Thinglink – A Free Product Code for Creative Work

hi I’m Paul Sacco and i’m introducing lula lieutenant who developed this idea called thing link which provides unique product code for all sorts of items pretty much infinitely expandable mostly designed for creative types who can’t afford UPC codes or ISBN numbers things like that and she just launched at the maker faire over the weekend so I thought it’d be cool to show to a bunch of Googlers and things a lot of potential and maybe it’ll eventually make every item in the world searchable so well hello thank you for the invitation yet my name is Ulla maria and i come from helsinki i’m currently working at the university of helsinki at the department of education and i study work in organizations how big organization develop new forms of activity that’s kind of my official agenda but today I’m going to talk about my unofficial agenda mainly about things that I write on my blog myblog is called hobby princess and there’s a small story related to this actually it goes two years back to when I was studying or visiting London School of Economics two years ago and the family where I was staying put me to babysit this five year old girl for one night called grace and what happened that grace made me to watch TV series called brats for two hours which I have to say that was pretty scaring experience and at the same time I was reading an article where girls girls like crates were presented as the future hope of our economy because these five year old kids have internalized the rules of our consumer society so well that they really know how to put money going I thought that well there should be something more interesting research for for these little girls so I thought that okay I’m if I’m going to write about things related to technology and society and so I’m not going to write for consuming princesses and go to write for active people hobby so that’s why it hobbie princess my two main areas of interest that I write about our first drafting as technology mediated social practice or i could say internet mediated social practice and secondly i’m interested recommendation based markets especially for our design and Croft I know that they are both very large areas and I’m going to touch upon both of them a little bit in this presentation and especially how they come together in the project them that I’m currently doing which is called thing links a year ago I wrote a small piece of text called a crafter manifesto where I was trying to pin down and the I did why do people enjoy making things why do we do all kind of stuff and the starting point and that was also later published in the Make Magazine that’s why I was invited to judge in the maker faire in San Francisco the starting point if we begin to talk about this is that it seems that people do get satisfaction from being able to do things because in the things that they do that they make they can see themselves this is a very basic dialectical idea of us being in the world of us becoming ourselves through making things because through making things when we externalise our ideas on on paper on physical products we can reflect our ideas and then we can learn well the joy of making things chosen different kind of small activities that were very familiar with first of all people personalize the technology that they buy for example in the beads on mobile phones in Japan is great hate people personalized nice Mike sneakers the sneakers for my friend says hello idiots was first thing that she could finger in the morning when she was thinking what text ship should be put on

those um there is people do all kind of this hard craft you know build all kind of gadgets and we saw that well in Maker Faire and San Francisco of people really crazy about doing what sort of things a t-shirt making is it’s a very popular activity also very good business currently and as you see in for example i put cozies or article i put sleeves and they’re they’re like big hit among the crafter community it’s not only my observation that people are now doing a lot of stuff i think that they’ve always made stuff but no it it has become with with the kind of tools that we currently have it has become an interesting phenomenon that also many writers in the field of innovation and organization talk about for example erich von hippel writes about democratizing innovation and childs let peter writes about a phenomena called pro pro on revolution henrich espera writes about opening novation that saying that the most interesting things currently especially the mobile sector developed in the fringes at the fringes not the inside big corporations but in the kind of environments for people have time and freedom to try out new things also maybe in the more kind of futuristic vision of of making presented by neil Gerson field in the in his book called fab well the things what is special about the things that we will make is that they seem to carry they seem to have magic powers they carry meanings other people cannot see these can be our ideals of what is beautiful and right or they can carry a learning process or they can a cultural heritage related things like what we learned from our grandmothers and where our parents and but the most important thing here is that it seems that people do want to share their stories whatever the meanings are people want to share them with other others and that’s why they seek recognition for the things that they may primary know if we’ve done if we made something we won’t show that to and first we show that to our friends and family but people who do think that they made generally cool stuff they see broader exposure for they products and that’s that’s what we see currently what’s going on in blogging and I followed especially something called graph blogging which means that people basically do stuff and post about stuff they do on their web blogs for example there are all kind of things done like you know like traditional crafting is big but people also build all kind of robot and gadgets people like to imitate like fashion items or of for example this is jean paul gaultier jacket and a jacket and not only like if you think that only women do that also for example in finland i found a very interesting subculture what snowboarders basically they’ve started to make their own beanies they own hats for a cool personalized hat for snowboarding this has become huge phenomenal and you can think that I for example I followed five months and an online chat about how to crush it crochet a beanie a hat where teenage guys up to you know sharing techniques sharing pictures there is this one guy called Villa actually who got so enthusiastic about it that he eventually put up his own beanie business now has made something like two thousand beanies and he’s currently employing his parents also in company I don’t know if you can see this picture this picture is the most popular web locks in the Finnish blogosphere on the right you can see knitting blocks and other on the left it’s all the rest you can see that they are hugely that they’re very very popular they kind of live there in Allianz where then new interesting website where people meet and shared stuff also emerged I pick one example called supernatural calm which

