The Bridge between Intention and Gesture

Joshua Wide ©Gary Hayes 2005Searching for anything over broadband web and advanced TV systems is going to have to evolve. We are still in the dark ages when it comes to getting relevant content, being forced to type in ‘keywords’ seems to me at least, such a crude, clunky way to get to stuff. I sit at computer and TV screens and would ideally just like to ‘think’ of (visualize, imagine, gesture) something I would like and voila up pops a very select group of items I can then refine. But the telepathic interface is probably a few years off yet at least. For now we move slowly forward, in the consumer facing domain at least, one step at a time. The reason for this post is to highlight two areas of development that are definitely part of the next step. The first is the interface and the second use of metadata. I will be looking at some baby steps Yahoo! is taking with its Mindset work later but first there is a conference in Genoa in a couple of weeks looking at a key new area ‘Enactive Interfaces’. Love the term. Here is their scope:

The scope of the conference is creating a truly multidisciplinary research community on the new generation of human-computer interfaces called Enactive Interfaces.
Enactive Interfaces are related to a fundamental “interaction” concept which is not exploited by most of the existing human-computer interface technologies.
In the symbolic way of learning, knowledge is stored as words, mathematical symbols or other symbol systems, while in the iconic stage knowledge is stored in the form of visual images, such as diagrams and illustrations.
On the other hand, ENACTIVE knowledge is a form of knowledge based on action for apprehension tasks. Enactive knowledge is not simply multisensory mediated knowledge, but knowledge stored in the form of motor responses and acquired by the act of “doing”.
A typical example of enactive knowledge is constituted by the competence required by tasks such as driving a car, dancing, playing a musical instrument, modelling objects from clay, performing sports.
This type of knowledge transmission can be considered the most direct, in the sense that it is natural and intuitive, since it is based on the experience and on the perceptual responses to motor acts.

If you look at their programme pages there are a vast range of alternate ways to interact with our wonderful portals of personalized media. Everything from facial expression controlling what we get, lots of ‘hand movement in the air’, gesture futures through to a pot pourri of audio enactions. I also like the emphasis placed on resonant interfaces, ones that adapt themselves to you. Personalize media of course includes the way we get to our most relevant content. I spent quite a few years looking at personalized interfaces when I was running various BBC cross-media navigator projects. BBC Navigator ©Gary Hayes 2005This became too big to handle at the time and it was at least 8 years ahead of its time, but I managed to generate quite a few demonstrators of a web, tv, mobile, pvr future all exhibiting cross-functionality and personalization – it even included an BBC personality avatar that reflected your personality as you browsed through your content. Might post a full detail of those projects soon if your nice to me! Anyway back to enaction. This is the holy grail of interface design, avoiding as far as possible picking up a keyboard and typing in text, using our bodies and gestures to generate intention – which dovetails nicely into the second part of this post focusing on Yahoo’s Mindset project.

I remember seeing a great demo at IBC a few years ago which showed how you could use a range of classification data and MPEG7 user profile data to narrow down and personalize selection. It used a bunch of sliders that had emotional options. So you could slide it for example between exciting or laid back or between silly or serious. It worked as well as the ‘richness’ of the metadata attached to the content of course but it did pave the way for further thinking in this area. Yahoo Research Labs have picked this up and are now running a beta of a similar approach applied to their search algorithms.

They call it intent driven search and if you play with the beta version you can start to see the potential behind it. At the moment they have one slider that goes between shopping and researching. OK strange bed-fellows but it does highlight that web ‘passive’ usage may be dominated by commercial on one hand and education on the other. I have put in a range of search terms and some are more successful than others – shame they have a sponsors block at the top of the results which is partly confusing. Nevertheless I am sure they are much further down the road than this beta suggests. Here is a little more from their FAQ

We’d like to keep improving and developing Mindset, and so we really value your feedback.. Our primary goal here ain’t to impress you with the results, it’s to give you a look at the underlying technology. We believe machine learning technology is powerful and has many uses. This demo was just one example — using the commercial/non-commercial classification and the search metaphor — of how this technology could be used. After you’ve read more about machine learning in the next section, perhaps you’ll think of other ways it could be used.(snip)
The field of machine learning studies and develops computer algorithms that improve automatically through experience. Machine learning can tackle the problem of automatically learning and replicating a human activity. For example, think of a baby watching what the adults do and mimicking them. Loosely speaking, machine learning technology is like that baby. Machine learning starts with a “seed set” of human-generated data. This seed set is divided into a training set and a test set. Using the training set, the machine “learns” what the human was doing in creating that set, and then it tries to apply that learning to the test set. If it “fails the test”, it goes back to the training set and “relearns”. This iteration continues until the learning is complete. For further reading on machine learning, check out http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~tom/mlbook.html and http://jmlr.csail.mit.edu/.

It is a start and hats off to Yahoo! Research for bringing this future looking area into the popular public domain. And so to building bridges. Looking at enactive interfaces and combining that with intention driven search we have an interesting ‘mash’. Given richly tagged content running in a machine learning based engine imagine being able to gesture with your face or hands to control the search! Subtle hand movements suggest you want more ‘breathtaking’ content, a smile suggests you want something more ‘humourous’. There are several standards including the one I keep harping on about, TV-Anytime, that have defined some rich classifications that we can attach to content. Here is a small example of ‘atmosphere’ metadata as a small part of a much bigger classification matrix defined when I was at TV-Anytime.

