Off on the wrong foot

So many problems with this breathless report of new “ubiquitous” services in Tokyo that I don’t know where to start.

OK, I lie: I do know where to start. A dedicated device? Worn around the neck??

One wonders why they didn’t leverage a genuinely – nay: a profoundly – ubiquitous infrastructure, one stereotypically but not entirely unjustly more associated with Tokyo than any other place on Earth: the ten million mobile phones already deployed in the region.

Also, you’ve gotta love the unchallenged assertion that “U.S. cities have expressed interest in the technology.” You mean that bleeding-edge RFID technology? Yeah, I hear one or two folks this side of the Big Pond are looking into that.

It’d be nice if business reporters did their homework every once in awhile before filing boosterish pap like this. At the very least, it would have been interesting if AP’s Yuri Kageyama had pushed back on any of the assertions she was being fed. Too much to ask for?

8 responses to “Off on the wrong foot”

  1. Yuri Kageyama says :

    Hi, Thanks for your interest,in my AP story. True, the project perhaps presents more questions than it answers. But it does exist. And it’s not our fault it includes the word “ubiquitous.” We never said it was. The story is simply telling what we saw in the demonstration so you can come to your own views, which you obviously have. As for me, I jthought it was a bit irritating to be constantly bombarded with narration about where you were. I thought the whole point about Internt access was to be able to find your own information, not have the information find you. But we have been trained to try to keep our views out of news stories. The researchers said the main purpose of this project is to help the handicapped and the elderly get around. By the way, the RFID chips aren’t exactly the same types widespread today that are being used to identify distributed products. They are relaying data from a server that can be updated.

  2. speedbird says :

    Yuri, thanks for swinging by to comment.

    Of course, I understand that one of the obligations of a journalist is to keep personal opinion out of reportage. But as I understand it, anyway, it’s also one of the journalist’s primary responsibilities to note when independent sources either corroborate or shed doubt on the claims made by their subjects.

    In this case, talking to a truly independent expert in the field might have shed more light on the actual importance of the what is being demonstrated here, and been a real service to your readers. If, for example, you had personal (and, as far as I can tell, perfectly justifiable) doubts about the interest of what was being demonstrated, there are plenty of easily-accessible and reasonably authoritative people you might have contacted for a different perspective. It surely would have enriched the piece.

    Far too high a percentage of technology journalism, I’m sure you’ll agree, merely consists of regurgitated press releases. I don’t think we need any more of that; by contrast, what we’d all benefit from is more tech-beat reporters willing to push back and to challenge the claims made for emergent technologies. As a reader and as a user, at least, I encourage you to bring more skepticism to bear in your reportage.

  3. speedbird says :

    Oh, and: if they’re using a server to push this information to users, as opposed to RFID tags, then I especially can’t understand why a dedicated device is necessary.

  4. Yuri Kageyama says :

    Thanks. It helps to hear from our readers. In defense of our occupation, our stories are not restatements of press releases as some may think, OK? Just take a look at some press releases! ;-) We go through a lot of material to make it into a story that people can understand. True, we sometimes don’t have enough time to hear from the skeptics. And we often have to leave out details that may interest some readers because our editors want stories to be as short as possible. Maybe I’ll get some empathy if I told you the Tokyo market was crashing this day, and I had to do the chips story in between everything else! The other option is to not do the chips story and just do the in-your-face stories like markets and try to get some sleep. Anyway, I was hoping readers will reach their own conclusions if I do my best to give all the facts _ and that’s working at least. Whether people end up with any respect for me as a reporter is something else, but I’ll learn to live with that. Thanks again. That’s partly why I have a blog to do other kinds of writing and express my views on my own news stories:
    http://yuri-kageyama.blogspot.com

  5. Yuri Kageyama says :

    PS Next time, may I contact you for comment? Could you please send your contact information to my email? Given the time difference, it’s sometimes a challenge to reach people like you ahead of our deadlines. Many Japanese experts are surprisingly reluctant to comment to media. Perhaps it’s cultural, perhaps they don’t trust media, perhaps they don’t know what the AP is, or perhaps all of the above.

  6. speedbird says :

    HAHAHAHAHA, of course. I’m sending you my info. I know just what you mean.

  7. Chiaki Ishikawa says :

    Hi.

    The Tokyo experiments, especially, the Ginza one, do leverage the use of mobile phones. There are tag plates with QR optical code on them, and these were affixed to lamp posts along the streets and inside some stores. Mobile phone users can scan the optical code to obtain the
    unique id embedded in the optical code to fetch information from the remote servers to show on the built-in web browsers.

    The plates can be seen at the following URL:
    http://www.tokyo-ubinavi.jp/en/ginza_hp/ucodeqr.html

    AP article probably didn’t stress the use of mobile phones and that is why, I think, you thought such usage of mobile phones were not contemplated for Ginza trial.
    I just wanted to rectify the misunderstanding here.

    It is only that the current mobile phones in the market today

    – don’t allow easy programming for infrared beam capture,

    (at least Japanese mobile phones are considered proprietary property of a sort of telco carriers. They are closed more or less to would-be-developers unless they sign NDA or special contracts. Not handy for trial and error style of new technology development.)

    – don’t have RFID tag readers at this moment.
    (There have been prototypes with RFID tag readers, but
    the cost so far has hindered the wide-spread adoption.)

    So, for experimental purposes, the current mobile phones are not adequate. That is why dedicated portable terminals were used for trials. Please bear in mind that this is a trial experiment and being able to tinker with the inside of a terminal is very important at this stage.

    Phone companies *HAVE* shown interests and that is why there have been the prototype models of mobile phones with RFID tag readers.

    A somewhat lengthy coverage of the trial can be found in
    the following URL and gives a short technical description of the system.

    http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/articleview/2983/1/1/

    TIA.

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