Dear supermarket, part 1.

by Dries on June 29, 2016

In a previous post, I talked about my endeavours through the ehealth data portal of the Belgian government. Somewhat related is another journey I recently started, during which my end goal is to consult the data my favourite supermarket collects about me.

tl;dr

This post is a first one in a series describing my experiences regarding a request to consult the data gathered by the Belgian supermarket Colruyt about me as a natural person. After making a first ‘official’ request via email (signed letter + copy of my passport to prove my identity). I got a snail mail reply stating that they only have data about me as a legal entity, I called BS and re-requested my data specifically stating that I want to get insight into my purchase data they use to send me personalised advertisement. (aka my purchase history linked to my loyalty/bonus card) Current status : waiting for a new reply (4 weeks and counting).

Why bother?

People have been asking me why I go through all this hassle, to set that clear once and for all – I want to actively contribute in generating awareness of where and how data is collected. I took on this active stance after hearing Estelle Massé (Access Now) and Prof. Preneel (K.U. Leuven) talking about the lack of understanding of data privacy & ethics and the emerging cry for cryptopolicy. The flurry of thought that emerged in my head was a willingness to understand this better – and what can be a better way to learn than to actually figure it out while doing it?

Towards the personal API

Regarding privacy, ethical data policies and related ‘whatevers’ I’m an utter n00b, n44b, newbie. The more that I think about this though, the more I feel the need for governments, companies and organisations to actively think about a data policy and the protection thereof. The increasing interest of Blockchain technology is just one indication that having access to (personal) data will become a very important part of how the economical systems of tomorrow will work. Actually being able to access that data, and act upon it, seems to still be the missing link.

Regarding public data (weather, traffic, pollution, demographics,…) I have the feeling we will eventually get to some kind of addressable ‘API’. The worldwide open data initiatives are a good example of this, and some cities are taking a forerunner role in this already (London, Ghent, Helsinki amongst others).

When it comes to personal data, I’m still very much in doubt how we will or can evolve to a ‘personal API’. In my previous post on ehealth, I had some doubts regarding the accessibility of my own health data. I clearly could not access everything, which is (still) very confusing to me. I know that governments are doing a lot of efforts to demystify the data available, when I’m speaking for Belgium I’m always surprised (and happy) to see the correctness of the prefilled fields on my tax application. However, at the same time I realise that the process to actually ‘find’ this data is so cumbersome very few people actually make the effort to consult it.

That being said, I didn’t mention anything about all data available that is scattered throughout a variety of privately owned services. Social media profiles, online photo archives, webshops, data linked to loyalty cards at small or large stores, etc. For the moment, I assume that the governmentally controlled data will become available in a usable format at some point. It will probably still take a couple of legislations, but we’ll get there.

Why the supermarket?

When it comes down to privately owned companies who hold on to a significant amount of data about me as a natural person, I believe that supermarkets probably top the ranks. In the case of Colruyt, I actually do not have any substantial comments about the usage of my data. I enjoy receiving targeted advertisement from them, as it gives me extra discounts on groceries I would buy anyway. Since Colruyt even has a section on data privacy in their privacy charter, I figured it wouldn’t be a real problem to request a copy of my data from them. So that is what I set out to do …

Contact customer service!

The first things I did (on March 29, 2016) was email the customer service of Colruyt, refer to the article in their privacy charter and request a copy of my data. I got a very swift reply asking me to send a copy of my passport to prove my identity and send a more formal, signed, letter. I followed all advice, got a confirmation that everything was going to be processed and that I would receive a printed copy of my data anytime soon. Although that I found it a little odd that they were going to send me the data on paper, I was actually really happy at that point. A smooth transaction, sound and clear.

Their reply letter …

A couple of weeks later, I find a (printed) letter in my mailbox from Colruyt. After reading it, I was flabbergasted and furious at the same time. The letter stated that they could not share the data because they only have data about me as a legal entity. At that point, I really wondered why I sent a copy of my passport and a signed letter in my own name. I never mentioned any legal entity, let alone that I ever bought any groceries on my company name.

