ARrested Development: The Content Creation Barrier For Augmented Reality

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, a public web-based content creation tool that supports map based interaction that extends the model for creation experiences beyond coordinate tagged text data. 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 continuum.  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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19 Responses to “ARrested Development: The Content Creation Barrier For Augmented Reality”

  1. Tweets that mention ARrested Development: The Content Creation Barrier For Augmented Reality — Joe --

    […] This post was men­tioned on Twit­ter by MoJoe. MoJoe said: Look­ing for com­ments on my lat­est post “ARrested Devel­op­ment: The Con­tent Cre­ation Bar­rier For Aug­mented Real­ity” […]

  2. Thomas Wrobel

    I agree with pretty much all of this.
    Its absolutely essen­tial that a future AR net­work not only has user-content, but user con­tent on the same level as proffe­sional con­tent.
    Moreso, I think these con­tents should be view­able at the same time.

    Public/Private data from mul­ti­ple sources in the same field of view at the same time.

    Its for this rea­son I pre­posed IRC in a paper as a poten­tial way for­ward for AR devel­op­ment, as it pro­vides any num­ber of chan­nels of infor­ma­tion cre­ated by any­one who wants to, and its updated the fly.
    I noted at the end that Google­Wave might be a bet­ter choice, and have since been shift­ing much more towards that direction.

    The Wave fed­er­a­tion pro­to­col seems like an absolutely per­fect choice for AR data exchange.
    Its pretty fast, open and free. Any­one can cre­ate a wave, colleb­o­rate with any­one else, and allow any­one else to view it, and see changes in real time with no cost.
    Any­one can also set up and run their own wave sever too, and data exchanged only between those in the sever, is kept in that sever.
    (So, a sever in your own city, wont auto­mat­i­cally be share­ing data worldwide.…a sig­nif­i­cant band­width advan­tage over every­one world­wide tak­ing data from one cen­tral sever).

    Anyway…nice post, and a well rea­soned argu­ment as to where we need to work towards.

  3. AG

    Well argued, Joe, and it’s great to see a cooler and more dis­pas­sion­ate look at AR’s near-term prospects.

    I’d put it even more sim­ply: the proper anal­ogy for AR is CSS, not HTML. It’s a pre­sen­ta­tion strat­egy first and foremost.

    Of course, nobody much wants to cop to that at the moment (or is capa­ble of see­ing it?). I sup­pose it’s inevitable, but the folks dri­ving this wave of hype around the tech­nol­ogy are per­haps those least qual­i­fied to assess its actual, quo­tid­ian inter­est: the kind of geekly guys (and they are guys) who’d read a Bruce Ster­ling novel as a poten­tial busi­ness case rather than a cau­tion­ary tale.

    What I find most inter­est­ing is what they’re blind­ing them­selves to: I don’t see AR as a really robust busi­ness at all, in and of itself. Any­one who invests in these early-stage efforts had bet­ter be pre­pared to flip quickly — and to some party totally con­fuz­zled by the jar­gon and cir­cle­jerk­ing — or see the value of their stake con­verge on zero. Remem­ber all those for­tunes built on best-of-breed, bleeding-edge CSS. : . )

  4. Blake Callens

    I agree with your state­ments, as they per­tain to loca­tion based AR (espe­cially your state­ment about ARML). That being said, I think that the mar­ket is being flooded with GPS/Compass based apps, because they’re com­par­a­tively sim­pler to pro­duce than other AR apps, and there­fore, much of the talk of AR is shift­ing to this small sub-genre.

    The real power in the dis­play por­tion of AR has been and always will be photo recog­ni­tion algo­rithms, which noth­ing in this wave of loca­tion based tools use. I’ve tried using sev­eral of the most pop­u­lar loca­tion based mobile AR appli­ca­tions on both iPhone and Android to not just spin in a cir­cle :o ), but find actual loca­tions and they always wound up point­ing me at least a block from the actual loca­tion, due to the inac­cu­ra­cies of mobile GPS and Com­passes . IMO, these apps won’t have any real world use until they inte­grate photo recognition.

    A uni­ver­sal loca­tional AR data­base (worth using on a daily basis) would have to include a photo recog­ni­tion schema. IMO, that would require a mas­sive coör­di­nated effort to accomplish.

    Sec­ondly, the more pow­er­ful AR expe­ri­ences of the future will always be push­ing the bound­aries of not just inter­faces, but arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence as well, and there­fore not be some­thing that the aver­age user will con­tribute to.

