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Tom Uglow looks at why the future is about data not devices: the disintegration of convergence.

Tom Uglow looks at why the future is about data not devices: the disintegration of convergence.

The last ten years have seen an extraordinary explosion in how we collect and organize data.

I think the next ten years will be mainly about how we interact with and experience that data.

Let's say you look after a brand, or have a website. You want to know whether you should build apps or sites, optimize for mobile, tablet or PC, advertise in Flash or HTML, or go native on iOS or Android? It's decision time.

But we're coming at that decision, and everything to do with digital, from where we have been, rather than where we are going. As if the future might not change, as if this might be it: a touchscreen, some tablets and twitter. But we know it isn't. We are trying to guess our way to a soufflé. So far we have some eggs, in a bowl.

For instance we still think it's about clicking. It's pretty uncertain if it will be about clicking. Or buttons, or banners. Or webpages.

It's more likely to be about liminal display, 3d spaces, environment coding and custom gesture control. No, I'm not sure what that is either. I know that people used to talk about convergence but really we are experiencing a disintegration.

Features are fickle.

In olden times clocks had barometers, weather gauges and calendars built in to the clock face. We still have the clocks. But we can experience all those other functions on our phones. And the clock. Similarly my preferred phone experience is now on computer. We still have paperbacks because the technology is awesome, but that moved from stone, to scrolls, to papyrus to paper to pulp before it hit maximum efficiency.

We don't properly notice these historical meanderings of functionality but as gesture & projection & screens start to move around all that data we collected starts to come back to us in new ways. So consumer technology brings us increasingly 'real' simulations - art on walls, pictures in albums, films on walls, words in ambient light, audio with base etc. Or it should do.
And just as the hardware evolves and fragments, so does the software.

Most of the devices we use to interact now were invented in the 60's. More recently we've seen touch screens overcome their prohibitive cost and then very recently gesture, and voice control.

Meanwhile the speed that data can travel has got really rather fast.
And all the wires have vanished.

We are halfway to our date with invisible frameworks for interaction.

Voice controls, face-recognition, audio targeting and the Kinect-on-crack potential of tech like Leap suggest that we just won't need to use a computer to control a computer. You could use your face as a keyboard, wave a paperclip to open docs, or use body-language as a remote. Or whatever, if I knew I would patent them, but we will find improved screenless ways to do things. And interface design becomes a way to tweak details not experience content. Like remote controls.

And what does this mean for me?

Well if you have a website it's a good time to work out what your website does. And make it as simple as possible.

Breaking the internet down (crudely) let me suggest that site does one of four things: conversation; consumption; commerce or tools.

And it's worth asking if a user would prefer to experience those on a computer if it could be on your watch, in your car, in your book, on the fridge, on your desk, in your pillow, in your wallet, or subcutaneously? Media should be found in the place that makes most sense, using the object it is meant to use, with the least amount of interface possible. (use your imagination)

There is very little that one gets from the internet that is best experienced on a computer screen. Most things are nicer if they feel real.

We're probably going to see a rise of programming for physical factors in our lives, like weather, traffic, illness, childcare. We don't need (or want) the cloud, or one company, to "know" these things. But people do want a web with tools that allow us to program around them, just like we program the VCR to record shows. We want many things that do one thing extremely well, and easily, not one thing that does everything. This is an organic, societal privacy solution.

One tool, one task.

Which means we should probably stop fussing over the internet. Or even mobile. What will matter is the structure of your data. Having it organized so rigorously that you can easily move across platforms or forms; hardware devices and operating systems; so you can optimize, adjust and manage centrally; so you can analyse and change direction as expectations change or new formats emerge. A hub with spokes to the many different devices or applications that build or augment or amplify that purpose.
This is already happening within social media. It’s interesting watching brands scramble to respond to Plus, Pinterest, Tumblr, Medium. Or not, just letting it float by.

Creating central systems for producing and managing content and API's to allow the new middle men, builders of the latest new experience, to get the data to users seems pretty essential. Likewise not getting too distracted by the peripheral transaction details i.e. what it looks like on mobile, PC, tablet, TV, or the coolest shiniest gadget.

And all that means understanding precisely what a company makes, and being agile enough to experiment with delivery - bringing it to market simultaneously across a wide variety of formats and devices. Unfortunately that, that is going to be quite hard.

So you're saying we should build an App?

Not really no. I’m suggesting you experiment with everything. From experience comes wisdom and all that. The implication is that "optimizing" for one solution, web, or mobile, or any device seems to be less a priority than being consistent and authentic in your voice, because it is the only thing that will remain consistent over the coming years - outsource design and technology, and understand and focus on your content, your streams, your community and whatever it is that you do.
Everyone has to learn to manage, play with, and optimize the data that is exchanged and make themselves ready for change, because change is coming.


Credit: Tom Uglow – Google Labs