After showing the letter to a couple of friends, we all concluded that this very much felt like they were trying to find reasons not to share the data. After receiving that letter, and regaining a sane state, I sent a friendly reply mentioning that I never made any mention of a legal entity and always had the intention to request my own purchase data (as a natural person).

Progress?

Since then, I was in contact with Colruyt customer support about two times – requesting a status update. Each time, they replied in a very friendly way that they were working on it and would get back to me shortly. Since the last communication dates from June 1st, I figured that after four weeks it was time to take a next step.

Future plans

Short term, I’m very much looking forward to the new response from Colruyt. I’m starting to get a little worried whether a new reply will follow at all, it would be very unfortunate having to take more formal steps in this request.
I have sent out a registered letter to their customer service today, referring to all previous communication as well as a clear request to receive all stored data about my purchases. (ie. the data they use to create targeted advertisement). In that letter I made reference to some articles of the EU privacy law, as well as to their own privacy charter. I find it a pity to take this step, but I’m not going to let go right now.

The longer term plans originate from a talk over lunch with @nielshendriks @karinslegers and @liesbit about 5 years ago. The idea brought to the table then was to create a website that would automate the data requesting process for a selected amount of companies. That would mean that after entering all required data, letters would be generated and sent out to the companies automatically. This ‘service’ would ideally take out the hassle of carrying out a person’s right to access personal data and could be an intermediary step towards the personal API.

Through the #begov ehealth portal!

by Dries on April 30, 2016

Last Friday I had a regular health checkup, nothing too spectacular. It was the first time my doctor mentioned that I had to decide whether I was ok with giving other health related entities access to my medical file. I asked him whether I could access this information myself, my doctor replied : “yeah, probably if you google it you will find something”.

Indeed, there seemed to be a Belgian governmental e-health site. This all seemed very regular and boring, but once I started to look for my actual medical file I was totally blown away that they put something like this online. The most excellent example of making something that is not accessible by anyone, but is supposed to serve many. Since the whole ‘experience’ was rather shocking, I want to take the time to go through (part) of the process using screenshots, in a mere 18 easy steps (not).

tl;dr

In order to access my shared medical file, I had to install java, a middleware application, a cardreader driver, a firefox extension, go through three websites, one pdf document, install an application from an unregistered developer and enter the pincode of my e-id card. If you are not a computer person, you’ll never get to see your medical file.

During the process I would expect a constant feeling of security, yet the design of this ‘flow’ could be optimised in so many ways. I’m very much an advocate of ‘don’t complain, suggest what’s better’ – but this time … I honestly wouldn’t know where to start.

Prerequisites

Before logging in, I needed to make sure I could log in to governmental services. In Belgium this is done using an e-id. In order to do so, you need some middleware software, a cardreader and the correct drivers for that cardreader. Ow yes, you also need a recent version of java, and preferably you’d be using Firefox with the e-id firefox extension installed. Suppose that you’d get through all that, you’re good to go!

Step 1: My eHealth

1myehealth

After logging in on the ehealth portal, this is where you end up. A rather unstructured site, with seemingly unrelated content.

Step 2: My eHealth – my details

When looking for my medical file, I’d figure I could find some pointers via my personal information. Turns out the personal info section links to a site with a totally different design where I can only update my email address. Weird.

Step 3: Online services

Going back to the homepage, I end up here. An overview of 'services', described in a very cryptic way. I'm still not sure what the difference between eHealthConsent and patientConsent is.

Going back to the homepage, I end up here. An overview of ‘services’, described in a very cryptic way. I’m still not sure what the difference between eHealthConsent and patientConsent is.

Step 4: Vitalink

4vitalink

After more cryptic text, this Vitalink thing seemed to be hinting towards what I was looking for : my shared online medical file. Yay! Almost there .. I figured.

Step 5: Vitalink?

Hello Vitalink. Ow, looks like there is no link between the ehealth portal and this site. I thought I said before that I was a citizen, not a caretaker (?)