for example have practice called picture Sunday which means that every Sunday people post about stuff that they’ve made during the week and then other people can comment then that’s it works there are blog rings for the other bloggers rings for men who need niches with cats quia natus or kind of meat is there are also different kind of organizations that are expanding right I rapidly this cultures of crafts I think it’s actually from here and where people meet online and offline the essential thing here is that work seems to inspire more work when we get to see what other thing people have made we get new ideas and we want to do our own version of things and I think that this is here when we kind of get into the basic idea of or the basic question is that which is that is there some kind of different form of exchange going on here is there some kind of different craft or economics which is let’s say closer to hacker ethic or something which means that when I observe these people I mean I notice that your people are not putting this stuff online to sell then only for for selling them or only for earning money they are also they are publishing based off the to get feedback to get other people commenting they work to get new friends to meet new people and find new things and most importantly to have fun and this is precisely those kind of weird projects that people do those are the kind of project that we really want to recommend to other people as well now see what my friends have made see these weird trick that they built in Amsterdam I don’t know but these are the kind of project that we really want to recommend and that’s that that’s kind of word of the day or kind of slogan of the day we’ll know Marcus are increasingly based on recommendations like amazonas best example I mean we get books recommended based on our previous purchasing behavior we also got Amazon book recommended on our web blogs we got last.fm for a recommendation for recommending music we all have all consumed net etc etc and you pet you are perhaps familiar with the concept of long tail and no anyway the person who kind of the first person’s to cons conceptualize this idea of recommendation based market and what does mean was a guy called Chris Anderson which is a chief editor of the wired magazine he in October in 2004 he wrote this article called long tail where he said that actually the future of the entailment business will be not in the body talent and hits but actually in the long tail in the obscure products that you can only find online and like if you read the article you kind of get the idea that everything that it’s not in the body tail everything that it’s not like hits sold sold in shops is in the long tail and that’s the long tail economy but if you take a closer look you actual know that not all things are equally recommendable because recommendations are basically based on unique product codes the products codes that we know best are for example Amazon identification number and UPC barcode and the electronic version epc and I spin for books but these codes are mainly developed for companies and by companies and they are developed for for the purpose of managing production or logistics mainly and these codes for small producers should seem pretty useless they cost money and they’re pretty difficult to to get hard to get so that’s why all these kind of weird projects that we see on for example is a good site we make money not art which presents all kind of technology art projects all these kind of weird interesting stuff that we see all these products that I was showing you previously these products are not part