TV-Anytime, classification dictionary – atmosphere element
Alternative, Analytical, Astonishing, Ambitious, Black, Breathtaking, Chilling, Coarse, Compelling, Confrontational, Contemporary, Crazy, Cutting edge, Eclectic, Edifying, Exciting, Fast-moving, Frantic, Fun, Gripping, Gritty, Gutsy, Happy, Heart-rending, Heart-warming, Hot, Humorous, Innovative, Insightful, Inspirational, Intriguing, Irreverent, Laid back, Outrageous, Peaceful, Powerful, Practical, Rollercoaster, Romantic, Rousing, Sad, Satirical, Serious, Sexy, Shocking, Silly, Spooky, Stunning, Stylish, Terrifying, Thriller, Violent, Wacky

I do like the idea of generating personalized search and access to even parts of content (segments) using a compelling mixture of gesture and ‘intention/atmosphere’ metadata. Let’s hope someone out there is working in this domain – of course someone is. Perhaps this post may open up a few ideas and someone can run away and create some wonderful IP for themselves, there again, why am I posting this! Where’s the delete button, oh too late ;-)

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

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Content Creation Generation

Zabriske ©Gary Hayes  2005Pew Internet & American Life Project have just published (2 Nov) a really interesting research paper called “Teen Content Creators and Consumers” with some great stats for those of us involved in grappling with the trends of user generated content amongst other things. Conceiving and implementing new services over broadband or advanced TV systems means we have to think carefully about many things but the most important is your audience. Admittedly this report is very US web centric (read: applicable to the rest of the world a few years later?) but there are some real eye-openers. The audience in this report are 12-17 year olds who will of course be both drivers and consumers of emerging media in a few years – what they do now we can potentially map onto the next decade. I also refer to a report Pew did in July on Teens and Tech and pull together key groupings in both reports as they overlap – so it is a bit of a mash-up of the two reports. I start with the stunning US statistic that 21 million 12 to 17 year olds (nearly 90%) regularly use the internet – 11 million daily. Here is an introductory quote from the latest report

Thanks to the internet, American teenagers can engage media material and create their own content in ways their parents could not. Today’s online teens live in a world filled with self-authored, customized, and on-demand content, much of which is easily replicated, manipulated, and redistributable. The internet and digital publishing technologies have given them the tools to create, remix, and share content on a scale that had previously only been accessible to the professional gatekeepers of broadcast, print, and recorded media outlets.

After digesting the reports I broke the stats into key groups as below which helps me at least get some sense of trend. (My comments and links below)

User generated content (blogs, homepages, artwork, photos, stories, video, mashups)
- 57% of online teens create internet content
- A quarter of online teens have their own webpages/blogs (over 4 million generators) vs 7% of adults! (30% update it at least 3 times a week)
- 45% have used IM to send personal photos
- Old teen girls are the heaviest generators of blogs, over a quarter of 15-17 girls keep blogs
- Teen bloggers are big sharers – upto 3 times more likely to create and share than non bloggers and are more ‘copyright’ aware

Consuming user generated content
- Over one third of teens regularly read blogs
- 62% only read blogs from those they already know! Only 2% read blogs from those they don’t.
- 38% of older girls share self-generated content vs 29% of boys

Consuming ‘professional’ content
- 81% play online games (17 million) – compared with 32% of online adults
- 71% get news online
- 51% regularly download music files and 31% download video
- Older boys (15-17) are the dominant music downloaders

Device usage
- 84% of all teenagers own at least one personal media device
- 44% own two or more PM devices
- 18% of teens in US have a laptop
- Three quarters of teens go online in shared, family areas of their home
- 45% have a mobile phone vs 68% of adults

Communication
- Older girls (15-17) lead in use of email, text, IM etc:
- Exactly a third of all teens in US send SMS – dominated by older girls
- Over half using IM have included a link to a website in their messages
- 31% of teens use IM to send music or video files vs 5% of adults
- Teens prefer IM to email and 75% use it vs 42% of adults
- Nearly half of IM teens have more than one screen name and 60% use icons or avatars
- Nearly 40% have pretended to be someone else on IM

Lots of statistics to get ones head around sure. To finish with some findings that stand out for me on first pass collating them – apart from the basic eye-opening numbers. Through the act of sharing teens become more aware of copyright issues – a strategy to reduce piracy perhaps, get them to make stuff to realise the value of ‘taking’ stuff. That young bloggers become content creators – might be obvious, but the ease of use of self-publishing tools obviously generators a comfort zone and encourages other forms of self-expression and sharing, so simple tools to make ‘pro-looking/sounding’ content will always be a good idea for service creators.

The last statistic that stood like the proverbial sore thumb was what blogs teens read. Amazingly only 2% read blogs from people they don’t know! Does this suggest a slightly blinkered view of the world or that they perceive blogs are being more about ‘personal thought’ than ‘information and broadening horizons’. I suppose given the natural parental concern (the “my kid has a public diary!” mentality) which is also referred to in the report means that they are discouraged from reading stranger blogs. It seems in the US at least much of the user generated revolution is an extension of their normal peer networks - the July report mentions that teens have a average of 20 dedicated friends in their network and this is reflected in their IM buddy list which are indeed those friends.

As at the end of the best ‘dodgy’ 1950s TV dramas (and Springer), the epilogue – there is a distinct shift in human communication happening of course led by this next generation. Teens in these reports are spending nearly as much time physically with their friends (10hrs) as virtually (8hrs). Their ‘virtual comm’ preferences also show that although the phone is still a dominant force IM is 2-10 times preferred than face-to-face when wanting to chat, talk about private things or critical conversation. What are the implications of this? I will leave that to further debate, one thing is sure though - in terms of keeping in touch with multiple people at the same time we are all having to develop strategies in our time poor worlds, teens are already someway down the road in using cross-media to do this. IM is a preferred multi-strand narrative route for them, blogging perhaps a way to track/archive and tell their own stories and easy media creation tools a way to self-express, make and share original material. Learning to personalize their world and their media for friends and family means a generation of trained communicators, and that is definitely a good thing.

Links to studies
Teen Content Creators and Consumers – 2 Nov 2005
Direct PDF link

Teens and Technology – 27 July 2005
Direct PDF link

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

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Turning point already!

Having Gartner call this a ‘good result’ to me seems a gross under-valuation of what is really happening. I got the impression that the tiny number of videos on the iTunes video store when it opened last month suggested a big uncertainty in Apples mind about how the market would respond. The article iTunes customers lap up video points out that in less than 20 days over 1 million videos have been legally downloaded, and sure as expected probably 20 times that (portable screen specific videos) are moving around peer-to-peer networks destined for iPods and PSPs in the same time. Steve Jobs though simply gets back to business

Our next challenge is to broaden our content offerings, so that customers can enjoy watching more videos on their computers and new iPods,” he said in a statement.

If Apple can close a few more video distribution deals quickly (as it did with music) we could really be at the beginning of a portable video revolution. See my last post on the topic which goes into some more detail about this specific transformation. One thing that is left hanging of course and what I would be very interested in is the clincher argument - how many of these videos are being watched on computers, how many are actually consumed on the move and how many are used frequently on both? Anyone out there able to throw light on that?

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

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Pieces of our stories

Crystal Palace Park ©Gary Hayes 2005Having just co-written a DTI paper about the future for time shifted TV and VOD in the UK and done several posts on the subject about tools to personalize video content it was a great treat to find two projects that have reached alpha at least falling squarely in the personalize media zone. The first is from an ex-colleague (on his last day at the BBC!) who tell us about an internal project that takes the concept of collaborative editing (ala wiki) and applies it to rich media – in this case audio . Tom Coates posted some quite detailed information about his Annotatable Audio project. OK this is not rocket science, I was involved in several broadcast projects doing the same with video in early 2000, but it is a simple idea that has far reaching social consequences for personal and professional media consumption. The USP of this as a simple av tagging tool is that it is what could be described (using current terminology) as a conceptual mash-up – a tool for collaborative rich media annotation, wiki meets av metatagging. To begin with and on the theme of my last post on UGC here is Tom’s context:

“… An on-demand archive is going to make the number of choices available to a given individual at any point almost completely unmanageable. And then there’s the user-generated content - the amateur and semi-professional creations, podcasts and the like that are proliferating across the internet. In the longer term there are potentially billions of these media creators in the world.”

And the bit of his post that makes this unique and a taste of things to come:

But it gets much more exciting when you actually delve a bit deeper. If you want to edit the information around a piece of audio, then just like on a wiki you just click on the ‘edit / annotate’ tab. …you can change the title to something more accurate, add any wiki-style content you wish to in the main text area and add or delete the existing fauxonomic metadata. If you want to delete a segment you can. If you need to keep digging around to explore the audio, you can do so. It’s all amazingly cool, and I’m incredibly proud of the team that made it.

When I was leading the media applications elements of TV-Anytime we defined many ways that ‘segments’ (parts of the whole rich media temporal property) could be used in creative ways. Everything from capturing pieces onto several devices to create a whole experience through to more attractive business models such as targeted segment, replacement insertion or to put it another way – segments that you would like dropped into and around other content, contextualized or not.

Another group looking at the collaborative annotation space is Ourmedia. Described as “The global home for Grassroots media” (didn’t realise that Grassroots is still being used as a term!) they are going beyond just audio though and richly segmented annotated video on the web is a big part of their roadmap. Firstly what they do:

Video blogs, photo albums, home movies, podcasting, digital art, documentary journalism, home-brew political ads, music videos, audio interviews, digital storytelling, children’s tales, Flash animations, student films, mash-ups — all kinds of digital works have begun to flourish as the Internet rises up alongside big media as a place where we’ll gather to inform, entertain and astound each other.

And in their open-source ‘what’s ahead section’ the bits that are relevant to this post:

A very cool new social networking system called the PeopleAggregator, a next-generation social networking system that goes beyond the idea of social networks as mating games and uses open standards and network interconnectivity to bring social networking into the mainstream.

The ability for contacts or members to tag (add metadata info to) other members’ works.

Always interested to see how their PeopleAggregator eventually manifests but for the moment the really interesting thing is allowing others to attach metadata to your movies and audio. What BBC and Ourmedia are doing is moving this from some of the standards or broadcast level proprietary tools into the wonderful world of user maintained, controlled and metatagged segmentation of av material. This is where things start to rock in the personalization space. Search engines love to dig deep into text based data and once assigned to video content we can start to appreciate the significance of millions of people and their agents hunting around for very specific clips, moments, fragments, segments of longer form, time-based content. The real exciting element of this whole area is the creative cross-media possibilities once we have ubiquitous richly tagged segments of av – just think of how we can then really think about how much easier it will be to produce services that cross-link audio visual content. The world of hyper-linked film, tv, radio, podcasts etc etc moves so much closer.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

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The conduits, the scared and the snobs

Pelican Santa Barbara ©Gary Hayes 2005Picking up from a thread in my previous post, something that I have been occasionally known to fume about is ‘professional’ attitudes to user generated content. We are moving into a period where there will be more user generated content in the next two years than in all human history and alongside this we have range of attitudes that vary from fear, snobbery or encouragement. Snobbery is a nice word for some of the ‘takes’ I have heard from my fellow producers, broadcasters and gatekeepers over the years.

Why the wall then between on one side, professionals and gifted wanabee amateurs and the other ‘normal people’, whatever they are? I have split the attitudes of the pro/gifted ams into three camps.

The conduits. Not a great term, but blogging in the morning means my vocab has not kicked in properly, but I digress. ‘Conduits’ are the enlightened content gatekeepers, broadcasters who realise to ignore the growing ‘noisy’ majority is to do it at their peril. They create areas for the great user content conversation to grow and flourish.
The scared. Those who would rather bury their heads in the sand, ostrich thinking, and keep doing what we are doing hoping ‘they’ might go away, burn themselves out. They know something is afoot but are not quite sure what to do about it. They know their days are numbered anyway but try to hang on to what they have regardless.
The snobs. These are the worst kind. They simply say that there is a world of difference between what we ‘professionals’ do and what the public do. The public stuff is not fit to grace our TV’s and we don’t want to dirty ourselves by making it look good.

OK there are probably lots more of attitudinal categories but for now lets go with those. Firstly lets decide what user generated content is. The content itself is textual opinion and discussion (comments, diaries etc), photos and audio/video. These are delivered through managed big and small brand portals and via self-publishing, blogs or avBlogs.
Here is a mixed bag that sums up the current media take on the ‘user content revolution’.

In a previous post I mentioned that moving internet user content onto TV is receiving mixed reviews. The article Current TV fast but treacherous points out how ‘appalling’ it can be if done wrong – they perhaps fail to note that the early ventures into this territory may be more about early bird cash-in, rather than really providing a valuable platform for good user work to emerge.

Perhaps the antithesis of the above model is the BBC who (having personally been part of that ‘listening to the British conversation’ machine for over 8 years and involved in many TV/web ‘user portals’) exist on being a ‘trusted’ conduit. The recent article “BBC site braces itself for more open user comments system” points out that users have a real appetite for sharing thoughts if it is well managed, but also that to moderate and make sure the conversation stays on topic and in the moment is not easy

An average 6,000 comments are submitted on a typical day, and up to 20,000 on a busy news day - but only around 10 per cent of those are published.