Hello Vitalink. Ow, looks like there is no link between the ehealth portal and this site. I thought I said before that I was a citizen, not a caretaker (?)

Step 6: Vitalink, perhaps.

Okay, the vitalink homepage. This seems to be a place to figure out where to get info on my vaccinations and such - that sounds like my medical file!

Okay, the vitalink homepage. This seems to be a place to figure out where to get info on my vaccinations and such – that sounds like my medical file!

Step 7: Let’s do this!

After spotting the 'aan de slag' (to work) button - I thought I was really getting close.

After spotting the ‘aan de slag’ (to work) button – I thought I was really getting close. There was even a ‘consult your data’ button (the one with the magnifying glass), exactly what I needed.

Step 8: Software

Aha, looks like I need to get some software to access my medical file. Okay, and I can't download it from this site - but I need to get it from my health insurer. Okay...

Aha, looks like I need to get some software to access my medical file. Okay, and I can’t download it from this site – but I need to get it from my health insurer. Okay…

Step 9: hello health insurer

At this point, I'm very confused. This is the third organisation I have to go through in order to access my governmentally owned health record. Or, is it not owned by the government after all?

At this point, I’m very confused. This is the third organisation I have to go through in order to access my governmentally owned health record. Or, is it not owned by the government after all? Nevertheless, I’m pushing on – I find a link to install the software on my the website of my health insurer.

Step 10: What!? A .pdf?

I get presented with a PDF. A manual in a way, or perhaps a procedure ... I'm not sure. I start reading through it. It is an instructional manual of the 'HealthViewer' application, which is the thing I need to access my medical file. I scroll down to the installation instructions.

I get presented with a PDF. A manual in a way, or perhaps a procedure … I’m not sure. I start reading through it. It is an instructional manual of the ‘HealthViewer’ application, which is the thing I need to access my medical file. I scroll down to the installation instructions.

Step 11: Back to yet another website

Another link, to an organisation called intermut. Whatever. I laugh at the comment 'this URL is case sensitive'.

Another link, to an organisation called intermut. Whatever. I laugh at the comment ‘this URL is case sensitive’.

Step 12: Sure this isn’t spam?

After clicking the link in the .pdf document, I end up here. This looks very dodgy, almost like one of those odd illegal filesharing popups. Nevertheless, I click and download the big green button. A .dmg file starts downloading.

After clicking the link in the .pdf document, I end up here. This looks very dodgy, almost like one of those odd illegal filesharing popups. Nevertheless, I click the big green button. A .dmg file starts downloading.

Step 13: .dmg mounted!

Okay, nearing completion of this quest! Yes, I want to install the software - don't really like installers on OSX, but not giving up now!

Okay, nearing completion of this quest! Yes, I want to install the software – don’t really like installers on OSX, but not giving up now!

Step 14: Unidentified developer

My-o-my, unidentified developer. Seriously, if I'd be a less savvy OSX user - this would have been the end. In this case, I right click the installer and manage to get past this screen.

My-o-my, unidentified developer. Seriously, if I’d be a less savvy OSX user – this would have been the end. In this case, I right click the installer and manage to get past this screen.

Step 15: An installer! (the 90’s called)

Yes, we're finally good to go. Although that I haven't seen this installer screen in a very long time - did I just timetravel to 1999?

Yes, we’re finally good to go. Although that I haven’t seen this installer screen in a very long time – did I just timetravel to 1999?

Step 16: HealthViewer

16_loggingin

Despite all previous steps, the software opens. It is very lowres on this retina screen. But at least I can finally log in. I make sure my eID middleware software is running and that my eID card is inserted in the cardreader … because you never know.

Step 17: Pincode

I get promted with a textbox asking my for a pincode. What pincode? The pincode of this software? Or that of my medical file? Does that even have a pincode? ... I figured it might just be asking the pincode of my eID card.

I get promted with a textbox asking my for a pincode. What pincode? The pincode of this software? Or that of my medical file? Does that even have a pincode? … I figured it might just be asking the pincode of my eID card.

Step 18 : Done!