  5. joe lamantia

    @Adam: Indeed: many will be called… and few will be cho­sen :)

    At a meta level, there’s a lot of ‘direc­tive input’ about where AR should go next in order to suc­ceed (or just sur­vive) float­ing around the inter­webz these days. I won­der if all this ‘col­lec­tive intel­li­gence’ will stream­line or accel­er­ate the evo­lu­tion of AR? Will so many eyes and voices help AR change the all-too-familiar new media / tech story of birth > bub­ble > bust > (maybe) business?

    There are some com­pa­nies mak­ing money — or at least earn­ing rev­enue — via AR, mostly with work­ing on the tech­ni­cal tools (early stage, so need­ing invest­ment) and cre­at­ing con­tent for pay­ing cus­tomers (thus my stance).

    Look­ing fur­ther ahead, Gary Hayes sug­gested the land­scape of pos­si­bil­i­ties (as he sees it), in 16 Top Aug­mented Real­ity Busi­ness Mod­els”. No coin­ci­dence that Gary pub­lished this list just at the time that curios­ity about the pos­si­ble busi­nesses behind AR reached a peak, and it’s worth look­ing at given his expe­ri­ence with evolv­ing media.

    But like every­one inter­ested in AR, I’m frankly curi­ous to see which exper­i­ments turn out to be a decent busi­ness model, and it’s waaaaay too early to say.

  6. joe lamantia

    @Blake: Tish Shute put it well when she said that we’re see­ing “the thin end of the wedge” for what’s pos­si­ble with AR; the cur­rent focus on what you describe as GPS/compass appli­ca­tions for mobile (Robert Rice refers to these as ‘direc­tory AR’, all fol­low­ing the Tri­corder inter­ac­tion pat­tern) really shows this in action.

    Is photo recog­ni­tion the only way to close the res­o­lu­tion gap that makes cur­rent AR apps liable to spin you in cir­cles, and then lead you to the wrong place?

    What about using blue­tooth, or wifi tri­an­gu­la­tion? Google Maps offers lim­ited 3D mod­els for some urban areas — would this be enough to bridge the GPS res­o­lu­tion issues you’ve seen?

  7. moombe

    Just want here to point out that Layar is very good at com­mu­ni­cat­ing exten­siv­elly about what they do, but if you want to fol­low inno­va­tors in that space you’d bet­ter stick to Mobi­lizi. Basi­cally, Layar is a copy/paste of Wik­i­tude, is a copy/paste of and Layar 3D is a copy/paste of Gamaray.

    This being said, I agree with the article’s con­tent. I think too after look­ing at Google Wave that it looks like a nice solu­tion to col­lab­o­ra­tively work on the “out­er­net” content.

    I’m wait­ing first to see what Total Immer­sion will bring on the mobile AR arena. They claim to deliver in a very few months a solu­tion that solves the posi­tion­ing issues of cur­rent Wikitude/Layar/whatever. And I under­stood they would deliver first on the iPhone. Prob­lem is : iPhone does not allow to ana­lyze real­time video sig­nal — as of today the SDK only allows to put a layer on top of the video feed. Total Immer­sion seems to be based on near field recog­ni­tion, which would mean video feed analy­sis to me. Which is not allowed by Apple’s SDK

  8. Blake Callens

    @Joe, I don’t know about blue­tooth, but wifi tri­an­gu­la­tion wouldn’t help, because it’s radius of error is larger than civil­ian GPS. I think photo recog­ni­tion is going to have to be the way. Here’s a video demon­strat­ing a com­pany called Occipital’s efforts in that.

    @moombe, Inter­est­ing that Total Immer­sion is get­ting into the loca­tional AR realm. Could you post a link to more info?

  9. admin

    @Blake re: wi-fi tri­an­gu­la­tion, I was think­ing of this indoor posi­tion­ing tech from Nokia: — though the res­o­lu­tion on this may not help in the outside.

    @moombe mobi­lizy *is* ahead of the AR curve with their offer­ings in many ways (about 8 months, I’d esti­mate). yet they’re also not attract­ing as much main­stream atten­tion as Layar, so they’re not as much an indi­ca­tor of aware­ness and focus from the non-tech world.

    i’m not a tech­nol­o­gist, but I under­stand that TI will launch a plat­form for pro­vid­ing AR expe­ri­ences on mul­ti­ple phones / devices. i didn’t see any­thing in their announce­ment about enabling con­tent cre­ation — which leaves us basi­cally in the same place regard­ing the evo­lu­tion of the medium. (if it is in fact a new medium, as some of the other com­ments here call into ques­tion [AG]) regard­less: *if AR wants to be a viable medium, it needs a par­tic­i­pa­tion architecture.*

    maybe Google Wave will be one of the pieces of that archi­tec­ture? maybe some­thing else?

