Tag Archives: Europe

In memoriam: William Mitchell

William Mitchell, MIT dean and professor, architect, urbanist and theorist, widely regarded as one of the most prominent thinker on “smart cities”, has passed away; see here the official MIT obituary.

William Mitchell
Photo Webb Chappel from MIT obituary page

Right now a Twitter search shows a flow of related messages. My personal impression is that Mitchell is being remembered by a really diverse big bunch of people, ranging from fellow specialists to an original crowd of professionals, scholars and students of different disciplines, all sharing the appreciation for his work and intuitions. It’s not something that I can prove with the numbers, but I feel it’s quite right. And I think it’s a mark of oustanding intellectual achievements.

Update: Adam Greenfield, author of Everyware, now at Nokia, has a short but intense post in memory of Mitchell: “Bill’s optimism about technology and cities was infectious, even if (like me) you thought of yourself as the kind of person who’d been inoculated by experience against anything as uncritical as everything implied by that word.” There is an upcoming book from Adam on technology, the city and “networked urbanism” titled “The City Is Here For You To Use” (see more on Speedbird, his blog).

I first heard about Mitchell quite late; it was end of 2004 or beginning of 2005. I was attending the first public meetings of what then became the network of Living Labs, a mixed formal and informal coalition of various organizations engaged with open innovation (see the site of ENOLL, European Network of Living Labs). In that context, Mitchell was credited as the one that originally forged the concept at MIT Media Lab. I remember especially references made by Veli Pekka Niitamo (Nokia, CKIR Helsinki) and architect/professor Jarmo Suominen. See e.g. this definition reported in a presentation given in Budapest by Niitamo (I can’t publish it right away as it reports a copyright notice; likely the document has been just shared between meeting participants — can’t remember exactly):

[The Living Lab idea] [O]riginates from the MIT, Boston, Prof Wiliiam Mitchell, MediaLab and School of Architecture and city planning. ‘Living Labs as a research methodology for sensing, prototyping, validating and refining complex solutions in multiple and evolving real life contexts’.

I found the idea quite fascinating. The “living lab” image was very powerful, if anything. Perhaps it might appear as nothing big when one considers the amount of books and scholarly work produced by Mitchell, but I think that these concrete imagery is badly needed in the research and innovation discourse. It helps a lot in communicating the vision, it creates the opportunity for more articulate conversations.

At that time I also started following a bit the Living Labs community, and I tried to kick-start an interest group in Milan, but without much success (see the archived page); anyway, I haven’t been much involved in the community as such since then, even though I managed to keep some contacts alive.

Photo source: http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2010/obit-mitchell

Vertigo on paper

One of the most interesting projects on which I have been working over the last few months is finally on paper — at least part of it (download available from the publications list). For once, there is even a better name than the usual acronym: it is “Vertigo”, from the Hitchcock 1958 movie. But the proper meaning of “the sensation of spinning or having one’s surroundings spin about them” (Wikipedia) is not irrelevant: the only difference is that the surroundings investigated by the project are the media surroundings, or a mix of media and “real world” surroundings. The main goal here is making possible a more enjoyable and interactive exploration of movies, videos, music (linear media in general) by shaping, following and sharing “media trails” or traces. As reported in the paper, this is an idea well rooted in the early history of hypertext. The work has been done in very close cooperation with Jukka Huhtamaki, researcher at the Hypermedia Lab of Tampere University of Technology, and Renata Guarneri, a former project colleague in MobiLife (with Siemens, one of the main industrial partners in the consortium led by Nokia) now Principal Technologist at CREATE-NET (I am consulting them on different initiatives), plus several people at various research organizations in Europe.Renata has just presented the paper at Digibiz 2009,

I am very grateful to Jukka, Renata, CREATE-NET and all the others for the opportunity to delve once again in the intriguing subject of bringing interactivity to screen based media and music, to the living room context in general.

