Xtech 2007: Physical Hyperlinks

Speaker: Timo Arnall, Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

Some notes I made whilst listening to this talk.

Talk is about connecting the digital to the physical.


  • Things
  • places
  • people


  • Content
  • Applications
  • Services

Currently being driven by mobile phones technology, phones are fast becoming universal controllers.

Context Awareness is really hard AI, raises implications over choice. People like to be able to choose

Biggest driver of this technology is advertising and marketing – holy grail of advertising.

Taking services and things back to physical products.

Design for universal access. Finding more information about products for people with impairments.

Mimic graffiti by offering new ways of authoring.

Mobile devices increase social awareness but also narrow them down to a screen – which can be a very anti social activity. Physical hyperlinks an help get us back to interacting in the physical work instead of these tiny screens.

Everyday objects start to have agency and voice in the digital world.

Technologies that would allow us to achieve this:

  • Bluetooth, used increasingly for marketing and advertising. Posters in London allow users to download advertisements. Problems with Bluetooth: works at a large range, the interaction field is large and difficult to visualise, ideal platform for location spamming. As a user I want to be able to choose what I get, not have it pushed to me.
  • SMS, e.g. Yellow Arrow. Simple to implement, but requires users to read and type codes, relies on network and you have to wait for feedback which will not be immediate.
  • Barcodes. Everything has barcodes, they are truly ubiquitous. Designed to improve the speed and accuracy of data entry. They have become universal standards, they are so ubiquitous we dont notice them anymore.


  • Seen as a replacement for barcodes.
  • RFID doesnt work when theres metal around or liquids, currently problematic in practise.
  • Tag per item or per pallet?
  • Short range technology 10cm.
  • Interaction is quick, there is an immediacy.
  • Hold up to 4kb of data.
  • Two way information, get data from tag or write info to it.
  • Often break down when there is more than one tag in the same bubble.
  • Controversial because of privacy issues, but this might be unfounded.


Timo showed many examples of how Barcodes etc. QR Codes are used in real world applications. Infrastructure can now be setup using QR Codes this is an interesting way of delivering settings to devices (i.e. network access).

Urban Seeder, uses very complex visual codes, and relies on more sophisticated pattern recognition. Lovely in the way that most people would not recognised them unless they were in the know, this might mean that people start exploring, taking pictures of patterns to see if they contained a hidden meaning.

Some of Timo’s research has shown that people using these things on the street in Norway find that it can feel very strange to be interacting with smart posters etc. because its manifestly apparant that you are to everyone passing you by … users complained it felt like picking up litter, because you very exposed. Whereas RFID is much quicker. Is this local cultural ( norway ) or could it be a gobally cultural phenomenon.

Of all the talks I’ve listened to this morning, I must confess I enjoyed Timo’s the most. Find out more about him and his research here:


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