Friday, July 23, 2010

Context Matters

The nature of pervasive computing implies mobile, always on and in general ambient. At a recent meet-up in Palo Alto hosted at the Ubiquitous Media Studio the conversation centered a lot on sensory enhancement and control and I have always thought in human terms pervasive computing would be very much like a sixth sense. Today computing is attentive and task driven the ideas behind pervasive computing drive more towards an ambient model providing enhancement and augmentation to the way live work and play will pull on many area and require new paradigms and create new behaviors. The goal to provide experiences that are in the moment and related to the situation and needs, rather than a human response to an event.

There is some glue that is required in order to pull this all together and I keep coming back to “context” being a keep enabler. The ability of a system to understand, react and even predict context will enable the automation and delivery of in the moment experiences. Today that most people believe the Context is merely about location and the use of GPS coordinates to fix a physical position into which relevant services can be delivered. It is true that GPS is a extremely good example of Context but I don’t feel it is enough and to move beyond simply location based solutions we have to examine a richer model of context.

I view context as a set of dimensions onto which solutions are mapped, ability to pull information from those dimensions that matter to its function. I have identified 3 core dimensions

  1. Personal Context: This is perhaps best defined as “your stuff” it is what represents the human, which is composed identity or persona and the digital artifacts, data and services that are associated with that persona.
  2. Physical Context: This is closely related to location but is more than this, since it includes the artifacts and services that are around you. This might be physical objects or unseen virtual elements rooted in the place you currently exist
  3. Social Context: This is the current social group that is around you or are connected to. It is a real-time notion of community and could be made up of both friends and strangers.

Providing windows onto these dimensions will allow pervasive solution to draw information necessary create an experience which is relevant to the situation. There is another dimension which is time. Time affects the physical and social context more than the personal since the former are changing on a second by second basis. The constant changes in these dimensions may enable distinct patterns of activity to be determined and further exploited. The notion of digital diaries is not new and neither is the fact humans are creatures of habit, both of these can factor into supporting predictions of future situations which might increase to performance and efficiency of a system to react or prepare to a future tense.



The may be an aspiration goal and perhaps socially scary but would be a glue to supporting a computing model that is more attentive to us, rather than the other way around.