“Pervasive IA for the Sentient City” - Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati at EuroIA 2011

 by Martin Belam, 24 September 2011

I’m trying to “live blog” my notes from EuroIA in Prague as quickly as I can. Here are my takeaway points from Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati’s talk about pervasive IA in our cities, which has just finished. You’ll have to be forgiving of an above average number of typos...

Download all of my EuroIA 2011 blog posts as one printable PDF or for iBooks

Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati - “Pervasive IA for the Sentient City”

“Everything we do in the digital space is more a less a consequence of the fact that we are brilliant monkeys” - Andrea Resmini

Cities are not just buildings, they are emergent systems. They were built mostly for defence, but the unintended consequence was that we developed “civilisation”. 50% of the world population lives in cities. But the question is, can we apply “information architecture” to a physical place? We often get lost because of bad UX in cities.

We can now perceive our cities as an information flow - for example the Wall Street Journal project to map check-ins on Foursquare. Luca reminded us of the classic information-seeking behaviour model of “Directed/Undirected” and “Active/Passive” search, because this are not anchored in a specific digital context. This are how people find and process information in the physical world as well. People tend to follow the principle of “least effort”, so we might only spend 1% of time actively searching for information, but 80% of information finding is ambient.

If you think about the city as a living or processing system, Andrea added, you realise that a lot of the information that might help our laziness is actually there. We already have apps and mobiles and websites, and we have lots of interactions with sensors and cameras even if we don’t know it. Typically though, city IA has been top-down. You have maps, and plotted navigation. Signs, for example, are static directions to the places that someone else thinks you will be interested in. But bottom-up, or “desire paths” emerge all the time - for example taking short-cuts around street furniture or road layouts that erode a bit of lawn, and make a clearer signal to the next person that the short-cut is available.

This happens digitally too, said Andrea. Think about Twitter, he argued, a relatively dumb technology that has evolved into a complicated communications infrastructure thanks to user-driven initiatives like hashtags and @replies.

He showed an example of where New York is trying to bring that top-down and bottom-up together. The New York Bike Share scheme is trying to crowd-source the location of where the bike stands will be, by allowing citizens to specify their ideal locations on a map. They might not listen in the end, but at least they have the data to ignore.

Something that particularly caught my attention was when Andrea referenced Scott Jenson, talking about the myopia of apps - specifically around the issue of bus stops.

“Right now, if I want to see when a bus will arrive nearby, I need to get the city bus app (native or web based, it doesn't matter). Then, I have a fairly complex task to find not only the bus line I want to take (if I even know the correct one), but also which particular stop I'm at. Even the best-designed apps will require significant effort and understanding to do this.

In my opportunistic cluster model, the bus stop I am standing in front of *is* the app. I open my phone and I'm looking at what *this* bus stop has to offer. It's the purest form of progressive disclosure: it shows me the immediate, obvious information needed, but with some small bit of functionality near the bottom for the full ‘city bus app’ experience. This is the complete opposite of the current app experience today.”

I sympathise with that. The experiment to make countdown information about bus arrivals available by TfL is impressive, but at this trial stage it has some really frustrating annoyances - for example, I can get two different buses home, but they leave from two different bus stops at Walthamstow Central. Because the bus stops are so close together on the map, it is incredibly difficult to select them individually, and there is no way to get a uniform view of which bus stop will get me to my ultimate destination faster.

I really enjoyed this talk, and it reminded me of a couple of other great presentations I’ve seen on similar themes about sentient cities and objects allowing us to live our lives more efficiently. You might be interested in:


Plenty more to come from EuroIA, and I expect to be blogging notes during the rest of today, and mopping up things I missed tomorrow. The next post will be about iPads, kids and design lessons for adults from Wouter Sluis-Thiescheffer & Brian Pagán.

This is one of a series of blog posts about EuroIA 2011 in Prague. You can download all of the blog posts as one printable PDF or for iBooks.

All your EuroIA 2011 slides are belong to us
“Designing today’s web” - Luke Wroblewski
“The IA of /Culture” - Martin Belam
“Navigating the Digital Spice Route” - Terry Ma
“Extending the Storytelling - Blending IA and Content Strategy” - Boon Sheridan
“Pervasive IA for the Sentient City” - Andrea Resmini and Luca Rosati
iPads, kids and design lessons for adults - Wouter Sluis-Thiescheffer & Brian Pagán
“Understanding the Nature of Resistance” - Alla Zollers
“Does a Rich GUI Make the Bank Richer?” - Haakon Halvorsen & Kjetil Hansen
“Designing for Everyone, Anywhere, at Any Time” - Anna Dahlström
“Truth and Dare – Out of the Echo-Chamber, into the Fire” - My critique of Jason Mesut at EuroIA 2011
“The Rise and Fall...and Rise Again of Information Architecture” - Bob Royce
“Fill in the IA gap” - Mags Hanley

You might also be interested in:
All your IA Summit 2011 slides are belong to us
All your UPA 2011 slides are belong to us
All your EuroIA 2010 slides are belong to us

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