Chumby wags the long tail of attention

May 8, 2008

As I attempted to discuss in previous posts, the chumby, while it may contain similar electronics, is different from other internet-connected devices.  We have made deliberate design choices for the chumby device to serve a different role in people’s lives from all the other screen-based, connected devices they already have.

Another way to think of how the chumby is different from other devices, and what it’s really good for, is to think about your attention.  A really smart person recently tried to convince me that Chumby’s big opportunity was to be on screens that people actually paid real attention to, e.g., TVs and PCs, rather than via devices they might glance at from time to time and that might sit off to the side somewhere, say on a nightstand, or end-table, or kitchen counter, or floating around on your desk.  Well that sounds pretty obvious — in order to be seen you need to be where people are looking.  Obvious…and indeed part of the grand plan for the Chumby Network on every net-connected screen…but not the whole picture, and maybe not even the biggest part.  The problem with the Chumby Network being on a PC or on a TV when you’re attending to one of these devices is that you’re paying attention to these screens for a reason: on a TV you’re often trying to be entertained by a linear narrative; on a PC you’re often trying to get tasks accomplished, check email, find a fact, update your Facebook status.  You really don’t want a lot of distraction.

Specifically on a PC, widgets as “side information” on these screens can actually impede productivity and interfere with the primary (though obviously not the sole) purpose of this device, i.e., relatively lower information-value pixels on your monitor (such as knowing tomorrow’s weather when you already know it, or getting a funny “fact” about Chuck Norris) get in the way of relatively higher information-value pixels (your email, your spreadsheet, your Facebook friends’ Wall posts, the full extent of glitter on your MySpace page).  When a PC is used for its primary productivity function the value of widgets just seems minimal at best, especially in a tabbed browser world where you’re one-click away from information you want to know.  Perhaps because of this I honestly don’t know many people who use desktop-based widgets very much.

On a TV, except for closed captioning, side information hovering around the main “show screen” also seems to be a loser.  Since the days of videotext/teletext decades ago, this idea has been tried in various flavors of “interactive television” — and has never really caught on in any broad way as an adjunct to TV.  Probably because it interferes with the “suspension of disbelief” that is fundamental to enjoying entertainment; and because it becomes a distraction when receiving informational programming — it’s hard to read 3 text boxes and listen at the same time.  What has worked, to a degree, is side information being conducted around broadcast programming but on a separate interactive screen: texting votes for American Idol, trash-talking with your sports buddies via IM during the big game, or, more high-mindedly, getting background information related to documentary programming.

The value of Chumby (the chumby device and the Chumby Network embedded on other internet-connected screens) is that it serves you when you’re not paying attention.  Or, in Web 2.0 jargon, it serves the “long tail of attention.”  Chumby delivers information at a glance, in a “spare cycle” or while you’re “multi-tasking,” rather than when you’re purposefully seeking it — the browser on your PC is much better at the latter.  But there are lots of free moments in your life (I know you probably don’t believe this) and lots of unclaimed places where Chumby delivers information to you — moments when you’re not particularly doing anything, or when you can do more than one thing, and in places where PCs really don’t make sense.  When I wake up in the morning, there’s a useful, if semi-conscious, information opportunity: what’s the weather going to be?, how bad’s the traffic?, did the Padres win in extra innings? (nope), what are the news headlines? (read them to me!).  When I’m in the kitchen washing dinner dishes or making coffee I’m bored senseless, but my hands are busy — sure is nice to have some decent streaming music, or the Car Talk guys, and to catch up on Google News or TechCrunch headlines, and just enjoy fond memories from digital photos.  Note: Chumby isn’t the death of daydreaming in these off-moments, I think it’s a sponsor of it.  When I’m taking a phone call in the my office of course not all of these conversations, especially conference calls, are interesting enough to claim my total attention.  It’s nice to be able to glance at my chumby on my desk during the dull bits — of course I have to be careful to hit the mute button quickly before I crack up at something I see on the College Humor or The Onion widget.  Tim O’Reilly’s chumby is in his bathroom — enough said.

