Archive for September 2009


ARrested Development: The Content Creation Barrier For Augmented Reality

September 29th, 2009 — 9:26am

The most impor­tant ques­tion fac­ing the aug­mented real­ity com­mu­nity — one whose answer will shape the future of AR — is con­tent cre­ation. Put sim­ply, it’s a ques­tion of Who can cre­ate What kind of con­tent, and How they will cre­ate it.  At the moment, a notice­able gap sep­a­rates those who can cre­ate AR expe­ri­ences from those who can­not.  High bar­ri­ers to entry in the form of skills, tech­nol­ogy, or expense like those in front of AR are accept­able for a new medium at the early stages of devel­op­ment, but in the long run, mak­ing it easy for all those peo­ple who don’t know a fidu­ciary marker from fidu­ciary trust to eas­ily cre­ate valu­able expe­ri­ences for them­selves and oth­ers is far more impor­tant to the via­bil­ity of AR than resolv­ing any of the many con­cep­tual, design, or tech­no­log­i­cal chal­lenges vis­i­ble at the moment.

In fact, unless the AR com­mu­nity makes it easy for ordi­nary peo­ple to cre­ate and share mean­ing­ful con­tent broadly, I wager aug­mented real­ity will remain a marketer’s over­worked dray horse in the near and mid­dle term future. And in the long term, aug­mented real­ity expe­ri­ences will become at best an inter­face lens [as Adam Green­field sug­gests here] sup­port­ing spe­cial­ized visu­al­iza­tion needs and a lim­ited range of inter­ac­tions (with cor­re­spond­ingly lim­ited value), all built around resources orig­i­nat­ing from else­where within the ubiq­ui­tous dig­i­tal expe­ri­ence ecosystem.

I think this is a ‘neg­a­tive out­ome’ for AR only because I see so much poten­tial. As a class of expe­ri­ences, aug­mented real­ity has the poten­tial to change our under­stand­ing of the world we are immersed in at every moment, but only rarely appre­hend in a way that makes informed inter­ac­tion with peo­ple and the envi­ron­ment pos­si­ble. As Tish Shute noted in her recent inter­view with Bruno Uzzan, I see the col­lec­tion of tools, tech­nolo­gies, and con­cepts affil­i­ated under the ban­ner of aug­mented real­ity as the lead­ing ambas­sador for ubiq­ui­tous com­put­ing and the weird world of every­ware that is ris­ing around us.

Recent devel­op­ments show progress towards bridg­ing the gap. First is Mobilizy’s pro­posal of a com­mon markup lan­guage — ARML [Aug­mented Real­ity Markup Lan­guage], based on KML — to the Aug­mented Real­ity Con­sor­tium.  Set­ting aside all other ques­tions about ARML, the pri­mary con­tent cre­ation prob­lem I see with this approach is the explic­itly geo­graphic frame of ref­er­ence in KML.  Most peo­ple sim­ply do not think in the same terms used by geoloca­tive schemes.  When I ask how far it is to the mar­ket, and some­one replies “4 min­utes north”, they’re not think­ing in min­utes of lat­i­tude.…  But rather than attempt to reori­ent the GIS / GEO loca­tion world­view to one that’s more nat­ural in human terms, I think the prag­matic solu­tion is a trans­la­tion layer in the cre­ation expe­ri­ence that avoids coor­di­nates or other non-natural lcoa­t­ive schemes, much as domain names over­lay or bro­ker IP addresses.  As an exam­ple, recall how the travel ser­vice Dopplr prompts you to enter the name of a place, sug­gests likely matches from a library of defined and man­aged place names, and only then addresses the coor­di­nates asso­ci­ated with that location.

In addi­tion, ARML will need some sort of abil­ity to cap­ture markup that is *not* depen­dent on geo­graphic ref­er­ence.  This may seem coun­ter­in­tu­itive for a medium that aims to aug­ment real­ity (which is, after all, a place), but remem­ber that peo­ple also ori­ent them­selves in terms of other peo­ple, time, activ­ity, iden­ti­fier, etc.  Hang­ing every­thing that aug­ments real­ity off of the geo­graphic skele­ton will result in instant ref­er­ence scheme hack­ery on an immense scale.  At the least, AR con­tent cre­ation expe­ri­ences based on ARML will need some means of invok­ing other ref­er­ence schemes.

The sec­ond devel­op­ment is Layar’s launch of buildAR.com, a pub­lic web-based con­tent cre­ation tool that sup­ports map based inter­ac­tion that extends the model for cre­ation expe­ri­ences beyond coör­di­nate tagged text data.  BuildAR.com is an early stage tool, but it marks a step toward the evo­lu­tion towards the goal of reflex­iv­ity; the stage of matu­rity wherein it is pos­si­ble for peo­ple who are unaware of the struc­ture and con­cepts that define the medium to eas­ily use tools pro­vided within the medium to cre­ate expe­ri­ences.  In McCLuhanesque terms, this effec­tively entails mak­ing pro­vi­sion for using the medium to extend itself.

