Moritz Greiner-Petter: Seamful Design

In 2015, Google released an experimental software plugin for its Chrome browser called Tone. The small tool is remarkable in its peculiar approach for overcoming the obstacles posed by the incompatabilities of modern communication devices, operating systems and network protocols. The browser plugin makes it possible to exchange online content with others in a shared physical space (like a class or meeting room) through sound. It allows to broadcast the URL of any web content as a uniquely encoded sound snippet over the speaker of one’s computer. Any other machine within ear-shot, running Chrome with the plugin activated and listening, is thereby promted to open the respective web link. The reliablility of the transmission depends on the volume of the speaker and the distance of the listening machines, but also on ambient sounds or the orientation of computers relative to each other. It’s even said to work over phone and video calls. As its developers note in a blog post: “Tone behaves like speech in interesting ways”[1]. Although the generated sound itself is cryptic, the auditory mode of sending data affords a somewhat comprehensible and approachable form of interaction. You can instantly hear how loud your message is sent, you might have to send it again, a bit louder this time, to reach everyone in the room, move your machine closer towards the listeners, or interrupt conversations to allow for a successful transmission.

Image Credit: Reddit thread “You’re an asshole, Roomba”

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