generated content and social media extend into the physical world? How will today’s Internet culture be shifted into the pervasive computing environment?

Visions of the future Internet

Many thinkers, engineers and designers have visions of how the future Internet will be integrated into everyday things through embedded technologies. RFID tags and smart sensors that can allow objects to be networked continue to develop. It is inevitable that we are moving into the next stage of the Internet era. The Internet is going to expand beyond the virtual world and be placed in the physical world. In other words, we will be able to access the Internet through everyday objects. As we have already experienced dramatic changes through the Internet, we are going to have to develop new and different ways of getting information and communicating in the coming pervasive computing era. In order to design a system in the coming paradigm shift, I researched some of the related visions of the future Internet.

The Internet of Things
In computing, the Internet of Things refers to a network of objects, such as household appliances. It is often a self-configuring wireless network.[2] Things will sense and log what’s going on in themselves and the world, act on their own, intercommunicate and exchange information. The Internet of Things implies the virtuality of the Internet, where the information and content is represented as an abstract space, independent of the things. [3]

Julian Bleecker coined the term the “Blogject”. A Blogject is a neologism that’s meant to focus attention on the participation of “objects” and “things” in the sphere of networked social discourse variously called the blogosphere, or social web. Blogjects in the near-future will participate in the whole meaning-making apparatus that is now the social web, and that is be coming the "Internet of Things." The most peculiar characteristic of Blogjects is that they participate in the exchange of ideas. Blogjects don’t just publish, they circulate conversations. [4]

New Ecology of Things
The New Ecology of Things is model that implies an organic, evolving system influenced by the actions of its inhabitants (both people and things) and the circumstances of its environment. This decentralized model, activated objects and spaces form an emergent ecosystem where each thing is both independent and interdependent. Things establish ongoing relationships with everything else in their environment, including people. Things have particular behaviors and have tangible, embodied and exposed local modes of communication and interface. [3]

Blogjects are really interesting, because the model is applying the concept of bloggers’ characteristics to networked objects, rather than just talking about connecting objects to each other. I was fascinated by the idea that a Blogject is like another social being to participate, network, and circulation conversation just like today’s bloggers. This interesting vision raises certain questions: How can users control the object to record its data and its surroundings? Do people want the system like any data of every object to be captured and shared without their intention? If physical objects could be networked and have the virtuality of the internet, how will the meanings and emotional qualities of the object change?

The environment that the Internet of Things exists is completely different than the virtual environment of today’s Internet. In this aspect, it is very important to consider the unique affordance and context of each objects as exemplified in the New Ecology of Things concept. If the Internet of Things is our future Internet, as media designers we must understand the value of today’s culture and reflect this in our future system.

Design Fiction

"Fiction is evolutionarily valuable because it allows low-cost experimentation compared to trying things for real." -Julian Bleecker-

Julian Bleecker describes design fictions as projections and extrapolations meant to explore possible near futures. Design fiction is a mix of science fact, design and science fiction. It is a kind of authoring practice that recombines the traditions of writing and story telling with the material crafting of objects. Through this combination, design fiction creates socialized objects that tell stories — things that participate in the creative process by encouraging the human imagination. The conclusion to the designed fiction are objects with stories. These are stories that speculate about new, different, distinctive social interaction s that assemble around and through these objects. Design fictions help tell stories that provoke and raise questions.[5]

Science fiction films such as Minority Report and The Dark Knight significantly inspired me to create my thesis work. These films are instances where film fiction and design-technology combine to create an instance of design fiction. Bleecker uses Minority Report and the gesture interface as an example in describing how the idea of design fiction intertwines with the technologies evolving into reality. After the movie was released, many engineers put efforts into creating the fictional interface from Minority Report into a functional interface. One prominent example is the g-speak developed by Oblong Industries. It is amazing that design fiction has the power to shape the near future. Bleecker emphasizes that a good story is an important aspect in contributing to the design fiction process and in shaping the way we use technology.

My research in design fiction has provoked in me certain questions. What kinds of scenarios and contexts can be applied to design a near future system of activated objects? And how can design fiction become part of a process in making new cultures of the near futures?

[1] Rheingold, Howard. The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. The MIT Press; Rev Sub edition, 2000
[2] Sean Dodson. The Internet of Things
[3] Allen, Philip. The New Ecology of Things(NET). Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design, 2007
[4] Bleecker, Julian. A Manifesto for Networked Objects — Cohabiting with Pigeons, Arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things
[5] Bleecker, Julian. Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction. 2009