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Usability expert Jakob Nielsen has carried out a detailed user study on the iPad, Apple’s new tablet computer. The study found that applications are inconsistently designed, possible actions are non-obvious, and users are often left confused. Also, there is a war of philosophies taking place: Should each publication be a stand-alone environment, controlled and defined by the author? Or should users continue to be empowered to consume, reorganize and manipulate their content as they have been on the Web? As this new device paradigm emerges, it’s clear that a new form of interaction design will evolve with it.

Read more at Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox.

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Making a smarter bandage

Despite advances in modern technology, bandages haven’t changed much since the days of poultices: Apply an ointment, wrap up the injury, and change it after a while. That may change, however. As we learn more about how the body heals, how bacteria develop resistances, and how to do things on a very small scale, we’re rethinking the way we dress and treat wounds.

Consider, for example, researchers in the UK who’ve designed smart dressings that can heal wounds without making bacteria resistant. In a more low-tech example, MIT students have found a way to use suction to heal wounds faster, using only airtight wrapping and a squeeze bottle to apply negative pressure. The system is currently being tested in Haiti.

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The recent elections in the UK were plagued with problems, with many citizens complaining that they weren’t able to vote, as this BBC article points out.

Most aspects of government–from how we elect leaders to how we survey the citizenry to how we communicate legislation–are hopelessly outdated. The Internet promises huge efficiencies, but it’s up against potential fraud and a generation of elected officials who worry how it will change their political fortunes. With political reform a key part of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition’s manifesto, a manifesto which also includes the abolition of ID cards & associated citizen databases, this is sure to be an issue for lively discussion.

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The Ethics of Designer Babies

Commercial DNA service, by aprilzosia on Flickr

This episode of BBC World’s Discovery podcast looks at the science which is already allowing parents to choose those embryoes least likely to develop diseases later in life. At first these techniques seem like powerful tools to put in the hands of would-be parents, but since any genetic assessment can only give probability, not certainty, it has the potential to create agonizing choices. And the programme also looks at India, where pale skin is becoming increasingly desirable, especially for girls, and asks if legislation should stop parents from rejecting embryoes for aesthetic rather than medical reasons.

Listen to the episode (streaming audio hosted by the BBC)

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Man with camera attached to cycle helmet

What if you could remember everything? Not just birthdays and photos, but your entire life. Technology is now affordable and powerful enough to make this a reality. This is lifelogging – using computers to extend your brain and outsource your memory.

 

What is lifelogging?

Read more »

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At Web2Expo this week, I chatted with Kevin Weil, who runs analytics at Twitter. We’ll publish the interview in audio form here soon, but one of the most interesting things I learned from him was how Twitter infers a relationship. Not all followers are equal, apparently.

  • If there’s a symmetric follow between two people, Twitter assumes they know one another and the relationship is conversational.
  • On the other hand, if it’s a one-way relationship — I follow the Bay Bridge, but it doesn’t follow me back — then Twitter assumes the relationship is around subject matter (in other words, I want the traffic updates from the bridge.)

Does this mean that if you’re the kind of person who follows everyone back, you’re not thought of as a subject matter expert? If so, expect a rash of unfollowing as users tweak their online profiles.

As Twitter’s opinion of us becomes increasingly important for things like advertising effectiveness, people are bound to try and game the system. Analysis of social graphs will be part of an arms race similar to that seen in Search Engine Optimization, where unscrupulous marketers try to convince Google to list them in search results. Call it Social Graph Optimization (SGO).

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I wrote recently about our ability to speak all languages. It seems that this power just got even greater, thanks to a new mobile application from Google. Called Google Goggles, it combines optical character recognition with their existing language translation technologies so that you can just photograph a sign in a foreign language and have a translation displayed on your screen. This could have quite an impact for international travellers.

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The social graph land grab

The map of how humans know one another will be a tremendously valuable thing. Internet giants like Facebook and Google know how valuable the data will be — it will govern everything from how we advertise to how we give people security clearances. We’re in the middle of the biggest social graph land grab in history.

In the absence of clear guidelines or legislation with teeth, however, the industry is taking an ask-for-forgiveness-not-permission approach to social mapping.

Google has had to pivot quickly in recent months from mapping the web to mapping its users. At least it’s transparent about what it knows: the company publishes its social network mapping, showing who it knows you relate to and how.

Others aren’t so up-front. A Facebook gaffe installed applications when you visited other sites. As this piece points out, when apps install themselves it’s called malware; but on Facebook it’s a feature.

There’s little to discourage Internet giants from building this map, and if you’re online in any way, you probably can’t hide. On today’s Internet, everybody knows you’re a dog.

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This episode of Digital Planet, from the BBC World Service, includes an interview with the director of the FutureEverything festival in Manchester UK about the winner of the Future Everything Award, a collaborative project called EyeWriter which is a collaborative project using eye-tracking technology to allow graffiti artist Tony Quan, who is paralyzed due a condition known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, to continue drawing his tags and art from his hospital bed.

The episode also features looks at how to design software for cerebral palsy sufferers, and how to re-use old computers in new ways.

Listen to the episode (28 mins audiostream)

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French company Parrot demonstrated this impressive piece of technology at Web 2.0 Expo this week. It’s a flying camera drone, that hovers and stabilizes itself automatically in flight, is wirelessly controlled by an iPhone just by tilting the phone, and streams live video back to the phone. It uses augmented reality to overlay game elements onto that video, making it a “video game for real life”. It’s incredible that technology like this is now available to the general public – at one time only the military could access such technology. What will people use these for? Will it reduce the privacy of governments and celebrities?

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