Categorywork

Monthnotes for September 2017

M

September was an exceptionally productive month with plenty to share, so let’s get right to it!

As always, if you’d like to explore working together, get in touch now.

A new website

First things first: You’ll have noticed that we completely relaunched this website. It’s much more clearly structured, and visually built more around text than images. This should make it a lot easier to find the content you’re looking for, and make load times a lot faster.

Most importantly, the front page is now a lot better structured, and we also optimized the navigation:

  • Front page: Client services and in-house projects are more visibly separated, recent projects are more visible, and text highlights allow for extra quick skimming.
  • Content: The clear separation into pages for STRATEGY and RESEARCH & FORESIGHT provide more structure.
  • Navigation: The OUTPUT pages shows at a quick glance all the various things we produce and work on. One level below, PUBLICATIONS, CLIENT PROJECTS and SPECIAL PROJECTS allow for deep-dives.

Not everything needed to change, though. For example, the MEDIA and SPEAKING pages work well, and provide the most comprehensive log of my speaking engagements as well as media mentions and contributions. (By the way, I’m keeping the dual BLOG structure of COMPANY blog and PERSONAL blog—mostly the occasion travel log—, which exists for purely historical/archival reasons. I simply didn’t want to move it to another server or domain.)

While we were at it we also cleaned up a ton of copy and got a spanking new SSL certificate.

Curious to hear what you think!

A Trustmark for IoT

For Mozilla, we explored the potentials and challenges of a trustmark for the Internet of Things (IoT). That research is now publicly available. You can find more background and all the relevant links at thewavingcat.com/iot-trustmark

If you follow our work both over at ThingsCon and here at The Waving Cat, you know that we see lots of potential for the Internet of Things (IoT) to create value and improve lives, but also some serious challenges. One of the core challenges is that it’s hard for consumers to figure out which IoT products and services are good—which ones are designed responsibly, which ones deserve their trust. After all, too often IoT devices are essentially black boxes that are hard interrogate and that might change with the next over-the-air software update.

So, what to do? One concept I’ve grown increasingly fond of is consumer labeling as we know from food, textiles, and other areas. But for IoT, that’s not simple. The networked, data-driven, and dynamic nature of IoT means that the complexity is high, and even seemingly simple questions can lead to surprisingly complex answers. Still, I think there’s huge potential there to make huge impact.

I was very happy when Mozilla picked up on that idea and commissioned us to explore the potential of consumer labels. Mozilla just made that report publicly available:

Read the report: A Trustmark for IoT (PDF)

I’m excited to see where Mozilla might take the IoT trustmark and hope we can continue to explore this topic. After all, who if not Mozilla could—or should—take the lead in this space.

Also, I’m hearing whispers that some core recommendations might already be making their way into a large country’s national IoT policy—and that just makes my day!

Talks

I was kindly invited to speak at Netzpolitik.org’s annual conference, Das ist Netzpolitik!. The title: Das Internet der Dinge: Rechte, Regulierung & Spannungsfelder.

Due to technical issues with the video projection, my slides weren’t shown for the first few minutes. Apologies. On the plus side, the organizers had kindly put a waving cat on the podium for me.

It’s a rare talk in that I gave it in German, something I’m hardly used to these days, so it was extra fun. In the talk, I argue that IoT poses a number of particular challenges that we need to address (incl. the level of complexity and blurred lines across disciplines and expertise; power dynamics; and transparency). I outline inherent tensions and propose a few approaches on how to tackle them, especially around increasing transparency and legibility of IoT products.

I conclude with a call for Europe to actively take a global leadership role in the area of consumer and data protection, analog to Silicon Valley’s (claimed/perceived) leadership in disruptive innovation as well as funding/scaling of digital products, and to Shenzhen’s hardware manufacturing leadership.

You can find the slides, a video, and links to more extensive German write-ups in this blog post.

