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Sneak Peek: Inside Labs, public news screens get personal

Curt_Hopkins

 Hang Ung and Anupriya AnkolekarHang Ung and Anupriya Ankolekar

By Curt Hopkins, Managing Editor, Hewlett Packard Labs

Thanks to Hang Ung and Anupriya Ankolekar from the Mechanisms and Design lab, Hewlett Packard Labs employees will soon have the ability to interact with, and personalize, the ubiquitous news screens that employees in Palo Alto are already familiar with.

The project is code-named Newzspace. For the end users, it’s a simple mobile app that you can use to choose what you prefer to see displayed on the screens as you approach or pass them.

Currently, the 16 monitors in buildings 1 and 2 in Palo Alto carry an always-changing feed from 12 official HPE Twitter accounts. In short order, that content will be augmented with feeds from this blog, as well as from Tech Reports and HPE’s internal news portal, News Now.

Through a fruitful collaboration with Labs Research Services teams, Beijing and Haifa now have public screens. Labs locations in Fort Collins and Princeton will follow, building a network of nearly 30 displays to connect and inform Labs community. There are also plans to equip the HPE headquarters building with screens.

But this growth of both public monitors and the types of company news is really only the context for the story. The real tale to tell is one of how to serve an audience while respecting privacy rights.

We push history and preferences to the edge

If it is not done with great care, personalization on public screens could wind up reminding would-be users of nothing so much as “Minority Report”, where a central system is creepily keeping track of your whereabouts. But in Ung and Ankolekar’s Newzspace, the users decide what to disclose, an approach that builds on Labs’ long-standing history of technologies that recognize people’s desire to be treated like human beings, and not crunched as numbers.

Facial recognition is front-and-center when people talk about responsive out-of-home media. But people are uneasy about this technology, according to Ung.

“They are uneasy about it, even when user identities are ‘anonymized.’” Advances in big data analysis means anonymization does not make a user’s identity bulletproof, it just adds one step (an increasingly short step) between you and the person, government, or corporation you do not want to have your data.

“The plain fact is, people don’t want to be physically tracked,” said Ung. “So we’ve invented Newzspace. With Newzspace, we don’t need to know who you are, we don’t need to track you like websites do. We push history and preferences to the edge – to your smartphone.”

newzspace-graphic.gif

Nuts and bolts

In practical terms, Newzspace is an app which you must choose to download to your phone. It uses Bluetooth to detect nearby monitors and then signal what you’re interested in, and what you have already seen. Most importantly, none of that information resides on Labs servers, in the cloud, or even in the monitor. It resides, solely and at your discretion, on your phone.

Newzspace will be released as an internal beta (limited to Labs employees) in June. Ung is also working with HPE’s internal communications team to integrate the app’s functions into their employee News Now app. Users will be able to set up a profile, indicate areas of interest, and retain a viewing history. Using Bluetooth, Newzspace will use the preferences of nearby users to choose the most relevant materials to broadcast.

By building out the screens, putting the app into beta, and testing functionality, Ung and Ankolekar hope that Newzspace will be able to become even more useful. Possible future features might include providing real-time contextual information. These may include news on a user’s commute, guiding a user to the room his or her next meeting is in (like the Enterprise computer does on “Star Trek”), and creating a “playlist” of articles and resources users can access later when they aren’t in transit.

A more ambitious feature Ung hopes to share eventually is called “Share the Show.” When three or more people are gathered at a monitor, that monitor will show video that corresponds to a shared interest, with sound. “The goal is to have people watch these “shows” together, rather than individually, while multitasking on emails for example, where the chance of drop-off is high,” said Ung.

“My goal by the end of the year,” said Ung, “is to use Newzspace to create a measurable increase of employee awareness vis-à-vis important topics while at the same time substantially increasing web traffic on internal communications websites thanks to mobile views.”

The Kitchen Cabinet

A possibility with Newzspace – a possibility which at this point is in the dreaming stage – is one which really captures the imagination and even more clearly positions Labs, and by association HPE, as a truly future-thinking organization.

Ung said he hopes to equip a monitor in each of the six global Labs facilities’ dining or cafeteria areas with a live communications feature to allow anyone in any facility to speak to anyone in any other. Imagine taking an early afternoon coffee break in Palo Alto’s building 1 and being able to chat with a colleague working late in Haifa; or pulling an all-nighter in Bristol and being able to ask your Beijing analog to brainstorm a problem with you over a cup of tea.

Anyone, any group, at any Labs facility in the world, could put together a spur-of-the-moment, unofficial “Kitchen Cabinet” for any purpose, ranging from commiseration to cooking tips to coding. 

Newzspace isn’t just a practical solution to an immediate problem; it is a better solution to the problem of privacy. But it’s not just a better solution to the problem of privacy either. It’s also an imaginative space that reminds us why we got into this business to being with.

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About the Author

Curt_Hopkins

Managing Editor, Hewlett Packard Labs

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