Behold my medical file. Nice and empty. I know there should be 2 entries there somewhere, but somewhere else I found out that as a patient I can't access my Sumehr (Summarized Electronic Health Record). Strange, again.

Behold my medical file. Nice and empty. I know there should be 2 entries there somewhere, but somewhere else I found out that as a patient I can’t access my Sumehr (Summarized Electronic Health Record). Strange, again.

 

Why do I blog this?

I totally see the advantage of an online ehealth system. I can imagine the Belgian government worked hard to get this online, and integrate various governmental agencies, databases and other entities. But experience wise, there’s so much wrong in this flow. Nothing is clear, nor are there attempts other than long pieces of text to explain what is needed at what time. A seriously missed opportunity, but on the other hand … a very interesting evolution. I’m sure we’ll get there, some day, in a galaxy far far away.

To (nextgen) engineer is human

by Dries on April 17, 2016

During a brief trip to Milan, I managed to read through a book that has been on my bookshelf for a long time : “To Engineer is human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design“. This little book was first published in 1985, and went through some edits along the way (I read the 1992 edition). The book basically gives several examples of how learning by doing has been an integral part of the way that we design and create the world around us.

Besides elaborating on some well known ‘engineering failures’ (Hyat Regency  & Tacoma Narrows) the book gives a higher level overview of why things sometimes don’t work out as we designed or thought about them. And it is mostly this last bit that I found most interesting about this book.

What I found most insightful was the reference to Sr. Oliver Wendell Holmes’ poem ‘The Deacon’s Masterpiece‘. This poem talks about the construction of a horse carriage (a one-horse shay) which is made with the best materials around. Yet, at the end of the poem it is made clear that even the best piece of engineering eventually fails and falls apart. The book then goes on about foreseeing failure during the design process, which is something I’ve been questioning myself in relationship to internet of things products – for example: the sunsetting of the Revolv smart hub and the fading of Bergcloud and their Little Printer.

It got me wondering that when we’re designing connected products, we shouldn’t only think about mechanical failing of devices (buttons, moving parts, lights,…) but also the digital parts of the device (server connection, network uptime, technology deprecation,…). These novel aspects seem to be a lot more uncertain to predict, but they might feel a lot more easy to change, ie. shutting down a server happens by pushing some virtual buttons – the effect of that action is much less visible.

There’s probably a lot of work done on this already, I can imagine that the same questions have surfaced in the home automation market. But I wonder if someone is actually doing anything about it, as the support for ‘legacy internet of things devices’ seems something we should seriously consider.

Why do I blog this?

What intrigued me is that the book dates back more than 3 decades, but very much pins down what is still happening with novel products. Henry Petroski (the author) never mentions computerised systems as an example, but I think that his reasoning is applicable to a lot of the design and development of internet of things systems being created at this moment. All that put aside, the content of the book itself can be somewhat repetitive and the writing style is questionable. So probably not a recommended piece of reading, but it does trigger some thinking.

#Screenshake16

by Dries on February 22, 2016

The past two days I spent quite some hours at Screenshake, the indie game gathering in Antwerp – organised by The House of Indie. Last year’s Screenshake was good already, but looking back at the 2016 edition – the organisation stepped up their game quite a bit.

Generally speaking, the reason that I like this event is that it is so crossover in every way. Disregarding the content, the indie game community is so very very nice to hang around. No one expects anything, if you want to engage you can – if you don’t no one will question that either. Less façades, more heart.

I very much appreciate diving into a community I have a lot of respect for, that I do not really know in depth, but somehow feel related to. It also feels nice to not meet the same people at screenshake that I already meet at other events. New faces, fresh views.

What I will remember and re-use in my own work

My key insight of Screenshake16 was without any doubt Lana Polansky‘s statement:

This totally resonates with me, and it frames the move away from games of studios like Tale of Tales rather well. The statement goes a lot deeper too, and does not limit itself to games vs. art. I might as well replace this with ‘The scientific research vs. art discussion is a sham’ – which very much relates to my own work. Lana’s talk was packed with references and insights I still need to process, this talk felt like a goldmine of inspiration … I just need to start building my shaft.

