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by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JOSEPH GALLIVAN - A directional microphone used to eavesdrop on attendees in the common area at the recent Webvisions conference at the Oregon Convention Center by Portland company Downstream. Speech recognition turned their conversations into a flowing (moving) word cloud on the big monitor to the right. 

Like wearing two activity trackers on your wrist instead of one, a pair of talks about wearable computing had overlapping conclusions at the recent Webvisions conference at the Oregon Convention Center.

Wearable computing is a subset of the Internet of Things (IoT) — or objects that generate and upload data to the Internet. A wristband that counts your movements and lets you upload the results is a "wearable," while an Internet connected thermostat or bathroom scale is more of a “thing.”

Observations and principles

On Thursday, Barcelona-based Portlander Abby Margolis condensed her work as Research Director at Claro Partners @claropartners into a few observations and principles.

Margolis' observations are as follows:

“Data is a huge digital by-product,” Magolis said. For example, she said, we (and the robots) send 144 billion emails a day. However, Margolis pointed out how all the talk about Big Data is about quantity rather than quality.

Technologists are too quick to say ‘Let’s manage the personal data landscape by making a personal data locker for everyone.’ But, “I don’t want to manage all my data,” said Margolis.

Some myths Margolis dispels.

Personal Data is the new oil: “No. Data does not operate like a commodity. Mine is most valuable to me.” Data about her runs is worth way more to her than to anyone else.

Privacy: It can be broken down up into Private, Confidential and Public. “In the end people want to benefit from data, they want to use it. Privacy is not about hiding it, but controlling how you share it.” A lot of data is created in a social context, made for sharing.

Data is only for the data scientists “We’re always hearing about data scientist being a sexy job," she said incredulously. No. People can make sense of it, and are, using services such as the travel organizer TripIt ( and IfThisThenThat ( which lets you set alerts about anything, including obvious ones such as you are mentioned in Facebook or achieve a certain fitness goal.

Another junk statistic was that 50 billion devices will come online by 2020. The important change is, “Not that our fridge or basketball can connect to the internet, but the new services, interactions, and exchanges that this will enable. It’s these services that will define how the future of how we work, consume, live, and play."

She gave examples of new ways people are generating and using data:

Recommendations: Foursquare

Social: Facebook, Highlight

IoT: Xively (a public cloud platform to connect wired objects)

Crowd data: Patients Like Me

Activity tracking: Jawbone

Identity - Connectme for finding trusted professionals

Predictions: Hunch (creating taste profiles) and (using your phone to monitor your health)

Margolis takes a people-centered look at human behavior around data. For example, in Berlin the debate is all about privacy, in New York it’s about using the city as s platform, and in Tokyo it’s data as money.

Margolis' principles are as follows:

Anyone wanting to mine data, or create IoT goods and services, would do well to remember to:

1. Start with the person – how do end users benefit?

2. Enable people to do new things.

3. Identify unmet needs — whether functional or emotional. Unfriending someone on Facebook is always a memorable (emotional) event because the system asks us if we really want to. Unlike Friending.

4. Allow people to collaborate with you.

5. Design the whole user experience, don’t treat people like widgets.

Then Margolis listed some IoT things that work, and their emotional category:

Belong: Goodnight Lamp. Margolis (in Barcelona) and her mom (in Portland) both have Goodnight lamps. Connected over the internet, they light up when the other is awake.

Control: Lockitron lets you lock your home remotely.

Discover: Findery lets you map and tag things in the physical world.

Achieve: Jawbone UP helps with fitness goals.

Margolis concluded, “I don’t think the IoT exists. Right now we have an intranet of things.” This is because the data from the Nest thermostat is not connected to that from the Jawbone tracker or the Withing bathroom scale, they are all in their own silos. “We don’t have a user experience of the IoT yet.” But when it comes, it will come from the bottom up, guided by how people use things, rather from the top dawn, from technologists and companies.

The coming wearables

In their talk called “Watch Your Wearables Disappear,” K. Mike Merrill and Marcus Estes of Portland company Chroma showed a slew of wearables from Fit Bit to the Sony Smartwatch2, saying how limited they were.

Activity trackers and message alerts are pretty limited. “Those functions are the best idea of what to do with the device, they come from the developer,” said Estes. “We’re interested in developing for the platforms. If the iPhone software developers kit (SDK) had never been released, no one would have built a civilization around the iPhone.”

Estes described his colleague Merrill as “One of the more strapped individuals you’ll meet, he’s a double bander,” meaning he wears two wristbands plus a shirt pocket device that takes a photo every 30 seconds so he can watch a time lapse of his day at night. “But managing all the data is a lot of manual work,” Merrill admitted of his synching and charging routine.

As computers shrink — for example, the Raspberry Pi, on which you can play Quake, and Intel’s Edison — Estes said it was time to “Rescue the category of wearables away from form factor into what it is: moving the computing platform further away from the PC.”

Smart shirts such as the OMshirt that tracks athletes’ vital signs are one thing.

“As makers, though, it’s good to know what’s coming on the different platforms,” Estes said. But developers want the data to be liberated from each device so it can be cross-referenced.

Currently they work with SDKs for Android Wear, Pebble (the watch) and Oculus (the virtual reality headset recently bought by Facebook.)

Their company asks not what the business proposition is for wearables, but ‘How could I play with this?’ They cited games such as Slack, Ingress (a location based Android game) and Map of the Dead (an iPhone zombie game)

One of the most creative things Merrill (the strapped guy) has seen is a sensor-packed belt. Whichever side face north vibrates. “The person wearing it said after a while he couldn’t feel the vibration, but he always knew where north was. Until he took it off, then it was like being blind,” he said.

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