Looking under the bonnet of Kinect

It’s a truism that the internet makes it easier for people to create, share, and collaborate on stories. Moving Brands has previously explored these aspects of the web through Weare, in which people contributed small tiles to a collaboratively designed scarf; through the Living Identity cover, which provides a tangible ‘window’ into Moving Brand’s online presence; and through a Brand for London, in which Londoners contributed ideas to express and design a shared identity for the city.

However, online collaboration often occurs within the bounds of commonly available communication tools: blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. These tools enable new ways of connecting and communicating, but they also shape or limit those ways. Disrupting and repurposing the tools themselves can uncover new ways to communicate and shape new kinds of stories and storytelling.

From Technology to Story
The Kinect, née Natal, is a recent and popular example of collaborative disruption. It was designed as a peripheral for the Xbox, but as soon as it was released, hackers and technology enthusiasts started repurposing it for other uses—and sharing tools and libraries to make further development easier.

Microsoft thought they were adding to the conversation of one thing—a motion controller for gaming—but instead opened up another conversation: the hacking and open sourcing of hardware-controller software. This month, recognizing that the tool has taken a life far beyond the Xbox, Microsoft released an official Kinect development kit, albeit for non-commercial use only.
This in itself is an interesting story, highlighting the ongoing give and take between digital developers and digital communities, and how this increasingly spills over from virtual communities and content creation to physical spaces and hardware development. Repurposing tools can be less accessible than remixing media. To actively reshape a tool like the Kinect, you need to be willing or able to write code. Even using other people’s creations requires access to the hardware. The Kinect in particular only works with a few people at a specific location, so distribution and scalability is a problem.

Despite these limitations, disruptive (or disrupted) digital technologies highlight new and upcoming ways that people are connecting with each other. The more conversant we are with these technologies, the more able we are to predict, respond to, and work with emerging trends. Equally, as tellers of stories, we can push conversations about these technologies in different directions. Most of what has been made with the Kinect has focused on demonstrating technical capabilities and proof-of-concept about possible interactions. We can focus on a next step: how to move from technological proof-of-concept to emotional resonance.

Making things
Over the next few months, we’ll be producing a series of experiments, asking questions like: How can the Kinect help people connect and collaborate? How can people use it to tell stories?

We’ve been talking a lot about themes of space, collaboration, and change over time. How we live in cities and how those cities have changed over the centuries, the routes and ruts we develop in our physical and virtual lives, collaborative disruption and destruction, useful tools that are collectively designed, and taking advantage of rapid prototyping to create some back and forth between digital design and physical artefacts.

Our early experiments focus on viewing stories: how gestural interactions can provide new ways to view or interrogate an existing story, as well as the types and aesthetics of stories that can work well with the interface.

Building on that, we are moving to new ways to tell, collaborate on, and share stories. What stories might a Kinect ‘see’? What are the best ways to work with the device’s limitations (local interaction, limited field of view) to promote larger-scale connection and collaboration? How might external input shape the local interaction, or local interaction be shared to a larger pool of participants or enable collaboration across time?

As they say, watch this space…