I also have a few talks coming up:

  • In October, I’ll be speaking at a lecture on communications and IoT at Dresden University, where if logistics work out I’ll be chatting a bit about the practitioner’s side of IoT. (Details TBD).
  • On 9 November, also in Berlin, I’ll be at SimplySecure‘s conference Underexposed (program). My talk there is called The Internet of Sneaky Things. I’ll be exploring how IoT security, funding and business models, centralization and data mining, and some larger challenges around the language we use to consider the impact of data-driven systems combined all form a substantial challenge for all things related to IoT. But it’s not all bleak. There are measures we can—and through ThingsCon, we do—take.

Wrapping up ODINE

For the last two years, I was part of the pool of evaluators for ODINE, the Open Data Incubator Network Europe. The program just ended, after funding around 57 companies doing interesting work with and around open data in Europe. And so now the list of evaluators is being made publicly available. As far as I can tell from the more-or-less outside, it was a successful project. Congratulations to the team and all the participants, and best of luck with the next steps.

Thinking & writing

ThingsCon

ThingsCon has too much to go on right now to include everything here, so I’ll point to the ThingsCon blog where we now also have monthnotes. When I opened last night’s ThingsCon Salon Berlin with a quick community update about what’s been happening across the ThingsCon network my mind was blown by the level of activity there.

The super short version is this: 15 events, 3 publications, and 2 ongoing newsletters so far this year alone, with much more coming up. (See thingscon.com/resources for links.)

The “coming up” section includes highlights like the biggest ThingsCon event to date with the annual ThingsCon Amsterdam, a world premiere in Antwerp in that it’s a new chapter, the first event in Flemish, and a comedy special to boot! It also looks like new events or chapters are in the making in Nairobi and Manila, which is very exciting. All that and much more at thingscon.com/events

Zephyr Berlin

Over at Zephyr Berlin, we’re preparing for the second small batch production. In the meantime, there are still a few pairs in some sizes available!

What’s on the horizon?

The next few weeks will go into wrapping up/advancing the Trustmarks for IoT project, as well as planning for the rest of the year. We’re starting a new client project in the space of evaluation of education programs in South Africa. ??

Hit me up if you’d like to discuss new projects.

We relaunched our website

W

We just relaunched our website for more clarity and to better reflect our work, both recent and future.

So what’s new?

Less images, more text

At a glance you’ll notice that it’s a lot more built with text in mind. This reflects our output, and should lead to much, much faster load times.

Clear structure

A lot of cruft went out the door. This allows for a much clearer structure.

The front page still offers an overview of the company, but CLIENT SERVICES and IN-HOUSE PROJECTS are more visibly separated, and text highlights allow for extra quick skimming.

The ABOUT navigation item recently got their own STRATEGY and RESEARCH & FORECASTING sections, so that was all new and fresh and will stay this way for now.

Better navigation

What’s new is the navigation item OUTPUT. Clicked directly, it offers an at-a-glance overview of all the many outputs we produce, including REPORTS, BOOKS, THINGSCON, and also SPECIAL PROJECTS like Zephyr Berlin, Dearsouvenir, and other experiments and spin-offs.

Sub-pages of OUTPUT provide a higher-rez overview of PUBLICATIONS (for books & reports), PROJECTS (for highlight client projects as much as the results are publicly sharable), and SPECIAL PROJECTS (as mentioned before).

MEDIA & SPEAKING are still largely unchanged, just a little cleaned up. They work, and provide the most comprehensive log of my speaking engagements as well as media mentions and contributions.

By the way, I’m keeping the dual BLOG structure of COMPANY blog and PERSONAL blog (mostly the occasion travel log), which exists for purely historical/archival reasons. I simply didn’t want to move it to another server or domain.

Curious what you think. If you see something that looks broken, say something. Thanks!

Wrapping up at the ODINE project

W

For the last two years, I was part of the pool of evaluators for ODINE, the Open Data Incubator Network Europe. The program just ended, after funding around 57 companies doing interesting work with and around open data in Europe. The list of evaluators is now officially being made public. (It should be online on the ODINE website soon.)