Besides Lana’s talk, I got totally inspired by Paolo Pedercini. His deconstruction of SimCity and links made to systems thinking and ‘smart’ cities allowed me to look at my own work from a totally different perspective. I very much liked Paolo’s way of providing answers or strands of thought on how capitalism based algorithms (such as Sim City’s) can be approached in different ways. Game-like experiences as explorations of thought.

The one speaker I was looking forward to since he was announced was Ste Curran. He totally captivated me at Screenshake15, so my expectations where high. Ste brings a talk in an extremely interesting format, being something in between a story, a theater play and a regular talk. This ‘package’ is delivered with such honesty and authenticity that it is plainly beautiful. What stuck with me from Ste’s talk is being more conscious about the relation between the heart and the face, which very much links back to ‘dropping all facades’ I mentioned before.

More highlights & insights

Archivatr

by Dries on January 16, 2016

I like to hold on to a lot of physical stuff. Postcards, birthday cards, the drawings my daughters make, magazines, etc.

I take notes in a paper notebook. I love to write with a fountain pen.

One major downside of all this non-digital stuff is archiving. After a birthday in my family, I always wonder what to do with the birthday cards. Do I just throw them out, do I keep some of them, if I keep them – where do I put them? I probably won’t look at them anyway … but still …

The above has been the origin of Archivatr. Inspired by the way Nick and Alex communicate conceptual ideas – I thought I’d try something similar.

Introducing Archivatr.

1problem

The holiday season is over. Time to get rid of the christmas cards … I’m having a hard time just throwing them out.

 

2send

The Archivatr service sends me pre stamped envelopes, which I can use whenever I have non-digitals artefacts I want to archive.

 

3post

This envelope is mailed off, and Archivatr does the rest. I do not need to care about formats, recto-verso, glossy/matte paper, 2D or 3D creations…

 

4scannedresult

Depending on the complexity of the artefacts. I receive a digitally indexed folder & files containing high quality scans. I can choose to leave these on the Archivatr servers or download them to my personal storage.

Wait, this isn’t new at all.

This probably isn’t. I could imagine that most copy centers might actually do this when requested. Also, there are quite a few related services that do something like this;

  • MOD Notebooks (buy blank notebook, use it – mail it back to them – get it digitally)
  • Evernote Scannable (I currently use this to scan all ‘artworks’ my children make at school – thanks, Brick! – but it takes time and the resolution is not always optimal)
  • Desktop scanners like Doxie or Neat (works fine for standard sizes, but greeting cards or drawings are often non-standard)
  • Picplum (not around anymore, but this was the reverse service – select digital pictures, send printed versions to your loved ones in weekly batches)

Currently, I have no idea about the viability of this service idea. Perhaps it has been done and failed, perhaps it exists but I don’t know about it. Or maybe I should go ahead and explore this further in more detail.

Why do I blog this?

I’ve been toying around with this idea for a long time now. It was time to get it out. If you have any pointers, feedback or comments – I’d love to hear them!

Bye 15, hi 16.

by Dries on January 6, 2016

Another year, another issue of the Bye Hi post (2015, 14, 13, 12). Overall, I have gone through some major changes – mostly related to the way I now think of my work and how I approach it. Perhaps for the first time in my professional career I am starting to develop some form of focus. The boat seems to hover around less and is slowly lowering more anchors.

On a non-work related level, it it mostly all about children and the marvel of seeing them grow up. As a parent I constantly question myself on how I need to change/adapt my own attitude towards life. In 2015 we took care of two foster children. One of them stayed for 5 months, the other is still staying with us now. This is intense, and sometimes draws a lot of energy out of me and my wife. But seeing the impact of bringing some peace and harmony to the complex situations these children come out of is very rewarding.