of long tail and and you could say that most art and design and crafts are actually not part of long tail because long tail ends where product codes end so that’s why there is this huge invisible tail actually which is much longer than the long tail which means things without unique ID codes um about a year ago we started thinking that this is not this is not fair in the sense that it’s not fair that those who kind of only who belong who have their products within the commercial system get most publicity or get they were voice heard so about a year ago we got we came up with this idea a free product code and that that’s actually merged when I was speaking at the technology conference in Copenhagen called reboot and I was talking about craft blogging mainly and about crafter manifesto it happened that in the evening on saturday evening when we went out and we were at the bar and then we met this guy called Jimmy Wales from Wikipedia and we started talking about this idea a long tail yeah it’s good but yeah we really are on what’s missing is the free product code for small producers and then we start like circle circling around the idea and I think that like after first like our third beer we decided ok let’s let’s let’s give it a try let’s make a free product code and let let’s see what comes out of it at that night we’re talking that well maybe we should call that long tail identification number or something like that a bit later we thought that again and maybe not let’s let’s call it a thing link because it said it will it would like physically be a link between physical objects and online information about them this is the site that which is published at the maker faire this weekend called thing link org it is Society it’s a it’s an open database free open database where makers or come in all kind of makers like artists designers and crafters or they can go and create unique identifiers for they work this was not the first site that we build we actually previously we built a site called thing links com which was just a kind of first experiment where people could go and create unique identifiers for free but you couldn’t register or save in any way then to make like the first attempt of the database was site called wiki products dork so we just took the media wiki platform and put this and made like a site where people could just enter products and describe them and I’m it was working all right but after like using it for for some time I realized I mean it was all so working Google I mean it especially if you put that thing link on a title level information but after a while I realized that this is actually too difficult to use it’s not going to work with people with artists and designers crafters here not a so familiar with now working with or especially coding and HTML so we thought that we we have to make it much more simple i’m going to show you the site after this presentation but i will first address a couple of questions and explain a little bit more about this about this site and about thing links first of all um like for whom did we build this we we built this for makers there can be all kind of makers and currently I mean now when we have had it up for four days we have I just calculate this morning we had like four different types of users well we have individual people who seek exposure for they products because it’s an easy to it’s an easy tool to create a portfolio web portfolio for work so its individual people but in addition to that we have a couple of museums in Amsterdam you want to try thing links on the exhibition’s that they are organizing now we have the University of Art and Design in Helsinki who have thing linked all the Masters of artwork they’re going to use thin links and they expects position where people can go around and actually the graduated masters of art they’re going to give out

like thinglink stickers as business cards for the work that they’ve done then we have a couple of small shops who are selling work from local designers basically what is the benefit is that if the existing product codes that are made by companies and which serve basically system of production logistics so this was planned to serve the kind system of use which means that first of all the idea is that thing links they give products unique identity on the internet and they relink physical objects with online information about them I mean you could tag this an example i have like mike is not working but for example dress that I’m wearing it’s actually addressed that my in which my mother got married so this is very important for me there’s some meanings that i would like to write somewhere and if somebody someday finds this dress from flea markets so that’s possible to find out you know who has made this and when and you know what kind of history test so for example you could put like tingling stickers or seats editing link on on a corner garment or then you could also use rfid tags i also have this stress and tact with rfid tag i have a nokia 3220 with the Near Field Communication shells which enables you to actually write a URL or code or on its own a sticker so that’s like one example that you can actually link objects with online information about them and which is really interesting I think that if you could travel I with the objects so that you could actually track the history of an object when it travels from one person to another real really cool okay there is a spelling mistake help to learn about new people and new things that they make so thin links is for I don’t know if you’re familiar with a theory called action network at actor network theory but if you are I would say that this is actor network theory in practice the idea that it’s about making visible that the networks of things and people and make them navigable I think that the first kind of technical question is that well is the code long enough for the beta version the code is thing column six digits it’s numbers and three letters well that is for 17 million the space is 17 million codes so that’s not very large but um but the idea is that the code is extensible actually so the format is always in sequences of three three numbers three letters three numbers three letters but yes I said that for the first for the beta version it will be the shortest 116 column six digits that’s very human readable another question that we get is that is tingling class level 0 an item level identification well the basic idea is that you can decide if you have made if you’re shoemaker and you make five equal pairs of shoes you might give them one thing link but if they are different and if they have different stories you might like to think link them separately what is happening next like this is the very first version there are a lot of um you know things that we should improve what we’re going to work next is clap to improve the interface deal now on the site we can’t we have you can create thing links but very soon you can also label personalized stickers nothing labels for your work indexing thing links is one question that interests me that’s why I’m here as well I hope and of course the mobile access so on so that people cute on that we could have software on on our mobile phones where it would be easy to find about thing linked items I could actually show how it works now I don’t know how I’m doing with time Eric it’s very easy to register yourself an

