The Internet Of Culture

The Internet of Things isn’t just connecting devices in new ways, it’s connecting people in new ways too.

By 2020, it’s expected that there will be 30 billion-ish devices connected to the Internet. Right now there are around 6 billion. The Internet of Things is growing, and it’s growing fast, and we are surely bound to start surrendering the transmission of more and more of the ideas and customs of our cultures to connected technology.

At Deepend we like to think that we have an incredibly unique and inspiring culture. Actually scratch that… we know we do. Because most of us have past experiences in work places where culture development was less of a priority.

That’s not to say that those places weren’t great places to work. It’s just that once you experience the effect that a electric culture has on not only your experience of being at work, but the impact it has on your work itself, it is hard to look back.

Being a company that creates products used predominantly on internet connected devices, we spend most of our time using computers, tablets and phones. Though we are most certainly capable of being a loud bunch (we’re likely to cheer and applaud if you walk in the front door), there’s at least 5–10 times a day when our office is in stitches laughing without anyone saying a single word (thanks mostly to our office messaging system Slack).

Today we’re going to show you one of the ways we’ve cultivated our Internet of Culture.

The Deepend Light Wall

When we moved into our new office in November 2015, we wanted to create an installation piece for our entry way. The only pre requisites were that it had to intrigue people when they walked in, and that it had to have some primary form of utility.

In our day to day client work we always start with the problem first, going through some form of qualitative and/or quantitative problem definition process and then creating a solution once we know what it’s purpose is. Because this was to be more of an art piece, we instead bypassed a formal problem solving process and got in touch with our buddies at LIFX and asked for 40 WiFi enabled light bulbs.

The bulbs inspired us to come up with the idea of each Deepender having their own bulb. This bulb would become their in office status. By looking at their bulb, anyone will instantly be able to see if they’re in office, working from home, at lunch, at a meeting, etc. With an idea set, 2 days to prototype and build, it was time to start.

Prototyping

With the 40 bulbs in hand, we came up with a rough concept of making some kind of “wall” to hold the bulbs. But how big? The wall we were going to put it on isn’t small so we were spoiled for choice in terms of how big we wanted it to be. Better build a prototype!

Cardboard cut out scale test

We used cardboard to make a prototype for scale in the room. This took into account how far away people would be from the wall at their desks, and how much space we’d need between each bulb to discern whose is whose.

Initially we thought we’d print labels out for each person and stick them above their light, but we discovered by chance during the cutting process that we we could draw on the cardboard we were using with chalk. This gave us the idea to make the front of the light wall a chalk board so that each person could not only personalise their own light by colour, but also draw their own little piece of art around their light bulb. A mix of physical and digital culture in one.

Construction

The prototype helped us with determining appropriate size, so then we measured it out and designed it properly on paper, defining the tools and materials we’d need. Once designs were finalised, we swapped the cardboard for wood and the scissors for drills and put it together over a couple of days.

The wall is composed of different grades of wood, 40 light socket holders that were gifted to us by Dave at LIFX and about 9 metres of wire. All in all, the Wifi lights excluded, the materials cost about $200-$300 and included a few trips to Bunnings.

Completion

Once we screwed the lights in, connected them all to the network and mounted the “wall” on the wall, we instantly sensed that something incredibly unique had just been added to the culture of our new office.

It’s become a centre piece and a talking point for clients and visitors who venture into our little slice of Cremorne, and as you’ll see, it turned out to have much more utility than we expected…

The Light Wall — AKA Cremorne’s largest strobe light (as discovered at last years XMAS party)

A Platform on Culture

Thanks to the out of the box API that LIFX bulbs come with, we were quickly able to build a custom application for IOS and Android that allows staff to choose their bulb and take control.

The “WAVE” app created for Deependers to control their own light bulb

So after a couple of days of carpentry and wiring, and another few hours putting an app together, we ended up with what we set out to achieve. Something that gets people talking as well as a useful “status board” for us to quickly see where our co workers are.

What we didn’t realise was that what we were essentially building one big openly programmable wall of lights. We built a platform on top of the things that makes up our culture and the light wall is another way for our people to express themselves.

Any one in our office is able to build an application for the wall, and as such we’ve now got Slack and Google Calendar integrations, apps, and timed sequences such as it turning into a fizzing beer when it hits “Beer O’Clock” on Fridays, and an arrow leading down the stairs once knock off time hits.

We’ve programmed shapes and color animations to help create a particular vibe that the office might be needing at any one time. It also turns out the 40 light bulbs set to white at 1000 lumens makes one hell of a strobe light for office parties.

The Internet of Things is changing culture

At Deepend our culture is as much digital as physical. This isn’t a cheesy business catch phrase we use. We’ve truly created our very own Internet of Culture. The ideas, idioms, customs and traditions that make up the unique way that Deependers exist alongside each other (and our clients) for 40 odd hours a week, transmit just as effectively via 1’s and 0’s as they do via sound waves.

It may well be time for all businesses to start assessing how their culture is adapting to the coming era of ubiquitous computing, driven in part by the Internet of Things.

Many thanks to Benaz Irani, our intern who’s now over in San Fransisco kicking goals, who helped out with the design and build!


Chris Paynter is a Creative Technologist at Deepend and an advocate for great design. You can find him on Twitter.