There are hundreds of these “long tail of attention” or “continuous partial attention” moments throughout the day.  This is what Chumby serves.  We provide what you want to see and hear when you’re not particularly paying attention.  Once you have a chumby or, better, multiple chumbys in your life, this will make sense.  Chumby allows you to know more and enjoy more of your time on this spinning rock by filling up all those interstices of inattention.  As stressed out and info-overloaded as you probably feel you are, your ability to receive and process information is still woefully underused.  Certainly you never are amused or delighted too much.  Your chumby brings color to those white spaces.

So get a chumby today.  You’re wasting your inattention!


15 Responses to “Chumby wags the long tail of attention”

  1. Euroboy Says:

    You know what? I’d love to get a Chumby. In fact, I would already have one it if wasn’t for one thing. I live in the EU, and Chumby… well, you know the rest.

    Please make it happen, guys – we’re (still) waiting for you (and I have a feeling quite a few of us are tired of waiting).

  2. Brian Says:

    I could not agree more. As an early chumby owner, I had to find where it fit best for me in my life.

    I have several channels each designed around a specific time period or audience.

    For instance… on my nightstand at night it takes the place of my alarm clock and provides me with quick info I need for the day all at a glance. (Calendar, Weather, Traffic) Something like event details I pull up later in the day on another device that I find more suitable.. Chumby just gives my overview.

    After I wake up, I switch the channel to one that I have dedicated to showing my family Picasa albums because my wife and kids like to see those during the day while I am at work.

    Later that evening before going to sleep I might switch it to a channel I made with some game widgets to kill some time.

    None of what I use it for is overly elaborate. It just sort of fills in nicely into the gaps that aren’t suited for a laptop or phone.

  3. John Says:

    I would like to put forth an argument for Chumby Network providing a PC app. First off, I love my Chumby it is my favorite alarm clock, sure there are some beta problems but it’s a beta CP. In fact I am in the process of moving apartments right now and once I get settled I am looking at picking up another one or two Chumby’s for my living room and/or kitchen. It’s perfect for the home but not work environments. Your post is on point for why the appliance is such a great delivery method for the Chumby Network content. That said I don’t think the Chumby network should be limited to just the appliance. While I agree the Chumby would not be effective on a TV screen I do believe there is tremendous potential for an Adobe Air app or something widget based (Not being a developer I use Air as an example making the assumption that Flash Lite can run within Air). While I do have a widget app on my primary PC, I often find that either 1) I don’t have the right widget set up for what I am looking for or 2) my desktop/dashboard is way to cluttered (not to mention the performance issues). Where a Chumby widget would shine is the ability to have all (or nearly all) of the content one wants in one widget. That same widget which would replicate a channel you’re already familiar with from your Chumby appliance, someone doesn’t need to customize a new set of widgets, search for new ones, or loose productivity trying the have similar content wherever they go. I see that as the real beauty and potential for the Chumby Network. I set it up once, make changes in one place and the content is replicated everywhere I want. A desktop application in addition to the appliance would provide that coverage.

    “The value of Chumby (the chumby device and the Chumby Network embedded on other internet-connected screens) is that it serves you when you’re not paying attention. Or, in Web 2.0 jargon, it serves the “long tail of attention.” Chumby delivers information at a glance, in a “spare cycle” or while you’re “multi-tasking,” rather than when you’re purposefully seeking it — the browser on your PC is much better at the latter. “

    This is why widgets and all the tabbed browsing in the world is a productivity killer. When I have a “spare cycle” I have to change to a browser/dashboard find or visit a bookmark for the content I want. I HAVE TO SEEK OUT THE CONTENT. When I have a spare cycle or dead time I don’t want to go find the information. Using your conference call example, I would rather look at my Chumby desktop widget and have it flip though my channel. Its passive, and that’s the beauty. But you have already expressed this. However, not all of us, in fact I would say more then most can NOT have a Chumby with them at times when it would be desirable to have one. Sure, I can put one in every room in my house but that does me no good while I am at work.

