Today I’d like to announce that as of today I’ll be moving on from my position as Director of Esri’s R&D Center in Portland, Oregon.
It’s been an amazing two and a half years. I worked with an incredible team on a lot of very difficult projects. We all grew and evolved together, and I’m going to miss everyone very much. Many of us came from Geoloqi, a company I co-founded in 2010 that was acquired by Esri in 2012. Geoloqi was all about building intelligent geofencing technology that reduced battery drain on mobile devices. We had a lot of fun building real-time location-based games like MapAttack! and learning how to work with a larger company.
Esri was the most interesting and challenging job I’ve ever had. I was privileged to work with a wonderful team on a series of projects that grew to millions of users. Our team built a developer website from scratch, growing it from 3 pages to over 25,000 pages and millions of monthly visitors. We helped make templates and standards for documentation for the company, and we built out a new version of the Geoloqi technology called the Esri Geotrigger Service, allowing more features and scaling for many more devices and use cases. Along the way we also created a number of popular open source technologies, and spearheaded the effort for Esri to use Github.
My team grew from 6 hand-picked people to 20, bringing new jobs to Portland, Oregon and a lot of new experiences to everyone on the team. Working with a large company is a challenge, and everyone learned and grew a lot. I have tremendous respect for Esri, a 45-year old company that is still privately run.
Location is just one aspect of the information we need to put together to make sense of things. Location is context, but only one piece of the context.
Using more than just location data to improve people’s lives is a bigger goal. And making technology that amplifies humanness vs. detracting from it is big business. As people get increasingly overwhelmed by tech, they’ll find it negatively impacts their life, getting in the way of doing great things. This is a losing proposition for the companies that employ them. It’s my hope that we’ll see more apps that use feedback loops to help people to regain their mindfulness, sense of focus, and “perspective as a service” in the coming decades. These concepts are not new – the take their cue from cybernetics, using data to give people a sense of their own perspective.
I just signed a contract with O’Reilly Books to write “Calm Technology: Designing interfaces for the next generation of things”. It will be a book on designing alerts and managing attention. Calm Technology is a perspective on the future of design. We can’t design the world the same way we would a desktop. When so many devices exist in the world, the scarce resource for us will be attention. Calm Technology is about designing technology that respects people and works with their lives, instead of getting in the way and introducing more abstractions.
In the next 5-10 years, we’re going to have a whole class of connected devices, but we’re still focused on building technology that’s complex and code heavy. We’re already encountering this problem now, with heavy applications struggling to work on connected smartphones with minimal battery life and consumer attention. So we’re going to see a return to lower level device languages — LEGO-type projects that reward interoperability, instead of the walled gardens we have now. Expect a massive sea change, because successful technology for the IoT era will become really simple, with minimal interfaces. The future of the Internet of Things will be driven by “Calm Technology” – elegant, humane, unobtrusive. Good technology is invisible. It gets out of the way and lets you live your life. I started a website, calmtechnology.com to help explain some of these concepts.
Applying Calm Technology to the next generation of Healthcare
In 2012 I hosted a biennial conference called CyborgCamp in Portland, Oregon. It’s an unconference on the future of humans and technology. I like to keep these conferences very small. Very little promotional work is done, and the people that show up make the conference as it goes along by posting information to a conference grid. They show up and choose the topics. Last year, we held the conference at MIT’s Media Lab.
A person named Chris Dancy showed up to the conference that year. He flew in from Denver, Colorado and had something to show me. It was data from 600 devices he was tracking, all going into Google Calendar. He was able to modify his behavior in a positive way with this “perspective as a service”. I pushed him to do a conference session on his personal project, and the room was both stunned and interested. Klint Finley, a reporter from Wired, was sitting next to him and wrote the story up for the press.
Three years later, Chris Dancy is applying the same methods to the wellness industry. In addition to writing and speaking this year, I’ll be joining him to build this platform out as part of a new initiative at Healthways. I’ll remain in Portland, Oregon while building out a Portland branch of the company. It is my hope that by tying together many data sources, we’ll be able to have the perspective we need to change our lives for the better. We’ve given our devices many senses, but we need to create a feedback loop to have those senses help us.