notes from 1imc

"low-res pictures you take with an always-available device look better than picutres you don't take at all with a better camera." - Flash Sheridan

So much went on in so little time, I hardly know where to begin. Many people have blogged what went on in general (a few in realtime, not surprisingly), so linking to them leaves me free to instead ramble on about my personal experiences and items of interest to fellow hiptop users.

Keitai Nation

If you have never been to Japan, one thing that will surprise you is the total saturation of keitai (mobile/camera phones) among the people there. There is simply no comparison anywhere in the US, even in gadget-loving places such as the San Francisco Bay Area. Everywhere, people are one-thumbing emails as they walk or commute, taking pictures of each other or interesting sights, reading messages, or otherwise staring down at their phone. There is no hesitation about using your phone to capture some pictures while in a restaurant (or anywhere else). In the space of one minute, two people playing guitar outside a train station had their picture taken at least 35 times (that I could count. I am sure I missed some). There are ads in newspapers warning users to avoid walking and writing emails at the same time.

There are many, many more mobile phone users in the world than there are computer users. And they are often people who might never use a computer for recreational purposes. And that's what this conference was about - talking about what happens when such a populous and varied groups starts adopting technology that lets them capture and share their lives with increasing effortlessnes, and figuring out what we can do to make this sharing easier and richer still.

Since my hiptop had no service in Japan, I was generously loaned a native keitai to help me keep in touch. The user interface was a pain to navigate after getting used to the hiptop's. Granted, everything being in Japanese probably didn't help me. Entering english text on a phonepad was like slow torture compared to the hiptop's two thumb full keyboard.

On the other hand, since the camera was integrated, it was a lot easier to grab the phone out of my pocket and capture pics. Plus there was an integrated light for low light situations (that I kept forgetting to use). And it could even capture short movies with sound. Ok, they were pretty tiny movies at about 7fps, but hey, they were movies captured by a tiny phone.

The Venue

The conference was held in a funky club called Super-Deluxe. It was organized extremely well - there were even translators for those of us unfortunate enough to speak only one language. The bento box lunch was the best conference food I've ever eaten. My only complaint is that the lighting was a bit too low for the hiptop camera ;)

The Panel

I was part of the MOBLOGGING SERVICES panel, along with Kevin Cameron of Mfop2, Daiji Hirata, Alan Bradburne of phlog and bitflux'sRoger Fischer.

It was a pretty informal panel; we all talked a bit about our respective sites, then collectively took questions and answers from the crowd. I first attempted to give a demo of the hiptop itself, since many there had never seen one before. Note that giving a demo of a small device like a hiptop in front of a crowd of 200 doesn't work terribly well when it comes to details, but I think I managed to give everyone a general idea. I talked about the origins of hiptop Nation, how the backend works, usage patterns, the Halloween scavenger hunt, the varied ways people make use of their blogs, the power of mobility, and probably some other things I've forgotten.

I tend to get a bit nervous when public speaking, so a few thoughts were lost between my mind and my mouth. Most amusing was Gen Kanai prompting me in whispers as he blogged from the front row: "Show the site!", "Tell how many users!". It was just like being in a kindergarten school play ;)

One question for the panel had to do with moderation - how did we handle things if they got out of hand. I was happy to report that hiptop Nation has never gotten out of control or even particulary rude. Why is this? We theorized that the wealth of images might be one reason - it is hard to argue with a photo, and at the same time, the photos de-anonomize (I'll just make up that word there) each blogger. Whatever the reason, thanks to all hiptop Nation members for exercising a level of self-governing rarely seen online.

Another question asked if moblogging services will be commoditized soon. I pointed out that Danger already offers "hiplogs" as part of the features of Just yesterday Verizon launched PixPlace, a service for storing mobile phone pictures, organizing them into albums, and using them to create custom messages for others. I think we'll see a lot more of this type of commodization from various companies going forward.

After the panel, I was literally swarmed by a group of people who wanted a better look at the hiptop. I gave the best demo I could with no actual connectivity. The moment of flipping the screen around to reveal the keyboard elicited such excitement that I had to repeat it four times. Those who lived in Japan wanted to know when/if it would be sold there (I have no idea) and those based in the USA wanted to know how much it cost. I gave many, many more demos during the rest of the conference and the after-party.

Other Presentations

They ranged from business to technical to future design. I'll try to link to them in the sidebar as they become available.

So Many People, So Little Time

Usually, mingling is not my strong point, but running a site like hiptop Nation and giving a presentation effectively lets me introduce myself to everyone at once, thus getting that out of the way. It was fantastic meeting so many people at the conference. Everyone was involved with some sort of cool project. My only complaint was that there was not enough time to talk with/meet everyone.

Molly Wright Steenson gave a thought-provoking presentation about Trailblazer, a project at the Interaction Design Institute in Ivrea. She also asked an interesting question about future tools for sharing experiences online of our panel but unfortunately another questioner hijacked the panel before everyone could answer. I did manage answer - what I would want to see more is the collection of more metadata to go along with each bit of media (words, pictures, movies, etc.). Just as a timestamp automatically is attached to each entry now, I'd like to see information on place, mood and other bits of metadata automatically collected and sent - giving each entry more depth and allowing for different paths to be forged through the actual data. I was fortunate to talk with Molly afterwards, and she agreed this would be a useful tool.

We also agreed that whether this is called "moblogging" or something else doesn't really matter. When something different comes along making new use of current tools (hardware and software), we shouldn't ask "Is this really moblogging," but rather "Is this interesting?" - and if so how can I use it to better share my experiences with the world?

It is, after all, the edge cases that are the most interesting. This is evidenced by the current excitement surrounding the moblogging itself - moblogging being a double edge case of blogging-meets-photos(sometimes)-meets-mobile publishing.

Kevin of Mfop2 sums up some of the "what do we call it" frustrations over here. He and Molly and I grabbed a noodle dinner after the conference and before the party. We were joined by Dav and Mie. This was in the giant Roppongi Hills tower, which I probably could explore for an entire day without ever going outside.

Many Thanks

After dinner we went back for the party and all too soon I had to head back to my hotel. The next morning I was on an airplane and a mere thirteen hours later I was in New York.

Many thanks and mad props to Adam Greenfield for putting the whole thing together. You should definitely check out his closing presentation. I am extremely grateful to everyone at Sony's Contents & Applications Laboratory for sponsoring the event, inviting me to speak and being most helpful guides and hosts in Tokyo. Thanks to everyone who aside from working on a regular day job, takes the time to play around with technology and build delightful projects. Thanks to the other presenters and attendees for dedicating their time to the conference. Thanks to the random stranger in Shibuya who showed me around. Thanks Molly for the noodles :)

I am looking forward to another year of online adventures and meeting again at 2imc.

Mike Popovic
mike at bedope ° com