As far as I can tell from the more-or-less outside, it was a successful project.

While reviewing multiple times, I think only once did I participate in on a day of interviews with a bunch of applicants and teams onsite. During that day, I was impressed with the overall level of conversations.

Now that the program is being wrapped up, I’d like to congratulate the team and all the participants. Best of luck with the next steps.

New report: A Trustmark for IoT

N

Summary: For Mozilla, we explored the potentials and challenges of a trustmark for the Internet of Things (IoT). That research is now publicly available. You can find more background and all the relevant links at thewavingcat.com/iot-trustmark

If you follow our work both over at ThingsCon and here at The Waving Cat, you know that we see lots of potential for the Internet of Things (IoT) to create value and improve lives, but also some serious challenges. One of the core challenges is that it’s hard for consumers to figure out which IoT products and services are good—which ones are designed responsibly, which ones deserve their trust. After all, too often IoT devices are essentially black boxes that are hard interrogate and that might change with the next over-the-air software update.

So, what to do? One concept I’ve grown increasingly fond of is consumer labeling as we know from food, textiles, and other areas. But for IoT, that’s not simple. The networked, data-driven, and dynamic nature of IoT means that the complexity is high, and even seemingly simple questions can lead to surprisingly complex answers. Still, I think there’s huge potential there to make huge impact.

I was very happy when Mozilla picked up on that idea and commissioned us to explore the potential of consumer labels. Mozilla just made that report publicly available:

Read the report: “A Trustmark for IoT” (PDF, 93 pages)

I’m excited to see where Mozilla might take the IoT trustmark and hope we can continue to explore this topic.

Increasingly, in order to have agency over their lives, users need to be able to make informed decisions about the IoT devices they invite into their lives. A trustmark for IoT can significantly empower users to do just that.

For more background, the executive summary, and all the relevant links, head on over to thewavingcat.com/iot-trustmark.

Also, I’d like to extend a big thank you! to the experts whose insights contributed to this reports through conversations online and offline, public and in private:

Alaisdair Allan (freelance consultant and author), Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino (Designswarm, IoT London, #iotmark), Ame Elliott (Simply Secure), Boris Adryan (Zu?hlke Engineering), Claire Rowland (UX designer and author), David Ascher, David Li (Shenzhen Open Innovation Lab), Dries de Roeck (Studio Dott), Emma Lilliestam (Security researcher), Geoffrey MacDougall (Consumer Reports), Ge?rald Santucci (European Commission), Holly Robbins (Just Things Foundation), Iskander Smit (info.nl, Just Things Foundation), Jan-Peter Kleinhans (Stiftung Neue Verantwortung), Jason Schultz (NYU), Jeff Katz (Geeny), Jon Rogers (Mozilla Open IoT Studio), Laura James (Doteveryone, Digital Life Collective), Malavika Jayaram (Berkman Klein Center, Digital Asia Hub), Marcel Schouwenaar (Just Things Foundation, The Incredible Machine), Matt Biddulph (Thington), Michelle Thorne (Mozilla Open IoT Studio), Max Kru?ger (ThingsCon), Ronaldo Lemos (ITS Rio), Rosie Burbidge (Fox Williams), Simon Ho?her (ThingsCon), Solana Larsen (Mozilla), Stefan Ferber (Bosch Software Innovation), Thomas Amberg (Yaler), Ugo Vallauri (The Restart Project), Usman Haque (Thingful, #iotmark). Also and especially I’d like to thank the larger ThingsCon and London #iotmark communities for sharing their insights.

Netzpolitik13: Das Internet der Dinge: Rechte, Regulierung & Spannungsfelder

N

My slides from Das ist Netzpolitik (Berlin, 1. September 2017). Title: “Das Internet der Dinge: Rechte, Regulierung & Spannungsfelder“.

Vom Hobby-Basteln bis hin zur Smart City: Das Internet of Things (#IoT) hat zunehmend Berührungspunkte mit allen Bereichen unseres Lebens. Aber wer bestimmt was erlaubt ist, was mit unseren Daten passiert, und ob es OK ist, unter die Haube zu gucken? IoT sitzt an der Schnittstelle vieler Technologie-, Governance- und Regulierungsbereiche—und schafft dadurch gleich eine ganze Reihe von Spannungsfeldern.

Due to technical issues with the video projection, my slides weren’t shown for the first few minutes. Apologies. On the plus side, the organizers had kindly put a waving cat on the podium for me. ?

It’s a rare talk in that I gave it in German, something I’m hardly used to these days.

In it, I argue that IoT poses a number of particular challenges that we need to address (incl. the level of complexity and blurred lines across disciplines and expertise; power dynamics; and transparency). I outline inherent tensions and propose a few approaches on how to tackle them, especially around increasing transparency and legibility of IoT products.

I conclude with a call for Europe to actively take a global leadership role in the area of consumer and data protection, analog to Silicon Valley’s (claimed/perceived) leadership in disruptive innovation as well as funding/scaling of digital products, and to Shenzhen’s hardware manufacturing leadership.

Netzpolitik has an extensive write-up in German.

Monthnotes for August 2017

M

August came and went quickly: It was a comparatively short month here at The Waving Cat once you subtract vacation time, and so we spent it largely distraction free, heads-down, on writing.

A quick note: I’m doing capacity planning for fall & winter. If you’d like to explore working together, get in touch now. First come, first serve!

Talks

I have a few talks coming up:

  • On 1 September (ie. this coming Friday) I’ll be speaking at Netzpolitik‘s annual conference Das ist Netzpolitik!, in German, about tensions inherent in the power dynamics of IoT as well as the regulatory environment: Das Internet der Dinge: Rechte, Regulierung und Spannungsfelder.
  • In October, I’ll be giving a lecture on communications and IoT at Dresden University, where if logistics work out I’ll be chatting a bit about the practitioner’s side of IoT. (Details TBD).
  • On 9 November, also in Berlin, I’ll be at SimplySecure‘s conference Underexposed (program). My talk there is called The Internet of Sneaky Things. I’ll be exploring how IoT security, funding and business models, centralization and data mining, and some larger challenges around the language we use to consider the impact of data-driven systems combined all form a substantial challenge for all things related to IoT. But it’s not all bleak. There are measures we can—and through ThingsCon, we do—take.

Trustmarks for IoT

Consumers don’t necessarily trust connected devices (IoT). Maybe more importantly, many products that are part of IoT do not deserve trust. Too many security holes, too much data gathering and sharing, bad business practices are all all-to-common occurrences.

So I’m very happy to be working on two projects in this space. (For completeness’ sake, some early thoughts of mine on the subject.)

For Mozilla, I’ve been doing research into the potential of trustmarks for IoT. The research and report are pretty much wrapped up after August. We’re currently gathering a last round of feedback from key stakeholders, and there’s a last round of final copy-editing to come. Then the report should be done and published in full within the next couple of months. (Disclosure: My partner Michelle Thorne works at Mozilla.)

I’m particularly excited to hear whispers that some core recommendations might be used in the national IoT policy of a major nation. If this truly comes to pass, then I’ll know why I do what I do. ?

The second project is the #iotmark initiative, co-founded by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino and Usman Haque (both friends, collaborators, and ThingsCon alumni) that tries to develop a consumer label for IoT products. Together with Laura James of UK charity Doteveryone, my role is to look into governance questions. There are a lot of moving parts and open questions, but we’re all slowly getting organized, and I think it’s a tremendous group to be part of.

View Source: Shenzhen

Our friends & many-time collaborators over at The Incredible Machine have just flipped the switch on the new site for View Source: Shenzhen. All our research & documentation from our two research trips to Shenzhen in one place. It’s all there, waiting to be explored by you. What are you waiting for?