But it goes on to point out that because only 10 per cent get through users here are perhaps motivated more by vanity than social good? But that is changing and self-moderation by the users themselves is the only way to go. In reference to the old model moving to the new…

“It’s a bad user experience. It’s arbitary, unpredictable and users get frustrated because their comments aren’t being published.”
Mr Mermelstein described the new system as a ‘quiet revolution’ for BBC News Online because of the more relaxed approach to content moderation.
Due to launch on 10 October after nine months in development, the new system is effectively a heavily customised message board system that features different discussion topics each day.
More contentious subjects subjects will be fully moderated but for the first time, comments on selected threads will be posted live on the site. The new system will rely mostly on ‘reactive moderation’, asking readers to report inappropriate content and material that breaches house rules.
Readers recommend
Users will be able to browse comments either by chronological order or by a ‘reader recommend’ rating system.
A typical reader might scan just 15 or 20 comments, so the recommendation system is an efficient way for readers to browse the best content. It also encourages readers to become more involved with discussion threads by flagging useful or interesting contributions.

There are so many conferences around the world looking at this topic now as social networks become such a dominant force that a few of my other category the ‘scared’ are starting to peep out of the sand. A conference “User Content the Real Deal” in a couple of weeks in London sums this up succinctly:

“User generated content” (UGC) poses challenges to both broadcast and publishing media and to consumer brands.
This event will look at how large-scale media players and brands – as well as newcomers in the digital sphere – are approaching and working with the growing phenomenon of User Generated Content as a way to engage consumers and build relationships that gel with the C2B power-dynamic ushered in by the digital age.
How is the balance of power changing? For a start, much UGC creation, consumption and sharing takes place outside the normal parameters of media control – whether that is the control of creation and distribution which is handed over to consumers by the combination of portable music players, editing and file-sharing software + internet, or the control of what we can see, and what constitutes “entertainment”.

Another take on user content is the realisation that around any popular human activity there will be the ‘low life’. The vultures that swoop around the skies above ad hoc nomadic marketplaces looking to cash-in and prey on the most valuable asset, the large group. This Wired article yesterday about Web 2.0 (seems 1.0 to 2.0 is popular at moment – see previous post) – falls partly into my snobbery classification while also pointing out that the new, user generated participatory web 2.0 is itself falling prey to the same problems as web 1.0, the old corporate driven model.

The cycle is so predictable, it’s almost a natural law: Every new internet movement popular enough to generate buzz also generates a backlash.
While there’s no strict agreement on exactly what Web 2.0 is, much of it involves public participation and contributions from the commons. (snip)
“A lot of participatory media is mediocre,” blogger and journalist Nicholas Carr told Wired News. (snip)
“The promoters of Web 2.0 venerate the amateur and distrust the professional,” wrote Carr. “We see it in their unalloyed praise of Wikipedia, and we see it in their worship of open-source software and myriad other examples of democratic creativity.”
Speaking to Wired News, Carr lamented the long, slow decline of professionally produced media, like good old-fashioned newspapers.

We can certainly expect attitudes like this, especially from journalists, film and TV crafts people and professional musicians. After all ‘we’ (yes I am one too) have trained all our lives and the world is not fair - a guy who spent a day randomly wandering with his DV cam talking about life in South Central LA is more downloaded that “that film that took me ten years to make”!. This is a natural response but one we will have to get used to. I am not suggesting for one moment that user generated will take over from the polished or that the pro stuff will come back. Both will co-exist. I leave you with a final article which shows the realignment that will take place over the coming years. It is one thing to have democratisation of content distribution (as long as it isn’t stealing some of the pro stuff – won’t go into bit torrent recent court cases!), but it is unlikely to remain a flat landscape. We are already seeing the star bloggers, the best commentators, the best new filmmakers. Each social network has within it an inherent human mechanism to praise and push up the good and to eject the bad – broadcasting has been in this mode for the last 50 years, but that is changing as there are too many voices to be heard now. Back to the Wired article “Bringing order to Blogosphere” which is looking at another variant on my conduit class. There are good blogs, false blogs, very bad blogs and great blogs. Put all the great ones together and voila…

Pajamas Media has signed up 70 bloggers including Instapundit.com’s Glenn Reynolds, CNBC’s Lawrence Kudlow and Pamela from Atlas Shrugs. The site, which will officially launch Nov. 16 (snip)
The site aims to be “a whole online news service of bloggers from all over the world,” said Simon. With a list of contributors that reads like a who’s who of the political blogosphere, Pajamas Media thinks its daily blog picks will be of a higher quality than automated services like Memeorandum or keyword aggregators like Technorati.(snip)
“It’s not about right or left, it’s a different model,” Simon said. “There will be 70 different people with 70 different views.”

So clumping the good stuff together makes sense, isn’t that how the media has worked since the beginning of well, the media? Newspapers, TV, Radio are just groups of good storytellers and commentators – the real big differences here, which is the main thrust of the post, is that anyone on the planet can join the club, if they are good enough. Finally another great conduit example which I mentioned a few posts ago. MTV realising the need to ‘incubate’ good music, to at least be seen to sponsor ‘amatuer’ activity is good for its image. The link to the press release on Oct 10 “mtvU – Student produced New Music, Original Shows and Features

Driven by overwhelming student demand, “mtvU Uber” is available everywhere, through both non-stop streaming and a unique on-demand capability, enabling viewers to customize their experience.
“With today’s announcement, we are handing over an entire channel online to college students and everyone who wants new music,” said Stephen Friedman, GM, mtvU. “mtvU Uber gives them the power to create and program their own channel, and will remain in perpetual beta mode as they experiment and pioneer the digital future.”

