Thursday, July 16, 2009

Using Interactivity to Fight Teenage Obesity

In, Mike Cassidy recently did a story on Hopelab, a nonprofit technology incubator in Redwood City. Hopelab is working on a unique idea to reduce teenage obesity.

Hopelab built gDitty, a product that grew out of an interest in combining technology games with health care. Philanthropist Pam Omidyar came up with the vision when she started HopeLab in 2001.

The idea of gDitty appears - as is the case with all good innovations - quite simple. Cassidy reports that gDitty is an accelerometer-based device that kids can carry in their pocket or clip on their clothes. The gDitty measures and stores data on any moderate to vigorous movement. The data is then uploaded to a Web site where kids now testing the device can see how their exertion is increasing or decreasing. They can also compare their scores with other users (identified by screen names) across the country.

And kids can cash in points for prizes, such as iTunes or Amazon gift cards.Because the gDitty measures all significant movement, kids rack up points for walking, climbing stairs or doing household chores.

Children in test groups increased their daily activity by 35 percent, the company reports.

Ingenuous, isn't it? What I find most noteworthy about this product idea is that it exploits interactivity in the teenager's natural environment. To provide input to the program, the user has to do nothing special, just move about as usual.

This is a point to note for web designers, presentation makers, e-learning developers and other dialog creators. Blend interactivity naturally into the environment of your target audience - be it a blog, a web page, a slide deck or an online course - and the audience will love it. For example, if you want to poll your audience in the middle of a presentation, embed the poll in your PowerPoint. If you wish to encourage conversation amongst site visitors, have a discussion area right there on the web page. Whenever possible, avoid switching to another application for polling, or sending the web site visitor to another page for discussions. Preserve context, and interactions become more natural and meaningful.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The future of interactivity

“The world is flat”, proclaims the title of Thomas Friedman’s international bestseller which analyzes globalization. While the title metaphorically refers to a level playing field amongst businesses everywhere, it also seems to allude unintentionally to the growing number of flat screens we keep looking at in the course of a day. Between the laptop, smart phone, TV, gaming console, book reader and navigator device, we increasingly endeavor to experience life through these screens, driven by software. Good news for software developers? Depends.

People don't just want to stare at screens. They want a two-way dialog. They want to actively participate in things happening online, and not just watch passively. Little wonder, then, that people are increasingly demanding interactivity in this serious business of dealing with the world through screens. Software developers should understand the implications of this shift. As a food for thought, I have put together ten predictions for the not-so-distant future of interactivity.

10. Users will get a wider choice of input mechanisms. For those of you who use the iPhone or the the Wii, you know what I mean. It’s not just the keyboard and mouse anymore. From accelerometers and multi-touch screens to 3D cameras, there are a host of new input mechanisms vying for mainstream usage.

9. Less will be more. Interactivity designers will have to make life simpler for users. As buy decisions are increasingly shifting to end-users, minimizing user learning curve will become a priority. That means, the less a user needs to learn, the better.

8. Broad platform support will be crucial. At least in the near future, developers will have to make sure they build interactivity according to each client platform’s capabilities, form factor and preferred plug-in. There seems no consensus on a standard in sight.

7. New applications will emerge. In areas where knowledge exchange is at a premium, interactivity will gain momentum. E-learning, presentations, and web pages appear to be good starting points. Other applications will emerge.

6. Technology will evolve. Rapid interactivity will go mainstream, because not everyone wants to write programs, and yet everyone wants control over the look and feel of interactivity through customization.

5. Composite applications will thrive. There will be opportunities to integrate interactivity using mash-ups and embeddable components. Both on-premise and SaaS applications will present such opportunities in the enterprise and consumer software space.

4. Customer interaction will go online. Increasingly, a lot of interaction with customers and other stakeholders will be forced to shift online, and this will create a pull for interactivity.

3. Diverse platforms will support interactivity. While primarily the PC will continue to be best suited for interactive experiences, other devices will also afford unique opportunities for interactivity based on their inherent capabilities and usage patterns.

2. Web 2.0 will increasingly go interactive. User generated content will embrace interactivity through embedded social interactions.

1. End-users will gain the most. As interactivity goes mainstream, bringing about more engaging and meaningful online experiences, the end-user will be the ultimate winner.