Wait, what the heck is ambient news?
Pew uses that phrase to characterize the experience of getting news in social streams, especially on the social sites Reddit, Twitter and Facebook.
People are increasingly getting their news as part of their social networking activity. This replaces an older model of "news time," where someone would sit down to read the newspaper or watch the evening news.
"Ambient news" means that news information just appears, scrolls by and then vanishes, mostly in the cognitive background.
I had to laugh at the incoming alert, because (thanks to Google Glass), the news about ambient news was itself ambient — floating in space over the frozen foods section.
The experience got me thinking about the future. It's clear that mobile notifications, wearable computing, preemptive search, the Internet of things and location-based commerce are all conspiring to make everything ambient. Not just news.
People talk a lot about "context" — the idea that information available to us will constantly change based on where we are and what we're doing. But the term "context" looks at technology from the industry's point of view. It's how providers of location-based information think about how, when and where to serve up information.
But from the user's point of view, the core attribute of this contextual information will be "ambience." It will just be there with us all the time.
Location-based information doesn't "feel" like context. The person receiving that information doesn't think "Oh, OK. This makes sense given my context." It "feels" like certain types of information exist in physical places.
I'll dig into that idea more, but first let's explore the "ambient" concept.
What does ambient mean, really?
Something is ambient when it is or appears to be part of your environment or surroundings.
Ambient is used in a variety of contexts. For example, there's "ambient music," which is both a style of music and also a description for music's potential role in human attention.
When you're at a concert, everybody is paying attention to the music—- that's not ambient music. But if you're at, say, a cocktail party, the music is usually ambient: You might pay attention to it, you might not. It's there, but it's in the background.
In a digital information context, ambience will be brought about by the convergence of multiple trends, including the following:
1. Mobile notifications. Notifications are about to become far more prominent in our lives. If you look at the notifications as they appear in, say, Google's Android KitKat or Apple's iOS 7, you can see that they just keep getting better, more informative and more relevant. Apps will increasingly feed notifications, and these will become increasingly location-based. The combination of constancy and location-awareness will make notifications on smartphones feel ambient, as if they're being harvested out of the air.
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