About sums this post up. Who is going to create the digital future? Will it be those entrenched and hanging on for life in old business models or the ‘new blood’ given the tools to create. I suspect very heavily the latter. There can be a win-win situation though if the ‘scared and the snobs’ become the ‘conduits’ – if they don’t the term ‘dinosaur’ will indeed reach its natural conclusion.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

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Human 1.0 upgrade

Towards Sierras ©Gary Hayes 2005Apologise to my many tens of readers for being a little lapse in posting over the last weeks, a few diversions that have put me in a big picture, future mode, hence this post. Bear with me on this one - most of my small posts on big picture ramble a little. I was drawn to an article here in Oz by a respected futurist and fellow tech muso called Ray Kurzweil. He has been responsible for some of the first musical synthesizers, text-to-speech engines and many books including his about to be released latest “The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology” describing the ‘matrix’ moment – when humans can be fully digitally represented outside their biological limitations (kind of a been-done-before book - but there are some very useful extrapolations). If your still with me you are thinking what has this got to do with personalize media? Let me continue.

The article Human 2.0 that caught my eye in smh.com.au is a reasonable scientific prophesy of our technological/biological future, and in reading it I was compelled (as one is) to look at the media applications, or rather implications. There are lots of nods to the oft-quoted Moore’s Law and various traditional futurist predictions but here is the opening:

We can reliably predict that in the not too distant future we will reach what is known as “The Singularity”.
This is a time when the pace of technological change will be so rapid and its impact so deep that human life will be irreversibly transformed. We will be able to reprogram our biology, and ultimately transcend it. The result will be an intimate merger between ourselves and the technology we create.

This is where those industry folk zone out and go and ‘build something’ as for us mere media mortals hacking away with simple flash applications, interactive TV services or chatbots this is of course completely irrelevant, or is it? Can we compare the rather crude interactive services we are doing at the moment to early cave paintings, aboriginal rock sketches or the first utterances of language? I believe what we are doing and what is happening now is far from some random scribbles, the gun has already been fired and the march/race forward has already begun. We can already see around us some very strong pointers to our ‘most likely digital future’ – a distant manifestation but part of a forward continuum and direction, and we are accelerating, the article continues:

Between 2000 and 2014 we’ll make 20 years of progress at 2000 rates, equivalent to the entire 20th century. And then we’ll do the same again in only seven years. To express this another way, we won’t experience 100 years of technological advance in the 21st century; we will witness in the order of 20,000 years of progress when measured by the rate of progress in 2000, or about 1000 times that in the 20th century.

Those plugged into major trends (I am getting there bit-by-bit) can see society is already moving its activity away from passive consumption of pre-prepared media and taking part in a connected conversation, sharing and participating – moving from the physical and into virtual. Social computing and social networking are the new drivers of change. Forester have stated already that over 11% of the online audience are regular readers of blogs, not a massive number but it is the exponential increase which is of interest. It is growing faster than any other form of media exchange, audiences want personal ‘contact’ with other humans, the planet is reconnecting itself – remapping its metaphorical neural pathways. We can see it in the ‘dynamic conversation trickle’, RSS feed users worldwide is now running at 275 million , a very rapid transition. It is the new, as more and more people are placing part of their ‘minds’, opinions and ideas at least in the near term, out there for the rest of the world to see and talk about. Traditional media in this current Neolithic world does not play a significant part beyond being the occasional campfire moment – a good story, gather round and listen, but it will be peripheral rather than core activity (unless one believes Human 1.0 is intrinsically lazy - will leave that for another day!). Those who tell stories had better be part of the overall conversation or you will tell stories that no one will find relevant anymore (note: to advertisers, broadcasters, filmmakers – you are of course taking note?). Extrapolating this increase in the migration of personal story and opinion from the spoken and physical to the digital, combined with the increase in broadband and we start to see flashes of the future, through the ‘venetian blinds’ of our current cave dwelling (OK it is a pretty ‘swish’ cave). But where from here, the article then looks at processing power:

By 2020, $1000 will purchase 1016 calculations per second (cps) of computing (compared with about 109 cps today), which is the level I estimate is required to functionally simulate the human brain. The ultimate 1-kilogram computer - about the weight of a laptop today - which I envision late in this century, could provide 1042 cps, about 10 quadrillion (1016) times more powerful than all human brains put together today.

This is the core element of the article that drew me to the obvious personalization continuum…[(tangent: I was less interested in the nano-technological or biotech aspects of the book/article (that road is oft travelled - how our bodies will have implants, micro life savers etc:) how we will bring tech into the physical world etc:.] …and what is all this computing power going to be used for? What are the motivations in building super-fast computers (or life devices). I suspect most people on the planet using their current computers to do email, im, blog publishing and word docs are wondering why they need more than 4Ghz? This will be the case for many years I suspect, consumer demand for speed will be less and it will be media distributors and content creators who will have to create that demand. So what are ‘we’ going to create?

The most profound transformation will be “R” for the robotics revolution, which really refers to “strong” AI, or artificial intelligence at the human level. Hundreds of applications of “narrow AI” - machine intelligence that equals or exceeds human intelligence for specific tasks - already permeate our infrastructure. Every time you send an email or make a mobile phone call, intelligent algorithms route the information. (snip..)
With regard to strong AI, we’ll have both the hardware and software to recreate human intelligence by the end of the 2020s. We’ll be able to improve these methods and harness the speed, memory and knowledge-sharing ability of machines.
To re-create the capabilities of the human brain, we need to meet both the hardware and software requirements. Achieving the hardware requirement was controversial five years ago but is now largely a mainstream view among informed observers.

Here we are, this is it. We have started the engine, revving it up slightly, looking at the road map, and about to move into first gear. We are on the road to ubiquitous AI, permeating all aspects of our lives. Without going into all those aspects (which would mean this post turns into a book) the one that is relevant to my particular blog here of course is media consumption. The search, locate and retrieval of those bits of personal and shared story that you want. Admittedly today’s ‘agent’ technology is still crude. If you have read my recent posts on personal TV profiling for example we really are doing simple line drawings in the sand – using a few tens of levels of criteria to map the complexities of our tastes and moods – not good. The evolution forward, in relation to my previous tagline to this blog “the digital you, represented in the digital universe’ splits into two simple areas - when we map the above AI vision onto agent based personalization. The agents are either 1) your ‘full’ representation searching through the universe of content or 2) other ‘fulls’ bringing and recommending things to you. That is it. Simple. Sounds like life and in fact it is. Those ‘fulls’ (I know dreadful term - it is early and I have to rush to work), full human digital representations can manifest and interface with you in many ways of course - avatars, through touch, speech, immersive reality, sms, photo realistic, via big or small screens whatever cross-media is relevant or takes your fancy. The important thing is the ‘fulls’ are as real as another person in these digital environments. What Amazon and others are doing with collaborative filtering is like life. You listen to others, their stories what they recommend. The digitisation of humans, Human 2.0 will indeed mean what we are now, will be what we become then. Migration rather than transformation – I would not even suggest it is a paradigm shift. A final snippet:

