Digital plumbing and the deployment of Ubicomp at home

Broken interface(A broken interface that would certainly need a digital plumber, seen in Amsterdam)

An interesting article about the deployment of ubicomp at home: Tolmie, P., Crabtree, A., Egglestone, S., Humble, J, Greenhalgh, C. and Rodden, T. (2009) Digital Plumbing: The Mundane Work of Deploying UbiComp in the Home Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 10.

The article contrasts the vision of "invisible computing" by Mark Weiser to the concrete deployment of such technologies at home. It focuses on what the author calls "digital plumbing, i.e. the mundane work involved in installing ubiquitous computing in real homes". Based on an ethnographic study, it covers the work of installation, the competences involved on the part of users, the practical troubles they encounter, and the demands that real world settings place on the enterprise which create these systems. What is interesting here is that Ubicomp is here described as "an explicit intervention into everyday life".

Wiring (Some wiring installation recently encountered)

Some excerpts I found interesting about the challenges of deploying new technologies in existing home environments:

"Digital plumbing is indispensable to the migration of research technologies out of the lab into real homes. It is a largely ignored area of work however (...) the study has revealed four major areas where the development of support for digital plumbing might be considered:

  • The deployment of research technologies in real homes requires a great deal of preparatory work. This includes planning what is to be installed and where in cooperation with household members, and understanding existing technological arrangements that new devices and components will be integrated with. The development of methods and tools that enable the digital plumber to map these may be of considerable use to the work of planning.
  • In order to install planned arrangements the digital plumber needs to assemble the right tools and parts for the job. This includes configuring and testing the necessary hardware and assembling the software that will definitely be required and that which will possibly be required. The development of online solutions, including extensive archives of software versions, drivers, updates, patches, etc., and which permit reuse, may be of considerable utility to the work of assembly.
  • No matter how well planned an installation is, contingencies inevitably arise. Online archives may go some way to address them, though troubleshooting and faultfinding rely on technical competences that extend beyond the particular technologies being installed. The development of online resources, including FAQs, knowledge databases, and even remote fault diagnosis, may be of considerable benefit in the effort to manage the contingencies of installation.
  • Installation occurs over time and often involves more than one digital plumber, whether working consecutively or one after the other. Tracking and managing the changes made by particular digital plumbers therefore becomes a matter of some importance. The development of a ‘record of works’ that detail changes and their implications may provide useful support for coordination and awareness amongst digital plumbers."

Why do I blog this? Although these results echo with existing research about other installation work (from conventional plumbing to fitted kitchens, as pointed out by the authors), this article highlight interesting specificities. Quite handy for a current client project about networked objects in the context of the home environment.