A week ago I jumped on a plane and like a man with seven mile boots landed in Oslo to participate in the NordiCHI 2006 Touch Workshop arranged by Timo Arnall. It was quite an interesting experience, since most of the time I am surrounded by engineers who have a very, um, particular way of thinking. Well, I'm an engineer too, and I find my brain so often constrained by the way it has been taught to think that I am beginning to find it frustrating. It's good to have the old noodle poked with a different stick in a different pan every now and then...
Anyway, I gave a short talk on some NFC security issues - only five minutes time and two pages so I couldn't say all I wanted, but maybe I managed to embed the seed into people's minds: security is something you need to think at the very beginning of the application design; you can't just treat it as a black box you draw on a board next to your other boxes and expect someone else to take care of it once you're done with development. Trust is lost easily, and regaining it is a long and complicated process. (As an example, witness this NYT article on "cracking" contactless credit cards. Simple screwups like this make it a lot harder to make people take the whole thing more seriously.)
Where the real fun ensued was during the actual workshop phase, where everyone was asked to create a physical prototype. Since we were at the Oslo School for Architecture, there were tools and materials available, so - after a relatively complicated and frankly speaking, crappy, process of choosing topics - we split into a bunch of groups and started working on the prototypes.
Alex and I veered a bit off to the side from our group, and started brainstorming an idea which revolved around culturally recognizable symbols - something that a particular peer group might recognize, but nobody else. For example, most Finns might recognize the ubiquitous "Gifu" - i.e. the "Sisu" salt licorice brand. Or Star Trek fans would recognize the Starfleet symbol. The idea was to deploy these in the city to be picked up by people so that they could then get into contact with this peer group by simply touching it with a NFC-enabled mobile phone. (How's it better than Googling? Because there's something to be said about the physical world as well. I am a strong believer in that once we've poked around enough with this "anytime anywhere with anyone" -stuff, we'll start appreciating our immediate environments a bit more again.)
I also put pictures of the other teams products into my Flickr stream. Check out
Anyway, thanks to all who participated. This was heaps of fun - and hopefully, useful as well. NFC as "anything but the credit card stuff" is still quite a lot in its baby steps, but a workshop like this shows well how it is inherently hackable - in a good sense of the word. All the prototypes were put together in just a few measly hours - and they're far better in crystallizing ideas than endless powerpoint shows describing how great an app is going to be once it's ready in 18 months. Things that make people think are always good. NFC is certainly tickling the creative nerve of people, whether they're thinking about barhopping or annotating the physical world.
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