Vertigo movie poster
Vertigo movie poster (from Wikipedia)

It is now about ten years since the first time I tried some serious effort on the topic by contributing to an essay on TV and interactivity (in a book edited by Laura Tettamanzi and published with the sponsorship of Italian public broadcaster RAI). Ten years is a long span of time: we have seen the dotcom boom and bust, the social media explosion, the 3G come of age etc. Yet TV and movie watching haven’t changed that much — compared to music say. It is no chance that this work started with very inspiring discussions about Last.fm

CREATE-NET workshop on forthcoming EU research calls

The conference room in Bergamo (picture is mine)
The conference room in Bergamo (picture is mine)

Last week in Bergamo I had the opportunity to attend the two-days 4th technical and funding workshop promoted by CREATE-NET, a dynamic international research institute in Trento;  “the focus of CREATE-NET’s research is on the Internet of the Future, both in terms of infrastructure and service”. I was invited there because of my previous work in FP6 projects (MobiLife and SPICE, both with Neos), links with the industry (I actually extended the invitation to a major Italian publisher) and established contacts with people working there (this time I have been also introduced to CREATE-NET president, professor Imrich Chlamtac).

The workshop was very well organized and to me it has been quite satisfying to join an event like this in Italy for once (instead of Bruxelles or some capital up in the Nordic region — I love the Belgian beer and the Nordic light, but I can not rush there with my motorbike in 45 minutes 😉 (joking… but the relative rarity of these settings in Italy is an issue; I will not discuss it here anyhow).

Talking about content, I enjoyed very much the informal exchanges with a few other attendants interested in the “networked media and 3D Internet” research area of the forthcoming 2009 calls (including friends from some of my preferred examples of excellence in European ICT research like HIIT and Fraunhofer FOKUS). We started discussing after a very nice visualization example of Last.fm listenings made with Vizter (created by super-brilliants Jeffrey Heer and Danah Boyd) from a Tampere Technical University Hypermedia Lab researcher; having just seen an overview of the research agenda brought forward by NEM, a prominent European and global forum on future media and network technologies, we had an initial but intense chat on possible research proposals at the intersection of media management and consumption, social network visualization and other related stuff.

Joi Ito on the mobile Internet (lack of) openness

Interesting, critical reflections about how it should not be taken for granted that the openness typical of the Internet (or most of it) is going to dominate its mobile extension: “I don’t think there is anything wrong with mobile or with some of the great new mobile applications and devices, but we have to be careful to remember that most mobile networks that actually work are built on infrastructure that is operated by a small number of mobile operators who use a lot of regulated and closed technology”. The post includes some references to the Japanese environment, but most of the reasoning applies to a global level. I guess that worries about excess of regulation, risk aversion and insufficient competition are just even more serious for Europe (although we all know that there are huge differences among say highly dynamic, tech-savvy Nordic countries and, say, Italy).

Socio-economic analysis of technology

SPICE project logo
SPICE project logo – not so spicy I am afraid…

As part of the SPICE project, successfully completed an initial socio-economic analysis on the potential impact of the technologies reseearched and developed in that same project (in short, a mobile service creation and execution platform, with a set of context-awareness, service roaming and content delivery distinctive capabilities).

I conducted the study combining the results of a project internal workshop (held in Budapest with participants from Telenor and NTNU) and an external online video and email-based questionnaire addressed to experts in the field.

I managed the workshop as a structured brainstorming, eliciting feedback in discussion rounds based on a review of the key usage scenarios; then I analyzed the results extracting pros, cons and mixed reactions.

The questionnaire consisted in a simple set of open questions related to four short videos made available online; I selected a number of academics and research manager with relevant expertise from various locations (Germany, The Netherlands, Finland, Israel, among others) and got them to provide their comments.

The task was part of the revised business modelling analysis, coordinated by NTNU and conducted in cooperation with VUB (Brussels), Telenor, Telefonica and Telecom Italia; it has been also my last major effort in Spice, in which I have been working right since the kick-off in Paris, in January 2006 (and before that a bit at the proposal stage too).