One benefit of a full understanding of the human brain will be a deep understanding of ourselves…

Hold it a second though, here comes the obligatory cautionary note, this is the wrong way round, surely. Looking at the brain to understand ourselves? Perhaps, perhaps not. We are building a relationship here, creating a partnership between two entities, the biological and the digital. As in any new relationship between two human 1.0’s we really need to understand ourselves first before we engage, to do otherwise is to corrupt the other and leads to a partnership that fails. Looking at the synapses and neurons is part way there. Looking at our brain chemical addictions is part way there. To not know who we are, what motivates us or why we do what we do before we start digitising ourselves, will lead to disaster – there is more happening than meets the eye. Luckily we have, according to Ray, at least 15 years to sort that out. To get from here to there – step one off to get some self-development books ;-)

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

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You ‘can’ always get what you want

Dark Joshua ©Gary Hayes 2005Just stumbled, as one does, across an article that falls neatly inside ‘personalize media’ because it is just that, personalizing your media. News readers in Germany can now, using ‘Personal News’ request specific articles they want to appear in their version of the newspaper which is then delivered to them next day. From the inventively named article “Your personalized printed newspaper“:

The idea is to offer articles from different newspapers and magazines in one newspaper. On a website the reader choses in the evening what he wants to read the next morning. The order goes to the printing house where the individual papers are printed. In the morning the reader will find his newspaper in the postbox

So the physical media industry is finding other ways to fight back not by creating online versions but by creating something new ‘in’ the physical universe no less. This concept is not new in print publishing of course, we have had personalized book covers in the past few years and back in the 60’s there was a whole raft of small distribution rags that would print names of recipients on the title pages – just for the cool USP element no doubt. This though is starting to get very granular - specific news items, the physical equivalent of myYahoo, myGoogle? Mapping this development into richer media it has much resonance with the current state of TV and Radio distribution. Radio has already jumped the gun of course by packaging itself in Podcasts. It is an easy next step for consumers to then bunch a range of personally relevant podcasts together in iTunes, synch and effectively create their own ‘Radio day’. But what does this mean for TV - particularly given the surge in video portals and portable video players I referred to a couple of posts ago.

Well, there have been a range of models in the past 5 years or so, put forward as a new idea and discussed in numerous conferences and papers about so called ‘physical media super distribution’ models. When I chaired the Business Models Group for TV-Anytime we were looking at Phase Two requirements and put out an initial CFC in 2002. Excerpt:

The key areas for which the TV-Anytime Forum now requires contributions are:

* 1. New Content Types: Integration of content types other than audio and video (e.g., games, enhanced TV, web pages, music files, graphics, data and many other applications).
* 2. Targeting: Automatically matching and delivering relevant content to profiled consumers.
* 3. Redistribution: Moving content around among devices and systems.
o Content sharing: Peer-to-peer distribution of unprotected and protected content over provider networks.
o Home networking: Sharing content among multiple storage and display terminals within a defined private physical network.
o Removable media: Distribution of unprotected and protected content on physical storage.

Looking specifically at the last item the forum were looking for technologies to support ways that consumers and content providers would interact and share content in an interoperable world of broadband, PDR (personal digital recorders and high density physical media). One of the key business models we were exploring from a consumer perspective was the combination of moving media from PDR (Personal Digital Recorder) to High Capacity DVD and then giving it to other users. We were looking at the RMP (rights management protection systems) required to do this to keep content providers happy – and of course from an engineering standpoint the metadata flow.

From a content providers perspective we were looking at a range of models but one that gels with the article above was a scenario we put as a requirement to the technical groups. A consumer would request through their network connection using a traditional EPG a range of personally relevant content from a provider (even a broadcaster) to be delivered on DVD to themselves or other users (gifts in other words) – they would then be able as ‘validated’ users to load this content into their PDR/DVD/Home Server network and consume it. We bundled with this a whole range of advertising models to enable distributors to (with consumer opt in) target the viewer (either product placement, dogs or interstitials). (for reference the phase two specifications will be ratified by ETSI before the end of the year)

The point about this simple and not unique model is rather than relying on the network for ‘all’ content delivery there is great advantage, given the likely low cost of a 50GB DVD in 5 years time say, to ‘take an order, burn and post’. In fact the BBC circa 2003 were looking at this as alternative delivery methodologies of myBBC content.

It is still part of the BBC VOD road-map I gather but until those high capacity DVD’s become the norm and the platform is commonplace, I think the transition zone we are still in will mean a confused pot pourri of super-distribution models - with no clear and obvious new models for broadcasters. For now what should stop any video portal offering a ‘roll your own’ DVD package. Click around and next day you have your own DVD compilation of favourite shorts or user generated clips – save waiting for three days for the that 4GB of cool stuff to trickle over your ‘capped’ DSL connection.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

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How LOcal can you go?

Joshua Tree Shadow ©Gary Hayes 2005Humans are clan-like beasts – we like to get in our Neolithic cave dwelling huddles and share. On the road towards truly personalized TV, ‘ultra-local’ services are now being studied, quantified and delivered to, by those who up until now have preferred the blanket approach – the commercial FTA broadcasters.

“Ultra-local’ is a simple term used in the industry to refer to media channels aimed at specific community based audiences (as oppposed the the long-tail niche groups). We are familiar with local newspapers, local ads on billboards on busy roads, localised radio services and of course the local versions of a zillion web pages and portals - TV though has always been slightly behind the ‘local’ curve. In some parts of the world like the US, local TV or community TV has been commonplace for some time, but in bandwidth starved regions like most parts of Europe or Australia not so. Should these regions do the’local’ thing? We need to ask “go local or go individual”?

