Image from uninnovate.com
I’ve just come across a very interesting new blog, uninnovate.com, which focuses on the phenomenon of “engineering expensive features into a product for which there is no market demand in order to make the product do less.” The first few posts tackle ‘Three legends of uninnovation‘ (the iPod’s copy restrictions, Sony’s mp3-less Walkman, and Verizon’s rent-seeking on Bluetooth features), Microsoft’s priorities (patching DRM flaws vs. security flaws that actually damage users), Amazon’s absurd new Unbox ‘service’ and ‘Trusted’ computing for mobile phones. The perspective is refreshingly clear: no customer woke up wanting these ‘features’, yet companies direct vast efforts towards developing them.
In a sense the ‘uninnovation’ concept is a similar idea to a large proportion of the architectures of control in products I’ve been examining on this site over the last year, especially DRM and DRM-related lock-ins, though with a slightly different emphasis: I’ve chosen to look at it all from a ‘control’ point of view (features are being designed in – or out – with the express intention of manipulating and restricting users’ behaviour, usually for commercial ends, but also political or social).
Uninnovate looks to be a great blog to watch – not sure who’s behind it, but the analysis is spot-on and the examples lucidly explained.
Ulises Mejias on ‘Confinement, Education and the Control Society’ – fascinating commentary on Deleuze’s societies of control and how the instant communication and ‘life-long learning’ potential (and, I guess, everyware) of the internet age may facilitate control and repression:
“This is the paradox of social media that has been bothering me lately: an ’empowering’ media that provides increased opportunities for communication, education and online participation, but which at the same time further isolates individuals and aggregates them into masses –more prone to control, and by extension more prone to discipline.”
Slashdot on ‘A working economy without DRM?’ – same debate as ever, but some very insightful comments
Slashdot on ‘Explaining DRM to a less-experienced PC user’ – I particularly like SmallFurryCreature’s ‘Sugar cube’ analogy
‘The Promise of a Post-Copyright World’ by Karl Fogel – extremely clear analysis of the history of copyright and, especially, the way it has been presented to the public over the centuries
(Via BoingBoing) The Entertrainer – a heart monitor-linked TV controller: your TV stays on with the volume at a usable level only while you keep exercising at the required rate. Similar concept to Gillian Swan’s Square-Eyes
Following on from the last post about the Neuros MPEG4 recorder, looking on the Neuros website reveals something pretty unusual for a company involved in consumer product design – a clear statement of design philosophy, ‘What do we stand for?’ that’s heavy on content and light on vague rhetoric:
“Your Digital Rights and Why They’re Important to You
Throughout the history of technology, Hollywood has fought innovation at every turn. Even technologies that benefit the studios, and that we take for granted, exist only because someone fought the studios for their very existence
The more such legislation [e.g. Analog Hole Bill] gets passed, the less innovation consumers will see, and the fewer options you will have for enjoying your content
There are two opposing forces at odds here. On the one hand, there are exciting new technologies that offer more and more choices for consumers to access and enjoy digital media when and where they want it. On the other, there is Big Media and a few of its powerful allies working behind the scenes to limit consumer choices to when and where they want it. How this all plays out will depend on how the rest of us respond in the coming days, weeks and months.”
The statement even exhorts customers to get involved with the EFF and to get in touch with their elected representatives, which is again a great initiative.
This is just the kind of intelligent engagement by product designers & engineers with the political implications of – and influences on – their work for which I’ve been looking throughout the ‘Architectures of Control’ project. Whether it meets the kind of criteria proposed by Jennie Winhall’s ‘Is Design Political?‘, I don’t know, but by standing up for users’ rights in such an open and frank way, and indeed structuring its business around that philosophy, Neuros seems a lot closer to real user-centred design than the vague waffle so often promulgated as such.
Image adapted from Neuros website
Via EFF DeepLinks, details of the Neuros MPEG4 Recorder 2, a product specifically designed to allow users to break through the arbitrary architectures of control imposed by other video devices and formats, and hence make the most of the content you own:
“[It] digitizes analog video output and records it to a CF card or a memory stick in MPEG4 format. The video can then be put on your computer, burned to DVD, moved to your video iPod, or slotted right into your Sony PSP. You can also output video to a display device from the R2.
In turn, the R2 helps you make legitimate use of your media and lawfully escape DRM restrictions…
* Free your recorded TV content: TiVo and other PVRs restrict moving recorded video to other devices. The DMCA limits removing these DRM locks, and, if the broadcast flag proposal passes, these restrictions will get even worse. Regardless, you can lawfully use the R2 to create a DRM-free copy, recording straight from your TV or TiVo.
* Free your DVDs: DVD ripping software is widely available, but using it to rip a film to your computer and video iPod may violate the DMCA. The R2 gives you a legal (albeit more cumbersome) alternative. Similarly, though region-free DVD players are available, you can use the R2 to help create a region-free copy of the movie itself.
* Free your VHS tapes: You’ve probably faced the unhappy choice between rebuying your VHS collection on DRM-restricted DVDs or lugging around a legacy player. The R2 helps you liberate your movies from their VHS chains.”
Of course, the R2 device’s legality – as a video analogue-to-digital converter – is threatened by proposed US legislation aimed at ‘plugging the analogue hole‘, hence its ‘endangered gizmo‘ status applied by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. This would seem to be a case where a device really has been designed with the users’ needs and convenience uppermost in mind, yet it may be ruled out of existence by a legislature which listens more to (certain) corporate lobbying than to its own citizens.
Via Boing Boing, ‘Researchers develop prototype system to thwart unwanted video and still photography’, news from Georgia Tech of a system that scans and finds the CCDs of digital imaging equipment and shines bright light (or a laser) into them in order to flood them with light and prevent usable images being recorded.
“Commercial versions of the technology could be used to stymie unwanted use of video or still cameras. A Georgia Tech camera-neutralizing prototype could soon be used to stop movie piracy and other forms of unwanted digital-camera photography…
The prototype device, produced by a team in the Interactive and Intelligent Computing division of the Georgia Tech College of Computing (COC), uses off-the-shelf equipment — camera-mounted sensors, lighting equipment, a projector and a computer — to scan for, find and neutralize digital cameras. The system works by looking for the reflectivity and shape of the image-producing sensors used in digital cameras…
…the small-area product could prevent espionage photography in government buildings, industrial settings or trade shows. It could also be used in business settings — for instance, to stop amateur photography where shopping-mall-Santa pictures are being taken…
ZDNet’s David Berlind has started to compile a Del.icio.us list of examples of ‘DRM train wrecks’, i.e. situations where the use of DRM has a distasteful corollary for consumers unaware of what they’re getting themselves into.
“Most people don’t realize how much they’re giving up when they consciously or sub-consciously use solutions that depend on [DRM]. I get a lot of email that accuses me of being a Chicken Little that overblows the situation by saying the sky is falling. Well, the sky is falling and if those folks want to live in denial, that’s their problem.”
Some of the examples are more straightforward cases of sloppily designed DRM implementations leading to security problems, such as the Sony Rootkit case; examples of ‘DRM switcheroo’ (what I’ve previously called feature deletion or external control on this blog) also abound.
Real-life anecdotes of users who have lost all their (legally acquired) music due to DRM errors or licensing changes – as I discussed in ‘Consumers’ reactions to DRM‘ – are perhaps one of the best ways of driving the message home to consumers (for example the examples discussed here).
The ‘DRM train wreck’ tag is a great initiative. I guess in time it would be good if DRM’d content acquired a stigma from consumers’ point of view, clearly seen as undesirable and worse than second-best, a format to avoid.