Convergence, if not already here, is inevitable. Over the past few years we have spent much of our time thinking about the hardware and networking side of this certainty. What about the software solutions needed to manage this integrated world?
As we create audiovisual rooms that are physical portals to massive banks of information, we also need to integrate sophisticated interface and software tools to find, mine, map, and display this information into our spaces. Information environments require sophisticated software for navigating the world beyond the browser.
A few years ago I experienced an art installation called Listening Post by Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen. This work mined live internet social chat that the artists posted and "choreographed" onto on a suspended grid of more than 200 small vacuum fluorescent display screens which hung on wires in a gently curving 11- by 21-foot screen grid. This impressed upon me the impact of the ocean of information that, if made accessible by great software interfaces, could change the way we design environments.
The data mined and displayed by Rubin and Hansen met their goal to "distill the content and the structure of this collective communication and to present it in ways that are accessible and compelling," but it also achieved an emotional impact.
Recently Rubin and Hansen have translated this work into a new installation for the New York Times Building lobby, where they will use "statistical methods and natural-language processing algorithms... to parse the daily output of the paper (news, features, editorials) and the archives, as well as the activity of visitors to NYTimes.com (browsing, searching, commenting)."
Their work is a great example of how together an environment, an interface, and the software driving it can provide more than just control of devices within a room. AV interfaces should also provide simple and usable portals to the massive amounts of data that exist today. AV designers will need to learn ways to harness this huge body of raw data into the environments we design. In addition to the information available from the internet, within any company or educational institution there are also vast amounts of information that, if made findable and visible, could accelerate our ability to get things done.
Even in the audio world, we are increasingly being challenged with making huge amounts of information findable and visible. Every year more channels of audio will be made available via audio networks. As these media streams (like CobraNet) become higher in density, it will become more of a challenge for designers and users of these systems to sort the important "channels" from the fire hydrant that our media networks are becoming.
One recently published guide to navigating this media glut is David Weinberger's latest book, Everything Is Miscellaneous
, in which he explains how with an "overabundance of information" we can find what we need. He offers several useful strategies for better understanding not only how to manage finding our way within this diverse world of data, but also how to prepare that data in advance for maximizing findability. Along these lines, sites such as del.ious.us and twine.com are developing methods beyond Google to find and display what we need using data tagging and ideas from Tim Berners-Lee's semantic web.
Our industry will not only need to use these types of organizational tools in the future, we will also have to come to terms with the fact that the AV control system will soon evolve into a much more sophisticated point-of-information. As discreet media like DVDs and video tape players become a thing of the past, AV interfaces will transform into gateways for finding and intelligibly displaying the information we use. Imagine translating the data dashboards from our desktops into interactive conference room, classroom, and lobby interfaces that would allow for constant visibility and access to important business and educational data creating a world of truly ambient and usable information.