Hold the R'FID beans…

…first up, I know the post title is an awful pun on refried beans… but hey, if a boy can’t use an awful pun on a Friday, when can he..?

Anyway, to the point; the whole RFID tag on supermarket items thing – are people barking up the wrong tree?

Some background…

I wrote a post here which covers this in more detail, but for a while now there’s been a lot of stuff around talking about how life would be wonderful if everything sold on a supermarket’s shelves came embedded with a little RFID tag…


…so that you could do all sorts of handy things with it.  When you took things home and kept them in your house, an RFID reader in your fridge or cupboards would know what you’ve got at home, what you need for certain recipes, what you need to pick up on the way etc etc etc.

As I say, read more about it here if you wanna.  It’s all very handy, all very exciting…

…but it ain’t here in any significant way yet.

And the reality, as this state of the market report from ReadWriteWeb says, is currently quite a way off, for various reasons; the cost of implementation, getting all suppliers to sign up, efficiency of technology and so on.

Whilst we wait for the business world to sort something out with better tech… will we see ordinary people just bodge and hack a version that works for them?

Say what you see…

Tim O’Reilly and John Battelle recently wrote a white paper called Web Squared: Web 2.0 five years on (found via ReadWriteWeb again).  In it, they talked about how RFID might not the way we extract ‘identity data’ from real world objects:

“A bottle of wine on your supermarket shelf (or any other object) needn’t have an RFID tag to join the Internet of Things, it simply needs you to take a picture of its label. Your mobile phone, image recognition, search, and the sentient web will do the rest. We don’t have to wait until each item in the supermarket has a unique machine-readable ID. Instead, we can make do with bar codes, tags on photos, and other “hacks” that are simply ways of brute-forcing identity out of reality.”

So, for example, think about the way QR codes worked… they used cameras hooked to computers (your mobile, most likely) to turn an image into data:


So, when you saw a bottle of pepsi with a QR code on it, you could use your phone to capture the data from the code, access the content etc etc etc…


Think what’s going on though… all the camera is doing is recognising shapes, colours, patterns.

And can of Pepsi Max is, visually, shapes, colours and patterns too… it’s more complex, admittedly, but with the advancements in augmented reality (more great examples of that here) rapidly improving all the time, cameras will be able to recognise packaging as it comes off the shelf.


Then, if we can teach a computer to recognise packaging… can we teach it to recognise the visual signs of how much of the product we have left?

For instance…


I know this bottle of Pepsi is finished.  You know it’s finished too.  I wonder how far we are away from teaching a computer to realise that it’s finished, or half empty, or has been open for a week so is probably flat…

Because then what you might do is just stick the equivalent of a mobile phone camera in the inside of a fridge door, and when you need to have a look in the fridge… well, you just bring up the iPhone app that connects to the fridge camera and determines what’s in there.


Which as my missus will tell you, is going to be a lot more efficient and reliable than sending me to look in the fridge… I can never find anything…

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that by the time RFID gets around to being implemented by creating physical ways of making it feasible and reliable, there may be a non-physical way of capturing and interpreting the same data.

‘Twas ever thus, eh..?


The Social Lego Principles

Hello there, Feeding The Puppy readers… fancy working together on a wee project?  OK, read on…

Over the last few months, there’s been a couple of recurring themes here on Feeding The Puppy.  Firstly, Twitter has been cropping up almost weekly, from Dell’s $2m Twitter revenue stream to the use of it to power events like SXSW

It’s safe to say that it’s stepped beyond ‘fad’ – microblogging is teaching people that the sharing of small pieces of information not only connects them to other people, it can create something very useful too. 

You may remember that we like connecting and useful things.


Secondly, my ongoing Lego obsession shows no sign of abating; it’s probably a combination of the fact that I grew up with it, and that as a company they’ve embraced their community to continually deliver a whole raft of interesting, engaging and delightful ideas about how to add even more magic to their products…

For instance, I was in Brighton with Helen and Dad on Sunday, and I took them into the Lego shop there to look at the augmented reality boxes they have… the look on the faces of all the kids & their parents in the store was brilliant. 