2015, the year in which I thought I would:

Know if my PhD can be rerouted / rebooted

Yes! Rerouted it is. This has been my personal major achievement the past year. I managed to get a ‘Baekelend’ funding grant at Studio Dott to continue my research. The focus has been altered, and is now much more on design processes for products that consist of digital and physical parts (ie. hybrid product service systems). I’m really happy how this has turned out, for the first time in years I feel that people are actually supportive instead of sceptical – which changes a lot of things, mostly mentally.

Build at least one other example of a meaningful connected product

Failed (and not failed…). It would be lame to say that I didn’t build anything ‘new’ because I don’t have the hardware yet. I have a concept ready in my head, but need to sit down and actually make/craft/code the thing. Having the Particle Electron at hand would make this a lot easier though 😉

Will put together a publication on meaningful connected products (and hope to distribute it at thingscon 2015)

The publication I started working on resulted in a IOT Ideation Toolkit, which I worked on together with my excellent Studio Dott colleagues. We’re currently doing initial sessions with this set of tools, but it should be released to a broader public before the summer.

Own a GoodnightLamp (!)

Yay! I even wrote a longer post about it here.

Actually read the books I buy.

Failed, drastically.

Somehow get involved in my father’s CNC business

Yep, we’ve been doing some small projects on the side. Over the last year my father managed to build closer contacts with the people at OpenDesk – I hope this will take off at some point. We attended a larger interior objects oriented trade fair last year, where we showed some pieces of the OpenDesk collection. We had an advert in Charlie magazine. But ‘selling’ the whole CNC thing to a mainstream audience is not straight forward.

Do more geocaching with my wife and children

This was good. But I think my wife and I are enjoying it more than our children. Nevertheless, geocaching has been a good mechanism to get us out of the house and explore places in the neighbourhood.

2016, the year in which I will:

  • Work more focussed. Set up partnerships with people I enjoy working with.
  • Close my facebook account (started doing that on Jan 1st)
  • Revive my Little Printer
  • Co-organise Fri3d Camp
  • Organise a new humans & things event
  • Run PhD related workshops in London and Rotterdam
  • Go skiing with my daughters (ie. their first time on ski’s instead of sleds)
  • Finish a project that has been catching too much dust

We know the world is lost.

by Dries on January 6, 2016

Out of all ‘2015 year ending’ posts, the closing paragraph in the tale of tales one stuck with me most. I can totally relate to this, and really look forward to their work in the days, months and weeks to come.

We know the world is lost. We don’t believe humans can fix it. Because they don’t want to change the system that causes the problems. We’re longing for the apocalypse. But in the mean time, we want to really look at the world. Perhaps with the eyes of a lover saying goodbye. The beauty, the joy, the sheer magnitude of life. And pay tribute to all of it in our work. A prayer. A wish to experience beauty each and every day of the entire year.

—Michaël & Auriea, 31 December 2015.

#thingsconAMS notes

by Dries on December 5, 2015

Thingscon is turning out a very nice place for me to reflect on IoT in a non technical and business dominated mindset. I took some quick notes during the talks. Not intending to be coherent, but pointers that stuck with me.

Iskander Smit :

  • “the function of a product is defined by the use”

Reflection:

The whole idea of scriptable product is starting to make sense. I do think we need to get rid of the term platforms. Currently I’m trying to figure out what a physical product would look like if it were created just like an Angular.js website is ‘generated’.

Matt Cottam :

Reflection:

Another indication that the type of products we are moving towards do not need to have a specific end result. They should leave space for interpretation. Note : this does not equal customisation.

Nadya Peek:

  • Designerless creation of Shanzai phones : why do we not all work like that?

Reflection:

Prototyping and making in low quantities while designing a product seems to make more sense.

Paul Hekkert:

Reflection:

There was a clear clash going on here between the traditional way of thinking about the design discipline and the ‘maker’ approach.

Marcel Shouwenaar:

  • Commoditisation of IoT : connected doorbells in Gamma

Reflection:

The whole ‘IoT transition’ will probably just happen in front of our eyes. This was also shown by the talks of Van Berlo and KoningsKappelhof. Products just suddenly happen to be partly digital. It could be debatable whether we should think about it too much (altough that the recent VTech happenings might show that we do need to think about it)

Claire Rowland:

  • Arcane interaction
  • System latency as a feature, embrace it and do not try to design around it.