I was privileged when I was Senior Development Manager at BBCi to be part of the group that launched the Kingston VOD local interactive service
(more on the range of this service later but for now just the community element). This was a real eye opener in terms of understanding the appetite for community-based services and content. This went way beyond simply pointing a camera at some local folk in a rather dodgy college TV studio (most US comm. TV – no flaming please, I spent two years looking at it!) – but as this flavour of Broadband TV was in the VOD domain there was much more dynamism in the way the audiences shared. It became quite simply early vBlogging via the TV set – and with the guaranteed upsurge in user generated content, this particular TV version was way ahead of the Brightcove/Akimbo-type curve.

So the BBC and now iTV are starting to move down the localised road (read: not quite personalized). This article from a few months ago covers some of the key issues about delivering broadcast services to as many as 60 cities across the UK via the three networks that have capacity to do that – broadband, satellite and cable.

The corporation claims there’s growing evidence of an un-met demand for more localised programming.
Local news proved one of the most popular aspects of a separate pilot scheme for broadband services in Hull, and similar initiatives are apparently enjoying success overseas.
“Research shows that people are most interested in what’s going on in within 15 miles of their homes,”
says David Holdsworth, head of the BBC’s West Midlands region. “Newspapers and radio have always been able to provide a localised service, but the technology has constrained the localness of television.
Now the technology’s there we should grasp the opportunity and use it.”

So we like to know what is going on in the immediate universe perhaps more than the other side of the world. There is a clear and present danger that becoming too personalized and too local leaves us ignorant of anything outside our small circle. To move into laymans philosophy, I think that one of the most powerful benefits of understanding yourself and those close makes you far more open to understanding and having empathy with communities much further afield (grasshopper say “to know thyself is to know the world”) Back to article that also points out that like community TV in the US it opens up opportunities for many new entrants who would, as I suggest in the previous post, jump straight into broadband distribution.

The arrival of ultra-local will presumably be warmly welcomed by all those students trying to break into television. They’ll be expected to work hard - setting up, shooting and editing their own stories - and for salaries that might not fully reflect the fact they’ll be doing a job that two or three people often find hard enough to share between them.
But at a time when regional newsrooms are putting the brakes on recruitment, local TV will offer the aspiring stars of tomorrow that vital first step on the ladder.
Assuming the governors do approve funding, organisers of the BBC pilot hope to recruit up to 35 VJs –

But this is the BBC and as every person I meet (well most) tells me “oh the BBC can do that because it has loads of cash…blah, blah” and of course it needs to reach all of the audiences that it is ‘mandated’ to, those who pay the the UK license fee. So why, we ask is the large independent free to air consortium ITV moving to provide localised services? Using broadband PC the service called “ITV local” the trial follows the same model as the BBC broadband TV services - lots of local VOD, weather and news about those around you. The killer app for me though is that as well as the ability to user generated content viewers can also do their own classifieds. This is interesting. Here we have the largest commercial FTA broadcaster in the UK setting up portals allowing local businesses and viewers to tell their own stories and also advertise. I wonder why? There can be only one explanation – they have decided that the old broadcasting advertising model is waning fast and they now need to move. The old model as we know is not dead, it still wraps many execs in Ferraris and Mansions, but perceptibly waning. This I feel though is a sure sign of change when the cFTAs start down this particular path. A good thing. Create a community of interest and catch them when they are most active – and ready to watch partly relevant ads. Here is their upsum:

ITV Local is a unique service that takes television to your community using broadband television.
We’re trialling with Brighton TV and Hastings TV in the ITV Meridian region. All the channels will be updated daily with the best and latest local entertainment, news, weather, travel and sports.
You can let us know what you think of the service using the ‘Give us your feedback’ button below.
Soon, you’ll be able to upload your own content and advertisements.

I used the word partly in the previous sentence because local is only ‘partly’ personal – community TV as many US folk know is rarely ‘deeply’ personal, much of it is vanity publishing (like this blog ;-) , but local TV with high production value can have real resonance if it is done right. Local TV with a good churn (daily, minute by minute updates!) of user-generated content can be very compelling.

Some way from truly individualized services, ‘ultra-local’ at least connects us to our immediate physical world in more meaningful ways, which is never a bad thing. Now back to life, back to …

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

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Portals of Profitable Production

He and other producers are convinced that the low cost of digital production and distribution will allow Internet TV to thrive even with small audiences. “We can get by with 100,000 subscribers,” Mr. Myrick said. “Networks are cancelling shows on 3 million viewers.”

I have tried to resist posting about Apples foray into the portable video space for several days but have been a little ‘distracted ;-) ‘ so hopefully this will balance me a little. We all know the news and I wouldn’t like to say “I told you so” but at January’s MacWorld in San Fran I was privileged to actually see a prototype of this. An ‘Apple friend’ showed me an iPod photo running video in a ‘quiet moment’ – and I thought nothing more of it, it was sold to me as a bit of a hack. Not much of a jump but made complete sense to me in the short term. A few colleagues joked in disbelief when I mentioned that the first video iPod would probably look the same as the existing range. Anyway I shall move away from the ‘gadget’ and to the revolution. This is not about gear it is about society in transformation. If we just idly glance at the mass of video portals growing on the horizon and the plethora of portable video devices there is the potential for the largest shared rush of ‘personalized’ content to personal devices we have ever seen in history. I did this diagram to give a feel for where we are even at the moment:

Digram of portals and portable video players

The demand from the video portals will eventually take eyeballs away from scheduled TV – at first they will cross-promote each other, but the convenience and portability of personal video will drive demand for the equivalent (VOD) in the home and the ability to ‘dock’ to your large lounge screen. The same way the audio iPod is replacing, for many people, the audio hifi, CD/tape player and certainly the radio. I suggest that there will come a time when your portable video player becomes the life tool for moving visual memories and films into others homes. It will be used between families and friends, for business travellers, for creative professionals – in fact we will become far less dependent on physical media as we are able even in the early days to carry the equivalent of 10-50 DVDs inside our coat pocket. OK the quality difference is significant from DVD MPEG2 running at 7Mbs+ to a little MP4 running at 878kbs! – but strangely that MP4 on a good day is almost as good as standard def TV on a bad day – especially NeverTheSameColor US TV…trust me on that one (having lived with PAL most of my life)!