I’m talk­ing about both direct and indi­rect cre­ation path­ways for aug­mented con­tent, though the empha­sis is on the direct end of the con­tin­uüm.  Indi­rect cre­ation could take many forms, such as trans­lat­ing exist­ing geoloca­tive tags or append­ing ARML meta­data to exist­ing dig­i­tal con­tent items; per­haps social objects like pho­tos, tweets, hotel reviews, or recipes.  Or con­tent that is cre­ated as a result of Google Wave, or the instru­men­ta­tion of urban set­tings, and our basic eco­nomic processes.  (A deep dive into the ques­tion of direct vs. indi­rect con­tent cre­ation path­ways would require map­ping out the poten­tial aug­mented con­tent ecosys­tem of linked data, and assess­ing each type of data from the cloud of apis / ser­vices / sources using tbd criteria.)

Address­ing the con­tent cre­ation gap is crit­i­cal because enabling broad-based cre­ation of aug­mented expe­ri­ences will speed up exper­i­men­ta­tion for all the sup­port­ing mod­els that need to evolve: busi­ness and rev­enue, data own­er­ship, tech­ni­cal, con­cep­tual, etc. Evo­lu­tion is needed here; the early mod­els for con­tent cre­ation include adver­tiser only (a default in the exper­i­men­tal stage for media where mar­keters and adver­tis­ers are pio­neers), sub­scrip­tion based, open source, and non­profit (aca­d­e­mic and oth­er­wise).  None of these yet offers the right com­bi­na­tion of con­ve­nience and con­text, the implaca­ble twin giants who rule the domain of value judg­ments made by dig­i­tal con­sumers and co-creaters.

Guide­lines for Con­tent Cre­ation Experiences

So what should the AR com­mu­nity offer to close the cre­ation gap?  We’ve learned a lot about what works in broad-based con­tent cre­ation from the evo­lu­tion of blog­ging and other main­stream plat­forms for social inter­ac­tion.  With­out con­sid­er­ing it exten­sively, the guide­lines for a con­tent cre­ation expe­ri­ence (mind, I’m not dis­cussing the tech­ni­cal enablers) are:

  • No cost of entry: Cre­at­ing con­tent can­not require spend­ing money (at least for basic capa­bil­ity), as the effort involved is already an investment.
  • No cog­ni­tive over­head: Cre­at­ing con­tent can­not require under­stand­ing new abstract con­cepts, mas­ter­ing tools with low usabil­ity, learn­ing com­plex lan­guages or ter­mi­nol­ogy, etc.
  • No main­te­nance: Cre­ation tools must act like self-maintaining ser­vices, i.e. tools that do not require effort or attention
  • No acces­si­bil­ity bar­ri­ers: For global adop­tion, con­tent cre­ation expe­ri­ences need to be acces­si­ble, which means low-bandwidth, multi-lingual, cross-media, and plat­form agnostic.

This is a start­ing list, but it cap­tures the essence of the offer­ings that have been suc­cess­ful in the past.

In addi­tion to the expe­ri­ence, the con­tent that peo­ple cre­ate needs to fol­low some guidelines.

  • Address­able: Includ­ing find­abil­ity and search­a­bil­ity, AR con­tent must be fully address­able by a broad spec­trum of tools and pro­to­cols.  AR will fail at bridg­ing the real and dig­i­tal if the con­tent peo­ple cre­ate for aug­mented expe­ri­ences  can­not — at least par­tially — be addressed across this bound­ary, which is what makes AR an enchanted win­dow rather than a sim­ple browser / UI lens.  This seems like the sim­plest of these guide­lines (after all, what isn’t address­able in a dig­i­tal space?), but I think in the end it will be quite chal­leng­ing to realize.
  • Inter­op­er­a­ble: Con­tent must work across plat­forms, for­mats, and browsers, in terms of cre­ation, shar­ing, and management.
  • Portable: Con­tent must be mov­able or portable for peo­ple to make the effort of cre­ation; it can­not be con­fined to a sin­gle stor­age loca­tion, ser­vice, tool, owner, etc.  This touches on the famil­iar ques­tions of data own­er­ship and the commons.

The goal of these sug­ges­tions is to push AR toward matu­rity and broader adop­tion as quickly as pos­si­ble, using lessons from the evo­lu­tion of the Web.  What sug­ges­tions for guide­lines for con­tent cre­ation expe­ri­ences and the nature of AR con­tent do you have?

If I am off base in think­ing the cre­ation bar­rier crit­i­cal at this early stage of aug­mented reality’s rise above the exper­i­men­tal water­line, then what is more important?

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