  10. abc3d (Francesco D'Orazio)

    ARrested Devel­op­ment: The Con­tent Cre­ation Bar­rier For Aug­mented Real­ity

  11. fabfo (Folu A.)

    RT @abc3d: ARrested Devel­op­ment: The Con­tent Cre­ation Bar­rier For Aug­mented Real­ity

  12. keferstein (Michael Keferstein)

    excel­lent arti­cle about the nec­es­sary changes in #AR bye Joe Laman­tia:

  13. ARtweets (Augmented Reality)

    ARrested Devel­op­ment: The Con­tent Cre­ation Bar­rier For Aug­mented Real­ity

  14. ewaldroodenrijs (Ewald Roodenrijs)

    RT @ARtweets: ARrested Devel­op­ment: The Con­tent Cre­ation Bar­rier For #Aug­ment­e­dReal­ity

  15. Thomas Wrobel

    What you need for truly accu­rate AR is recog­ni­tion of envi­ron­ment to pre-known point clouds of data.

    Point­clouds can be gen­er­ated, on mass, from pho­tos.
    For a par­tic­u­larly impres­sive example.

    We basi­caly need open database’s of point clouds which AR apps can access.

  16. Thomas Wrobel

    What I find most inter­est­ing is what they’re blind­ing them­selves to: I don’t see AR as a really robust busi­ness at all, in and of itself”

    Thats quite cor­rect.
    AR isnt a busi­ness in the same way the web isnt a business.

    An aug­mented real­ity plat­form wont be prof­itable in itself, its devel­op­ment is more “for the ben­e­fit for human­ity”. Those at the fore­front will have plenty of oppor­tu­nity for money, but the key is its not the new medium thats valuable.…its what you do –on– it that is.

    Over­lay­ing 3d stuff onto the real world will have a short period of atten­tion grab­bing in itself, and after that only the func­tional ben­e­fits will remain. Any­one relay­ing just on the usp of hav­ing AR will find their apps quickly sink.

    For­tun­tely, like the inter­net itself, the ben­e­fits will be huge in func­tional terms as well. But almost all these poten­tial func­tional advan­tages depend on good trans­par­ent hmd tech com­ing out. Hold­ing our phones up in the air will be a bar­rier for any mass adop­tion beyond geolo­ca­tion apps.
    So, aside from hard­ware firms, I dont think theres huge amounts of money in AR just yet. (For hard­ware firms, I think theres a big whole in the mar­ket for a mass pro­duced sleak hmd aimed at com­pa­nys and uni­ver­si­tys rather then con­sumers at this stage)

    As soon as we have consumer-suitable hmd, how­ever, some rather far-reaching and dead sim­ple AR apps could come out. (using AR in lose terms here), but imag­ine the impact of hav­ing a site like only with the film footage from a fps per­spec­tive and over­layable in your field of view?
    Or bet­ter yet, get live-help on some­thing in real time (like with, you merely have to copy the arm and hand motions and some­one walks you though the process.
    Sud­denly the skills an indi­vid­ual has avail­able dra­mat­i­cally increases. Repair­ing your car, plumb­ing, and even emer­gency med­ical help could all be given remotely. I dont think we have scratched the sur­face of its poten­tial use’s.

    AR deserves every sin­gle bit of the hype it gets, and worlds such as Denno Coils are very pos­si­ble. All we gota be care­full of is the tech­nol­ogy isnt per­mi­nately asso­ci­ated with just adver­tis­ing. We have to ensure when theres real ben­e­fits, con­sumers can see them quickly so uptake will be fast.
    Its the func­tional advan­tages of hav­ing a shared AR world thats impor­tant, not the “cool” fac­tor. (of course though, by func­tional, I’m not exclud­ing video games as a poten­tial dri­ving force.Functional dosnt have to mean pro­duc­tive ;) )

  17. Weekly Linkfest « Games Alfresco

    […] Laman­tia on why cre­at­ing AR con­tent should be acces­si­ble to every­one, and how to make it […]

  18. Jamie Thompson

    Great blog! Not much more to say, but this — AR is about _search_ — that’s the fun­da­men­tal value propo­si­tion to users. Cer­tainly some gaming/entertainment aspects or appli­ca­tions will ben­e­fit from aug­mented real­ity, but IMO the great­est ben­e­fit is a hor­i­zon­tal search that is as rel­e­vant as pos­si­ble to the human; based on where we are, what we’re look­ing at, and maybe even, what we’re think­ing about…

    Nice work here, Joe.

  19. Johnny Holland – It's all about interaction » Blog Archive » Radio Johnny: Joe Lamantia on Augmented Reality

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