(Basically you hold up the box in front of the screen, and the model magically appears on top of the box to show you what it will look like in 3D… get yourself along to a Lego store and give it a shot)


…see, I’ve gone off in another Lego trip again.  If you want to know all about how ‘Lego caught the Cluetrain’, you should spend 40 minutes over lunch watching the brilliant Jake McKee talk about his 5 years there as Lego Community Manager:

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Anyway, beyond ‘Lego the company’, I think ‘Lego the concept’ could well make for a brilliant analogy for how you can think about Twitter and other social media. 

So I’ve started to pull together the following, which I’m going to call…


The purpose of these principles is to create something that’s very easy for people who perhaps aren’t as au fait with the social media landscape to ‘get it’, and start thinking about it themselves.  Because if more people start to understand what’s going on, I think our world will be a better place for it.


I’ve created three principles as a start point – please comment, improve, refine, develop those initial three. 

Then there are obviously more principles than that, so how would you extend the analogy?  As a form, I think it works ok as…

– a short title

– an example from the world of Lego play

– how that example works in the world of social media

So here’s my first three…


If you pick up a single block, it’s a not a very interesting thing.  Even a few of them together just look like a vaguely similar collection of objects.  The really cool stuff starts when you have enough blocks available to start building something meaningful.

Which is why it’s hard to understand what the fuss is with something like Twitter by just looking at one person’s account, or looking at individual tweets.  The more blocks you connect together, the more interesting things become.


No kid in the world has ever sat down with a box of Lego for the first time and built a scale replica of the Death Star.  It takes a while to figure out what blocks go together, what looks good, what works, how many of each type of block you’ll find.

Building something in social media takes time and practice.  The more small things you learn to create along the way, the more tips and tricks you’ll pick up for the future.  If you build a person, then a car, then a house and a street, soon you’ll have a good idea how to build a town.


Everyone in the world owns a unique Lego set.  It’s made up of the models they own, the pieces they’ve lost and the ones they’ve acquired.  They also like putting things together in their own unique, creative, individual way.  As a result, if you ask everyone to build a car, each car will look different.

Coming from the mass media age where everything looked the same, worked along the same rules, this is a big change to get your head around.  Controlled consistency is out, homogeneous case studies pointless; embrace the wonder of differentiation.

…and now, over to the other people posting below… I’ve brought thier principles up here, and made an image & title for them…

From David Wilding


DW: “It’s all well and good having a safari set and a motorway set or whatever, [but] it actually gets really fun when you merge the sets together to create bigger “uber-lego”; the sort of lego hybrid that the people who designed the sets hadn’t imagined you would make when they created it… point I’m making here is about how social networks and apps all crunch together to create something quite cool

I totally agree.  Think about the boxes of Lego you were given as a kid.  When they all found themselves in the big central bucket, that’s when things really got interesting.  Equally, when Twitter links to a blog or to Facebook or to Google Maps… wonderful things can happen; better than anything any one social media tool can do on its own.

From Carrie Morley


CM: “When I was little, my cousin and my brother used to spend hours at my grannies making battle ships out of lego. They would then put them in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs and drop ‘bombs’ (also make from lego…) and break them to pieces… perhaps what gets constructed quickly is so thrilling because of the speed and ease by which it can be deconstructed, pulled to pieces, and (perhaps) then made better the next time around…”

An excellent point that contains a lot of what social media allows you to do… get small, fast projects started, refine and improve on the hoof, learn new tips and tricks and quickly make the next version just that bit better than the last.  ‘Always In Beta’, as Russell Davies would say.

From Justin Gibbons @ Work


JG: “get kids involved and it takes on a new dimension, things you’d never think of like making a cake from lego, really raw creativity”

Kids don’t stop to ask things like ‘but why would people join in?’, ‘how long will it take?’, and especially not ‘what’s the ROI likely to be?’.  Kids build lots of things, and they build them because, well, it looks fun to do.  Some work, some don’t, but they learn lessons quickly and move on.

