Grassroots Innovation & Creativity

Composition: King x Knight

People have been wondering what am I up to since Backstage closed down.

Well its kind of hard to describe but generally I’ve become the resident troublemaker, breaking all types of rules and really etching a new kind of path for myself. If I was going to explain it in a buzz word compliant way, it would be something like… Senior Emerging and Disruptive Grassroots Specialist for BBC R&D.

Yeah feel free to be sick all over your screens.

But one aspect I certainly want to focus on is new types disruption and innovation from the edges or grassroots.

So part of my new job will be seeking the seeds of disruption and innovation before they get to the point of broad adoption.

I come with examples…

Most of the people reading this have been on Twitter at least 4 years, and we could see something interesting was going on with Microblogging but no one really knew what? About 4.5 years ago I met the guys from Twitter (Ev and Biz) and I did talk about what we (BBC) could do with Twitter. Unfortunately I working on Backstage, meant my focus was on data. Although we did talk about what the opportunities Twitter might give the BBC. Of course most of that went up in smoke and Twitter marched on to establish a business model (ok not a very good one but its still something) and a certain amount of dominance in the microblogging and social fields.

Just imagine what would have happened if things turned out different. The point is there was something there and with a good trial someone else could have identified it as something interesting that the BBC should look deeper into.

How I find interesting stuff?

I mostly rely on the people around me for pointers. Thats why I tend to only follow a small number of people on twitter. But I also look at what certain people are up to. In actual fact, its this aspect which bough me to the BBC. Seeing what Tom Coates, Paul Hammond, Matt Patterson, Ben Metcalfe etc were up to really got me going. I had no idea who they were originally but most of them were pretty accessible in person, which really helped.

But as I’ve noticed and you would expect the list of innovators changes all the time. Not that I’m not saying these guys are not doing anything interesting. Actually they may be but new people come along all the time.

I’ve ping’ed a few people about the idea of what I’ll be doing into the future and had various comments back. Some positive, some quite negative but all a great help with lots of ideas and thoughts. One of the most provoking has to be the idea of it being an inbreed network. It really got me thinking… How do you have a network of trusted people but not make it your friends and keep the signal strong?

The obvious example seems to be keep it open… But with openness comes the trouble of keeping the noise out. Its a challenge but I’m hoping to tackle it in a social sciency kind of way.

I really like what Mozilla has done with there Drumbeat projects. But there is a theme which means people are rally around an idea or concept at least. But its wide open, which means you can get right to the edge, no messing. The best way to get stuff from very left-field. Actually I’ve been thinking instead of copying Mozilla, maybe there’s a way to leverage or even work with Mozilla for the benefit of both organisations?

Documenting stuff no matter what

Theres lot of things BBC R&D does which it classes as a throw away experiment and then years later I see something which resembles the original concept or idea. Its critically important to document and I would say share the successes as well as the failures. In R&D right now, we tend to bury this in obscure papers which don’t get to see the light of day. I always wanted to get away from writing papers but have fallen into the trap of writing papers too.

There are better ways, be it prototypes, a series of detailed blog entries, whatever works to document experiments and projects. I don’t doubt a properly authored paper with many citations are a better that a blog post. But if the paper becomes the reason why documentation isn’t done, then maybe its a problem? Right?

I’ve noticed a whole bunch of new ways to document stuff, most of them are simply prototypes filmed and put on youtube. It won’t stand up to much scrutiny but at the point it needs to, then thats when the paper can be written. Its like that all too familiar innovation funnel. Things are cheaper at the start than the end. Maybe you don’t want to commit to writing a lengthy paper when a series of blog post will aid writing the paper at a later date. The blog post can also function as prior art too.

What I have to recognize is that I work in the Emergence stage of innovation.

Emergence – (also known as embryonic stage) shows little improvement in key performance characteristic. Technology operates far below its potential. Neither the characteristics of technology nor its applicability to market needs may be well understood. A long gestation period exists before attempts are made to produce a technology. This new invention period is characterized by a period of slow initial growth. This is the time when experimentation and initial bugs are worked out of the system.

Its ok to be wrong

its ok to be haphazard

Its ok to not have all the answers

its ok to bounce from one thing to another.

Just as long as the experiments are cheap, documented and understanding is formed and shared internally and sometimes externally.

So with all that, spilled out across the this blog entry… I’m coming around to something which is I think very impressive and fundamentally what the BBC really needs now and for the future.

I guess its exactly what the guys behind Backstage were thinking before backstage was formed in 2004.

Wish me luck…

A great app that will never be on the iphone? Locale

In March 2005, Judge Robert Restaino jailed 46 people when a mobile phone rang in his New York courtroom and no one would admit responsibility.

So we invented Locale. Problem solved.

Locale in action

Locale was recommended to me by my good friend Sheila. And within a moment of playing with it I started thinking wow this app can do so much for me.

Locale simply makes the android phone do (setting) something when a set condition is triggered (situation). And thats about it. But this is the clever part, there are loads of plugins to make locale work in different ways.

One of my current favorites is the speak Text and Email setting which does just that. When I’m at home, I usually have the phone next to me on the sofa or on the coffee table. Using "say my name" it will speak the email or text out loud to me, so I don’t even have to look or touch the phone. Of course it also says the person calling if thats the case.

The problem is I don’t want my phone to read out messages when I’m in a public place. But this is easily solved with Locale!

I have a situation setup to say if the phone spots my ssid for wireless and/or its pluged in via usb and charging. Then change the setting to allow speaking aloud and reading my messages.

Its that easy!

One of the most common situations I’ve seen and setup myself is to turn on wifi when at home (once again using the SSID) and turn it off when your not near wifi again. I also added a setting to change the ring volume if I’m at home and when I’m not.

There are tons of conditions and sensors which can be bought and setup. From Battery, Bluetooth and Cell stations to Time, Orientation and SSID for the conditions. Volume, Sync, Brightness, Gtalk, Lock, Ringtone, Wallpaper, Wifi are some of the settings which can be tweaked based on the condition (and these are just the free ones).

I said a long time ago, (maybe before I started blogging even) that controlling your profile on the phone would be the key to mastering it. Problem was that changing profiles required too much attention. I mean who has the time or can be bothered to change the profile each time they walk into a meeting or get on the bus? Instead Locale does all the hard work by turning your phone into a series of cleverly thought out sensors…

…and this is just the start. I keep coming up with interesting uses for locale like for example if I was on Foursquare, gowalla or facebook places. I could tell my phone to automatically send a http post to a url when I’m in the location (by gps, 3g, ssid, etc) to automatically sign me in to a location.

So why is this great application not available on the iphone platform?

  1. Well the iphone doesn’t have profiles!? Why?! I have no idea… I guess Apple thought they were being clever or smart
  2. And even if it did have profiles, would Apple allow you to screw around with the defaults? I doubt it…
  3. Even if they would, the apps don’t seem to work together like on the android operating system. For example could you write a app which will turn on and turn off the wifi?
  4. Oh and if that all works, would you be able to do real multitasking and backgrounding to allow locale monitor the conditions of the phone at all times?

The control of the operating system, is squeezing the innovation at the app level. Heck i’m not the only one saying this. And this level of control will ultimately be the downfall of the iOS platform (imho).