account when you log in immediately shows the things that you’ve put into the database but the so arm from the homepage you basically when you when you want to start creating things you just click click create and it gives you an empty form and it automatically generates your thing links so this is the unique thing link for free work then just fill in the basic information which is like a name title for anything who is the maker who are the makers and then there is space for description there’s some sort of space so you can tell about the about the history about the materials about how you made it and you can add lanes and so on and most importantly you have tags keywords like in Flickr to make it easy for other people to find your work and then you can also add the country and the year when thing was made now we have a flickr integration for photos at this stage so you can also easily add a photo it automatically it it searches to the 9 most recent photos that you’ve uploaded on flickr so again like then you can pick one there and when you saved your thing then it just starts accumulating this list of your things for example let’s see this also bear which is a rfid embedded toy that i made carries euro other people can leave comments for you as well so it’s in that sense it’s an interactive database then you can also search for things search for art for example okay well that’s not part though well there I think they do maybe I’ve been with ambitious and tagged my workers are ya gives you so you can browse what’s here and also the home page and we’ll is the most popular tags hope your country is popular years and also soon the most popular makers and yeah this basically how it works I think I would you like to see something more or maybe i’ll leave it to questions sure anna safranin England Parker line dress skin how the Skinner know whether it’s in England barcode or some other bar code how does that figure out the in the code there there’s always the same column so it’s not only the number and then we have to build software which identifies thing our food standards bodies the right metadata is present some other bar code and opinion bar code will not be identical haven’t had any reaction of the partners um I think that the other part code couldn’t have the same column embedded in it and that’s what it makes them different from other park bar goes for example and it always comes in sequences of 333 or yeah so that’s how it for example can’t be mixed wit with like UPC bar codes because it has the thing column embedded and the sequences at 333 or do you think that there is possibility we can talk afterwards you previously observed in work for snares bottles this question of conflicts and hey is this symbology going to get confused some other Lee breeze is what we worry about okay right what if somebody wants to buy how does that well you can of course when you describe your thing you can on for example put a link on etsy.com for example or an ebay where you want step sell your stuff so selling your stuff at

own things orc is not possible at least yet I don’t know if in the future but but it’s not in our plan so basically you can add the link to to an online store yeah it also has anyone but adsense out there yeah not yet yeah that’s what I should be thinking I think I mean right place in business but yeah that’s what what a lot of people were asking to maker faire that what what’s how I’m going to generate like some income because now and basically be you know financing this out of my own pocket so yeah not yet can you keep telling them what actually um the sticker well this the basic sticker like you know this is for if you have built a robot or furniture so you can actually stick stick out on on on that so the idea is that the sticker will have thing column and then well free space or writing the code but the idea is that actually that people can make their own sticker design so we will publish stickers made by people it doesn’t have to be this is only the basic sticker and also what we’re thinking that that it will be become possible person that you can just immediately when you create it a thin link you can click label and it and then you can choose the sticker design that you desire and then it makes automatically puts the unique code on the on the on the sticker and you can print out or order that as well so ordering stickers will be well become possible how big is the invisible tail I mean it’s just going to be bigger than the long tail and is this a fad or is this like just the way you know life is evolved I think that the question for example that is bigger than the long tail well the fact that fact is that very many people do all kind of stuff but the kind of crucial question is that what do they find so meaningful that they would want the thing link them or they would want to share a story but then and people have different motivations I mean some obviously want to put the stuff online for for selling that you know make an income others just for fun or others just for example hobbies who collected stuff so it’s kind of like displaying the story behind an object makes it more valuable I mean if your business is making like making stories with people or for example antique retailers for whom it’s very important to to tell exactly who owned this who of the mistresses of the King Edward own this mirror previously on you know make all this visible those have definitely an interest so I see that there are a lot of water lot of like possibilities a lot of use case use cases for thing links but as I said that like now we’re at the stage of exploring every morning when i open this pace I’m and like very interested go there and see like who have put that thing there and why and what what do they say about that so now we’re in face of exploring you know who will start using this but I think that it’s huge that’s bigger than the long tail yeah how many other girl now that it has been there for four days and I put in like I wrote about it on my blog I think the day before yesterday no there is a bit more than hundred things in in the database okay thanks