Then there is the content itself. I keep hearing from many professional broadcasters that user generated content is just not TV, not up to the exacting standards that TV viewers expect (well they could wrap it up nicely at least!). Has any one told them that those viewers, and I use this word carefully (as we all need high prod values sometimes - Desperate Housewive fans!) are OFTEN more interested in genuine, real life stories from people than ‘dumbed down’, badly written, artificially constructed narrative. But there is that great middle ground also – amateur filmmakers have already taken the lead on the web – where else could they go? But even more significantly the great filmic storytellers are giving up on TV as well – a recent NY Times article “Smaller Video Producers Seek Audiences on Net” talks about recognised producers such as ‘Blair Witch’s” Dan Myrick are now skipping the TV platform altogether

Instead of watching the show on TV, viewers will have to go to Mr. Myrick’s Web site, strandvenice.com, where a 50-minute pilot episode is available free. Future episodes will cost 99 cents, for a 30-minute film.

Video delivered over the Internet, which has been embraced by media and Internet giants like Viacom and Yahoo, is quickly shaping up as a way for smaller producers to reach an audience without having to cut deals with movie studios and the big networks that are the traditional gatekeepers of television.

As interest in video soars (there are more than a million video clips currently available online), a host of new ventures is starting to cater to the publishing and advertising needs of smaller video creators. One new start-up called Brightcove, for example, has developed a system of online video production tools that makes it easier for small operations to distribute video programs as well as charge for them.

“With ‘Blair Witch,’ the Internet was a force in helping us in the marketing department,” Mr. Myrick said. With technology from Brightcove, he said, his video company can “take a show idea, produce it in the spirit of a network series, but keep everything in-house and publish it ourselves over broadband.”

Obviously we have a little way to go (as implied in the diagram above) before we have free movement from all portals to all devices - usage rules (controlled by DRM), licensing and a hundred other hurdles need to be overcome. Then there is everything else, getting a common metadata standard running across this sea of content and device so we can actually find stuff we want - but I have been down that road a few times already…

To finish with Apple, the effective closed portal to closed device model that has worked for Apple with MP3 may I feel start to breakdown with video - users will more feel they are locked onto a device when you have to look at it to enjoy the media and with one of the smaller screens on the market. We shall see. I shall also be waiting for the 16/9 large screen iPod scheduled for Spring 2006 – whoops, did I just start a rumour ;-)

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

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The connection is the message

PB Pier San Diego ©Gary Hayes 2005Having just led an immersive, emerging media lab last week (I link to one of my presentations below), I have been thinking a lot about ‘influence’. Namely ‘Who we are ‘being’ influences those around us’ and similarly the collective energy in medium to large groups can influence the individual with something far deeper and richer - the connections between us become the dominant force. This is beginning to be reflected in society as we move forward quickly into a world where the personalized fabric of social software is beginning to represent us far more explicitly. But what really interests me is the level that sits above and wraps around blogs, wikis, im, user content, interest groups, pervasive computing and mobility - the cross-media wrapper, the reading between the ‘lines’ of media types or the ‘connection cloud’ that permeates us. At the moment we are still in a rather neolithic world where humans are forced to adapt to the ‘system’ on a unit-by-unit basis and it is far from being resonant and personalized. How will this change? It is an area too large to explore in a blog post (of course!) but as usual I am always sensitive to connected strands…in fact

“it is the connections between media types that are becoming far more important and pervasive than that which it connects” me, just then ;-)

Always wondered where quotes come from - maybe not that original? Anyway, an old BBC colleague called Dan Hill (interactive radio and music) runs an excellent blog called “City of Sound” which is firmly rooted at the crossing of old and emerging media. He recently posted a great excerpt from a DTI paper he co-wrote called ‘Innovation through people-centered design’. This is part of the UK’s DTI ‘global watch’ initiative. Obviously the paper, based on various trips to centers around the world, looks at pioneering social software initiatives and personalization led services. Here is an excerpt;

7.4 Adaptive design
In the field of informational product design, there has been much recent focus on social software, as well as ubiquitous or pervasive computing, and mobile data products (see Dourish 2001). All these advances relate to potentially new markets and applications, and are increasingly highly personal:

* in the case of the cellphone, virtually worn on the body
* in the case of ubicomp, an always connected life, from RFID tags in their shopping through to ‘home media hubs’
* in the case of social software, it’s about representation of self across multiple facets of your life (conversation, diaries, photo and music collections etc)

All these spaces feel quite different to designing a generic cooking utensil for mass market or building Microsoft Word. Although there was no discussion around these implications at our various encounters in the USA, it could be argued that, in this social software context, ‘user agency’ is more relevant than it’s ever been; that the user’s ability to mould these software spaces in their distinct image may necessitate a whole new kind of practice. A participant in these kinds of markets and spaces will feel the need to adapt a product to their own image, their own needs, far more so than previous software products, which have generally been based on efficiency obtained through generality and economies of scale (arguably hence the effective but generalising tools of personas and scenarios.)

I have always warmed to the idea of any technology moulding itself to you, which is part of my passion of ubiquitous, interconnected personalization across the board. I like the personal touch ;-) In the early days of course with the level of processing power where it is this will be a half-way house between customisation and true personalization. But it is on the right path. Dan goes on to talk about ‘self-centered’ design which is where the designer simply creates the basic framework for social interaction and users ‘personalize’ this collectively. We have seen this with ‘Blogger’ and ‘Wiki’s’ of course. I am keen to develop the next rich media levels of this especially collaborative creativity (vs a little too much remediation, structured play and opinion about opinion about opinion) – more social productivity that will be part of our evolution. In the early days we are still trying to empower humans with the tools to create and understand themselves better. Here is the PDF link to a beginners guide to personalization service design I gave last week – minus quite a few demo pages. (I will comment on other mentors presentations at LAMP 1 soon). It contains themes covered in previous posts and to provide some context to it, an excerpt from a relevant philosophy in this time of interaction transition, part of our journey from crude electronic networks to truly ubiquitous interconnectivity:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities;
In the expert’s mind there are few.
If you discriminate, you limit yourself
If you are demanding or greedy,
Your mind is not rich and self-sufficient.
If we lose our original self-sufficient mind,
We will lose our precepts.

If you keep your original mind,
The precepts will keep themselves.
In the beginner’s mind there is no thought,
‘I have attained something.’
All self-centered thoughts limit our vast mind.
When we have no thought of achievement,
No thought of self,
We are true beginners.”
Excerpt from Beginner’s Mind By Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

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