Learn more about View Source: Shenzhen.

ThingsCon

ThingsCon didn’t really take a summer break, I guess! Instead, the new ThingsCon chapter in Copenhagen will host their first ThingsCon Salon as part of Copenhagen Tech Fest (6 Sep). The annual ThingsCon Amsterdam conference is shaping up to be the biggest global ThingsCon event yet (30 Nov – 1 Dec). The chapter in Antwerp is even pioneering a new experimental format: A ThingsCon Comedy Special. There’ll be another round of ThingsCon Salons in Amsterdam, Berlin, Cologne. And we’re hopefully-almost-nearly ready for announcements spanning the globe from Pakistan to the Philippines, from Manila to Nairobi. All the details are up on thingscon.com/events.

Also, the founding paperwork for our members association in Germany has finally been processed: The Verein is now eingetragen, officially making it ThingsCon e.V. This will make it a lot easier to interface with other organizations for advocacy, fundraising and partnerships.

Zephyr Berlin

Over at Zephyr Berlin, we have a summer sale on—free shipping worldwide! Use the discount code SUMMER to get your pair today!

What’s on the horizon?

The next few weeks will go into wrapping up/advancing the Trustmarks for IoT project, as well as planning for the rest of the year. Besides the talks mentioned at the top of this post, I’m also looking at Mozfest and some #iotmark-related workshops, yet to be confirmed. Then, starting in October, it looks like there’s some availability, so hit me up if you’d like to discuss new projects.

Communications science & the internet of things

C

Recently, the University of Dresden confirmed Dr. Sven Engesser to be a professor. Among other things, he’ll be doing research into the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s 2017, there’s nothing unusual about a professorship in IoT. What stands out, though, is the discipline: Sven Engesser is a professor in communication science, which for a long time had somewhat dropped the ball when it came to IoT.

For full disclosure, Sven has been a long-time close friend of mine since we studied together in Berlin. While he pursued a career in academia a did tremendous research into social media and populism as well as climate change media coverage, I went on to work in the private sector as a strategic advisor and researcher in IoT and other emerging technologies.

Now, with his new professorship, I’m delighted to see that Sven will be researching how IoT changes communications, especially interpersonal communications, especially in and around the home. There’s a lot to dig into there: How do connected devices change how we communicate with each other and the built environment? What do personal assistants like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Siri mean for the gatekeeper function to information? There are many, many questions worth pondering, and nobody better suited to do so.

As far as I can tell, communications sciences haven’t really dealt much with IoT. When I studied communication science at Freie Universität Berlin, I still had to struggle to even get an internet angle into my studies. This got better towards the end of my masters, as I had more freedom to choose my own subjects. (My final thesis examined the role of weblogs for the role of political journalists in Germany, ca. 2006. Spoiler: In Germany, they played practically no role at all, unlike in the US.) It was too early for IoT, of course, but I don’t think that IoT was covered much even since.

It don’t think it was always that way. Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) was, I believe, a hot area for communication studies and social theory for a long time, back to the 1960s. Then, with the advent of the internet, comms science seemed to zoom in on how the internet transformed media—meaning mass media, or the fracturing of the “mass” aspect due to personalized media consumption. But I digress.

I’m sure there is a slew of researchers from a comms sciences background pouring into this field, and I couldn’t be happier. This is a discipline that has a lot to add to this conversation, and a voice that needs to be heard besides all the computer scientists, interaction designers, and MBAs.

Personally I’m also very happy that Sven invited me to speak at one of the first sessions of his new fall/winter semester lectures on communications and IoT at Dresden University, where if logistics work out I’ll be chatting a bit about the practitioner’s side of IoT.

There’s a whole generation of comms science students who I hope I can give some relevant pointers to issues worthy of their research efforts: Responsible IoT, good data practices, inclusion & diversity, the gender angles of personal assistants, and dynamics of power & control in centralized networked services come to mind; there are many more.