If you can tap into that mindset, and involve your customers and fans, where you’re building things in social media, you’re more likely to build something that other people want to play with too.

From Mat Riches


MR: “I also love the fact that there was Duplo for beginners and Lego and then Lego Technics.  You could get as involved and as deep into it as you wanted, and as you got more and more dextrous or nimble fingered…”

Mat rightly points out Lego have successfully realised with the extension of the main blocks into a simpler form for toddlers, and a more complex form for teens.  There are a raft of different capabilities around social media, both for companies and the people they wish to connect with. 

If you’re connecting to a really web savvy, passionate audience you could build a Ning site to set up your own social network.  If you’re connecting to my mum, you may be better off with a simple Facebook group.  But bear in mind technology is just the means to an end… unless there’s something there that people actually want to do, no matter how suitable the technology they won’t join in.

From Clare de Burca


CdB: “No kid I know has the patience / skills to do lego on their own.  As such it gets used as a joint activity – eg a friend of mine recently gave his 7 year old a model of the death star for xmas and spent a few hours each weekend working through it with him.  They finished it in march.  Its a very cool thing but 90% of the point was the time spent together doing it.”

Collaboration is a huge lesson from Lego, thanks Clare.  If you build things together, you all learn faster.  You all believe in the models and projects you build, so don’t tear each other’s stuff down.  And the more you do together, the faster and more impressive it gets.  And if one person gets too dominant and controlling, it damages the project, and everyone starts to drift away…


Start contributing in the comments below, and I’ll start pulling them up into the main body of the post here.  Then I’ll compile as a slideshare deck when we’re done…

…we’re obviously missing principles on collaboration, sharing, combining platforms and more besides… if you want a spot more inspiration to get you started, then you can do infinitely worse than look through Mashable’s newly collated Twitter Guidebook



The future of gaming arrives in 2010

When the Wii first came out, Nintendo took gaming into a whole new place; if you didn’t like learning to use fiddly little controllers (and remembering to press >>XO>< or something) to control games, then there was a brilliant intuitive alternative in the Wii remote.

Even the Redknapps could use it:


(I’d like to believe there’s a whole generation of technologists and designers who know sit for hours refining their inventions so that they pass ‘the Redknapp test’…)

Anyway, it was only a matter of time before Sony & Microsoft got in on the act, and in the last two days we’ve seen big announcements from both.

First up, Sony are giving us the PlayStation Motion Controller (via ENGADGET).  It consists of two parts; a little wand like device featuring some buttons and a glowing globe at the top, and a camera that you perch atop your TV to watch you waving it around.


Watch this video of the presentation to see it in action, and to learn a lot more about it:

It looks pretty darn cool, taking a lot of the technology we’ve seen in the infancy of augmented reality and moving it up another good few levels.

Yet it remains a controller, and it still has buttons on it… because, say Sony, buttons are still something we’ll need when playing games.

Buttons are something that Microsoft are proposing we don’t need in the future.

Have a look at this: it’s called Project Natal

If this works like it looks like it works, it’s going to be an absolute revolution in not only how we play games, but for everything where we want to interact with a screen.

Yeah, I know, that looks like another Microsoft high production piece with actors… so here’s a live demo from the announcement:

What’s more, it’s something that will work with every XBox 360 that’s out in the world already.

Both devices will be available in 2010 it seems… which isn’t a long time away at all. 

You’ve got to think that the XBox system is the game changer here; it revolutionises gaming, and the base system is already installed in more homes – this report from the Guardian suggests worldwide sales of 30 million for the XBox 360, versus 22 million for PS3.  Both are trailing the 50 million selling Wii).

But if there’s one thing that’s for certain it’s this; given the amount of jumping, running, kicking and punching we’ll be doing in the future, we’re all going to need bigger living rooms and unbreakable vases… ]]>

The Star Trek Holodeck: coming soon


Just in from PSFK, this news; the Star Trek Holodeck is coming.  Woo-hoo!  Apparently IDEO have been testing it out with a company called EON reality.  Still very expensive, or course, but expect prices to plummet soon I’d imagine.