    As a personal example, I am a consultant, always on the road and at client sites. First, there is little chance I would even take a Chumby with me (its just too big of a device to travel with), and second its impractical to think I could ever set one up where I happen to be working from. Right now above my head is a nice Cisco WiFi AP, but I can’t access it since I am not on their network. That is where a desktop application would be great; I can have it no matter where I am so long as my computer is connected. While I am on a conference call I can alttab to it, and watch it, its passive.

    I would also say that outside of people who work in home offices/very small businesses/and small start ups computer networks tend to be fairly well controlled at work places. Especially wireless connections, its quite inconceivable that many corporate or small and medium sized businesses do not have their wireless networks locked. As a result, even if I always worked in the same office I still couldn’t bring in a Chumby. Having it on my desktop is the only way that I can access my Chumby Channels. I don’t know what the business model would be, maybe just like the virtual Chumby (you need to have a Chumby to access it), but having a desktop widget is something I feel would add a great deal of value to your platform.

  4. westciv Says:

    I second Euroboy,

    you had me ay hello! I’ll get one the moment they are available outside the US!


  5. chumby Says:


    Thanks for your comment to my post. I did not mean to imply that there is *not* a Chumby opportunity on the PC desktop, just that it’s not the *primary* opportunity for us. In fact I completely agree with you that your Chumby channels should be there, as well as on every other connected screen: i.e., all “part of the grand plan for the Chumby Network on every net-connected screen”.

    Chumby *everywhere*! Stay tuned ;^)



  6. Andrew Says:

    A chumby, as you describe it, sounds great, but you don’t mention the advertising aspect. When I glance at a chumby I want to know it will have something interesting. An advert is not interesting.

    If the chumby were to truly be a hardware widget display (in the Windows Sidebar/Google Gadget sense) then I’d buy one, but I’m not throwing down $180 to enable you to push adverts at me. I might not be in the majority on this but I’ve talked to enough people to know that I’m not alone either!

  7. Pat Nevison Says:

    Amen, Mr Tomlin, sir. That *is* the Chumby way – to be surprised / delighted / shocked / intrigued / puzzled / offended (yes, that too) / diverted / alerted / , just when you *weren’t* expecting it.
    (and in a Douglas Adams / HHGG style I’m motivated to write a widget that insults you … since Microsoft Bob, I’ve wanted that…) Hey, make a feature of that – just like the Infocom adventure game of HHGG – it was not user friendly, it was user-hostile! Nice! (“error – can’t find program” “error – can’t find program” “Oh there it is..”)

  8. Thought Dan Says:

    We just got a Chumby in our Pervasive Media Studio! Now w just have to think about what we wanna make it do….

  9. chumby Says:

    Pat, if you really want a widget that will insult you, check out “Bad Bunny”

    It insults you…in French. Though we’ve provided subtitles.

    And you can hit back.

  10. Scrape Says:

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation :) Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Scrape.

  11. So when will we get Chumby 2.0 already? I’ve been putting off buying one because, well, it’s just WAY too cutesy for me. I know…it’s supposed to inspire love and devotion with its adorable little face and cuddly retro leather inserts…kinda like a puppy without the floppy ears. The spawn of a baseball and a hacky-sack. But that’s why I won’t buy one, eh? With the women I date, I have enough faux affection in my life. I just want my Chumby to deliver the goods in a sleek-looking Frogdesign case that doesn’t clash with the decor in my post-apocalyptic Bladerunner-style digs. I want it to serve up tasty widgets…not be my chum. By.

  12. Oops…sorry for the spam cross-entry. Didn’t realize there was a forum before I posted this comment in the blog. Please don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. Just hate me.

  13. sean brown Says:

    Your smart friend is on to something … take for example Samsung’s infolink service available now on the 6,7,8 series lcd tv’s. Having that content customizable and portable to other devices would be ideal. Chumby could act as the software/content provider for these types of devices as well as provide the maintenance and support to the end user. The chumby device is cool but the power is in the content… remember the 3com Audrey?

  14. […] and the advantage of having their own personalized always-on, at-a-glance internet — and they “get it” that their laptop or smartphone doesn’t already do this.  We love our widget developers, because […]

  15. […] 2) chumby is “glanceable” […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: