What Problem Are We Trying To Solve?

I took part in a discussion this morning (participant, not facilitator) with some telecom folks around what will the residential customer “interface” look like in 10-15 years. What will the devices look like and what services will be offered that are most “value add”? After an hour or so of brainstorming, the two ideas that seemed to get distilled out could be summed up as “Personal Exchange Server.” For those who aren’t familiar with Microsoft Exchange, it’s basically a calendaring/messaging platform that companies use to make it easy to book meetings, share documents etc.

The consensus in the room seemed to be that if there was a service out there that could put together all of your events, free/busy time, coordinate friends’/spouse schedules, professional appointments, etc., this service would be a hit.

While it sounds pretty cool, kind of like Exchange meets Facebook, etc. something in that conversation didn’t smell right to me. That sounded like a bunch of techie professional types getting together and transferring their office desires to the home environment. I don’t think we were able to fully separate ourselves from our boardroom and think like the customer.

However, a couple of things kind of “popped” for me from the conversation:

1) How do we effectively recreate and improve upon the “analogue” comfort zone that people have today, but in a digital way? By analogue, I mean things like sticking stuff to the fridge, having a day-timer with pieces of paper sticking out, a corkboard, rifling through a shoebox full of pictures, etc.

I think that multi-touch technology and surface computing could possibly facilitate the best of both worlds. I could see an internet connected fridge surface that had pictures, notes, important phone numbers etc. That would be cool, assuming it doesn’t already exist. Add in RFID technology that will automatically re-order your groceries, and that’s a smart AND personal fridge.

2) Form factors. The office experience is typically an individual exercise with small amounts of pairs/trios/group work and consequently a laptop form factor works well for this. However, often times the activities in the home better suit themselves to a different form factor. Sharing pictures, accessing recipes in the kitchen, accessing music from a central repository are activites that are clunky with the laptop form factor. The digital/networked home communication interface of the future might have to be fundamentally different from what it is today.

But….the one BIG question that I had leaving that meeting was: “WHAT PROBLEM ARE WE TRYING TO SOLVE?”

Any thoughts, dear readers? What are our personal/home lives missing from a communications perspective? I’m not sure “Exchange in the Home” is it.

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2 responses to “What Problem Are We Trying To Solve?

  1. Jaap den Dulk

    I think our personal/home life are missing genuine awareness.

    Younger people tend to share very openly location and activity status already. Growing up, this will lead to an overflow of factual data. People don’t need data: they want information: what will be felt missing is ‘meaning’ in this continuing ‘Status Static” .

    So I think we will need adding Awareness in a broader perspective to our communication radar in the home.. Not only in the, almost traditional, sense of ‘where is everybody, what are they doing’ But on a more emotional level: is everybody in my inner and outer circle where and with whom they want to be? Is everyone happy? How are they feeling anyway? In return we will probably communicate back to such ’emotional grids’ how are we feeling ourselves about this.

    My point: Think Philips Ambilight, Twitter and Emoticons 3.0

  2. Thanks Jaap…your comment reminded me of Johnathan Harris’ project, http://wefeelfine.org which scours the internet for blog postings that have an emotional topic or context and pulls the snippets together in one place so that you get a sense of how the world is feeling in a given time or place.

    What you’re describing is almost like “We Feel Fine: Home Edition”. It might eventually be the best way for parents to have a better sense of how their kids are feeling, as they might be more inclined to express themselves via Twitter, blogs, Facebook status, etc.

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