Reflection:

Arcane interaction seems to relate with my thinking about meaning and next generation alchemy. Also, I just like the term.

Tina Aspiala:

  • Early adopter crack

Reflection:

What has early adopter crack looked like in the past? Makes me think about the TBD catalog.

Ross Atkins:

  • We can’t opt out of using our cities
  • people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. (Jane Jacobs)
  • The clever city manifesto

Reflection:

By using the term ‘clever’ instead of ‘smart’ city, the humane dimension of it all skyrockets. Ross’ examples on how to actually think about this is rather spot on.

Why do I blog this?

The prime reason I visited thingscon in Amsterdam was to talk to some people about the IoT ideation and design processes for IoT work which I’m working on at Studio Dott. I met several known and new people, which was exactly what I wanted to get out of the event.

Since I was at the previous two thingscon events in Berlin, the general ‘content’ was mostly a confirmation of previous insights. I had the feeling there were a lot of ‘new’ people begin introduced to the people/social/design oriented thingscon content. This is excellent, but at the same time I felt the need for a more in depth track.

Nevertheless, the thingscon family is rather unique – which I am glad to have experienced once again!

Braided products and wickerwork.

by Dries on November 24, 2015

Suppose that you’d put 10 knowledgable people in a room, chances are high they all have a different understanding of ‘the Internet of Things’. Someone working for a startup company will think totally different on this compared to someone working at a larger company. Someone working in a B2B dominant domain will think about different ‘use cases’ than someone who primarily works on B2C products. I have the feeling that these semantic discrepancies are a source of confusion and unnecessary discussions.

Personally, I am very wary of using the overhyped ‘Internet of Things’ term. I tend to refer to network connected or connected products. More recently I’ve been using hybrid products or hybrid product service systems. Yet, I haven’t landed terminology I feel comfortable with. There are a variety of reasons why I feel this way;

  • In the term ‘Internet of Things’ the focus is very much on technology (the internet) and things. It all feels very much driven by efficiency and functionality, whereas I believe we should strive to create products with emotion and meaning.
  • When using a term like connected products, I feel that I am artificially trying to split products into categories. The ‘connected’ ones versus the ‘not connected’ ones. I think it is important to not make this difference, increasingly often we are creating digital and physical products at the same time. It seems to make little sense to keep distinguishing between them.
  • Using ‘hybrid products’ somewhat solves these issues, but the term doesn’t take a stance. It is neither fish nor fowl, and might even make it more hazy to understand what we are actually talking about.

Turning in the bottom
I recently started thinking about Braided Products. Metaphorically speaking, it holds a lot of value to me:

  • Braiding always involves various ‘strands’ which are interwoven. To me, this is exactly what we are doing within the ‘internet of things’. We combine digital, physical and services to create one ‘combination’ thereof.
  • The focus is on the humane. Technology is not explicitly referred to, but is regarded as something taken for granted.
  • When braiding something, you go through a process in which expertise of ‘the braider’ can impact the end result. It refers to a process of creation, something which needs to be well thought out before it achieves what it is intended to do.

I’m not sure wether coining new terms for old concepts will help the field in any way. But when reflecting on ‘braided products’ I get the feeling that this ‘type’ of wording comes a lot closer to how I would like ‘the internet of things’ to be interpreted at the moment.

Why do I blog this?

Initiatives like the IOT design manifesto, thingclash and human things show that there is a need to approach the tech dominant internet of things world. I wonder to what extend terminology can have an influence on this, although that I realise that introducing new words for old concepts is not what we need, I enjoyed the thought exercise. Who knows where it might lead…

Living with a GoodNightLamp

by Dries on September 16, 2015

Ever since Alexandra announced the GoodNightLamp as something that was going to happen ‘for real’, I have been a #lampfan. Since the beginning of summer I’ve been living with an actual, functioning, GoodNightLamp and I wanted to share some insights and general thought of how I’ve been experiencing it.