In the PSFK article, they say allude to something I’ve believed for a long time…

“…many hold Star Trek as an inspiration pool for future technologies”

Not just Star Trek, of course; I believe most Sci-fi can offer us inspiration for what actual real world products and relationships we’re going to see in the future. 

It’s clear why too; take some creative thinking people (writers, fantasists, storytellers etc), and get them to invent a view of the world way off in the future, where they can innovate to their hearts content; creating technologies unbounded by the realities that face engineers, designers and the people who actually have to build stuff, and situations where society is changed beyond recognition.

My personal favourite is probably Iain M Banks‘ work with a future society he calls ‘The Culture’.   From Wikipedia…

The Culture is a fictional anarchist, socialistic, and utopian society created by the Scottish writer Iain M. Banks and described by him in several of his novels and shorter fictions.

The Culture is characterised by being a post-scarcity society (meaning that its advanced technologies provide practically limitless material wealth and comforts for everyone for free, having all but abolished the concept of possessions), by having overcome almost all physical constraints on life (including disease and death) and by being an almost totally egalitarian, stable society without the use of any form of force or compulsion, except where necessary to protect others.

Now, that may sound quite a long way from where we are at the moment… but within it you start to see elements of today’s world.  Specifically in the case of The Culture, the notion of ‘post-scarcity’ where everything, and anything, is free to the members of society…

…with Chris Anderson’s forthcoming book, Free is going to feature a lot in the conversations we have over the next five years I think.

So, to prepare yourself…

Read Chris Anderson’s original ‘free’ essay here:


…and get yourself a copy of the brilliant Iain M Banks book ‘The Player of Games‘…


…and hell, you should really go and see the new Star Trek film too…

Welcome to the future.  Or at the very least, thinking about it…


Augmented Reality: who needs screens?

Mark in the NYC office just posted this video, from the ever excellent TED series of videos.  It’s a stunningly ingenious idea, wait till the examples start coming thick and fast about halfway through…

I think that whereas a lot of the augmented reality stuff I’ve shared before previously makes it necessary for you to view the world through a screen (see here for a reminder), this really does take it to the next level.

Instead of peering at the real world through the tech equivalent of 3D cinema glasses, something like this projector system actually augments the world you live in. 



Augmented Reality; for when the world is just a little dull…

I’ve posted a few things up here and there on Augmented Reality before, but I thought given the sheer amount of new stuff that’s coming along, I’d try a little round up of what it is, great examples etc…

So, the name pretty neatly captures what it is; using technology to overlay another level on top of what you see. 

Wikipedia describes it as “the combination of real-world and computer-generated data (virtual reality), where computer graphics objects are blended into real footage in real time.”

Think about the way that a Disney animator used to layer the animation frames on top of a background… the background is the real world, and the actually animated characters are the computer generated stuff.


The easiest way to understand it though is of course to see it in action.

One of the best examples I’ve seen recently is this by Frantz Lasome… it makes you really envious of kids who’re born into this world:

Augmented Reality Toys (Work in progress) from Frantz Lasorne on Vimeo.

(from PSFK)

Then over on Dazzleships (our sister agency OMD’s blog), Sam’s shown some great examples like the one from Lego, who’ve used the technology to show what the finished model will look like if you hold the box up to the camera, all in lovely 3D:

And finally, I thought I’d show something that explores the rich vein of ‘useful’ stuff that’s coming through too; ‘Wikitude’ takes the GPS positioning from a suitable phone (such as the G1 in this example), then presents you with an augmented view of your surroundings through the window… pointing out ‘points of interest’ to you:

All in all, it’s a really exciting area, ideal for fulfilling any of the entertaining, educational, useful or connective criteria that brands must be creating in place of top down monologues.

Have a look through the Wikipedia listing for some more ideas on where Augmented Reality could be useful for you…