Should the GoodNightLamp not ring a bell at all, I suggest you read up over here or watch the video below.

Currently I think I have gone through 3 stages of use. Starting from getting acquainted with the product, to actually using it ‘for real’.

Phase 1 : ok, this is alpha stuff

My GoodNightLamp story started rather bumpy. I won’t go into too much detail, but initially it just didn’t function in a reliable way. Luckily communication with Alex and her team is very transparent, so we managed to arrange for sending my initial set of lamps back for technical maintenance. When they came back from surgery, things were looking a lot ‘brighter’.

Phase 1 reflection

The GoodNightLamp has only one interface element, being the button on the chimney. The nice thing is that the interface is so simple, but when something goes wrong it is (as a user) almost impossible to figure out what is happening or going wrong.

Being a designer interested in technology myself, I wanted to try to understand the system – how does it work? Can I open this lamp to fix it myself? But once I got over these thoughts and behaved like a ‘regular’ user, it started to make more sense. Embrace the magic of the lamp.

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Phase 2 : maybe I’ll keep it for myself

Initially, I wanted to place one lamp in my parent’s house and one lamp in my own living room. But after thinking this through together with my wife, we concluded to that we’d see how we could use it to enhance social contact within our own family. It seemed to make more sense to inform each other about presence between work and home instead of knowing if one of our parents is home or not.

Phase 2 reflection

I think the aspect of distance played a role in evaluating who would receive the lamps in the first place. Both our parents live very close, and we tend to be in touch at least a couple of times a week. Another aspect which is playing a role here is that we wanted to experience the product ‘first hand’ first, before handing it over.

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Phase 3 : looking for max. meaning

So we initially started out with placing the large lamp at my office near Antwerp and have the little lamp at home. The idea was that I’d light the large lamp when I arrived at work and switch it off when I left again. After doing this for a bit over a week, it was turning out to make very little sense. No-one was looking at the little lamp at home, and I was having all the fun at work because I could at least press a button. It was nice, but became monotone very quickly.

After that first week-and-a-half, I decided to switch the lamps. At that point, I realised that my children could play a crucial role in this whole lamp experience. It made much more sense that I would know when someone is home while I am at work, especially when my children are home. Also, my children would be the perfect subjects to assign the ‘switch the lamp on’ task to (as my wife would probably forget about it most of the time).

Currently this setup is working out wonderfully. We’ve been using it for over a week like this, and compared to the previous setup – this configuration is actually enriching. I’m psyched when the little lamp pops on while I’m working, and my children love to push the button on the large lamp. My 4 year old has started to see it as her ‘duty’, and takes it serious (perhaps a little too serious). Since the time that the lamps are on and off can vary quite a bit, it arouses curiosity – triggering conversations at the dinner table about what happened during the day.

Phase 3 reflection

The journey of figuring out how to maximise the meaning of the lamps has been an interesting one. Initially, I was a little disillusioned. But after trying things out iteratively, I’m really enjoying living with the GoodNightLamp. The critical thing will still be the evaluation over time, will it become a routine, or will I keep enjoying it?

The ‘hunt for meaning’ should not be underestimated, and I can imagine that it might put people off – turning the lamp into an overpriced paperweight at some point. I wonder to what extend people should be guided in finding meaning in products, in what way(s) they can be inspired to endeavour on a journey of exploration.

To conclude, by using the goodnightlamp I’ve figured out that the aspect of ‘temporality’ in Verganti’s definition of meaning might go a lot deeper than I thought (cfr this post on connected products and meaning). The meaning of a product is temporal, initially I thought about this related to products that ‘hype’ and fade away later. But by experiencing the goodnightlamp, I realised that one product can convey a type of meaning at one moment in time and evolve during use.

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Why do I post this?

Over the years I’ve been working on connected products, and how they can become less technology centerend. The goodnightlamp is one of the examples I like to use when talking about connected products and meaning, but in order to keep using it as an example I feel obliged to use it myself and (critically?) reflect on my experiences.