the gallery of incredible notions
Today I came home and noticed this package lying on the porch (I vaguely remembered having seen it for a few days now). Turned out it was a promotional campaign for Dunkin' Donuts, in aid of cancer research. And, oh, we'll sell you a free bagel.
And a free drink if you come in. In this nice sturdy plastic cup.
Only problem is, I didn't ask for a coffee cup!
So, in order for the Stefanie Spielman Cancer Research Fund to get $1, I have to buy 13 bagels from Dunkin' Donuts. No wait, it gets worse.
In order for me to buy 13 bagels so that the Stefanie Spielman Cancer Research Fund gets $1, Dunkin' Donut:
# pays for 1 coffee
# pays for the production of one coffee cup (for which there is no market demand)
# pays for the design & printing of a magazine-quality information sheet
# pays for the (non-reusable) plastic bag it all came in
# pays for people to bring this to my doorstep
In addition, I am forced to deal with junk I didn't ask for, and the planet is awarded one ugly and unwanted coffee cup that is too hard to destroy. Now I hate waste, so I'll try to recycle it. Which means that Dunkin' Donuts is forcing me to pay some of the costs of their marketing campaign. (And you, and your children, too - plastic takes forever to degrade).
By now I'm finding it hard to believe that the true unit cost of all this is less than a dollar, in which case more - probably much more - than a dollar was spent to increase the coffers of the cancer research fund by $1, and the coffers of Dunkin' Donuts by the profit from the sale of 13 bagels.
Outrageous. Things that Dunkin' Donuts could have done instead of this horror:
1. Advertised the promotion in-store
2. Offered a free coffee if you brought your own cup
3. Just given the Cancer Research Fund $1 multiplied by the campaign's estimated rate of conversion. And then have advertised the good deed.
4. Advertised it online (update: they did)
Instead, this comes off as a desperate attempt to get me to give my money to Dunkin' Donuts instead of a kind, charitable gesture. And one that does more harm to everyone than good.
Unfortunately, I don't know how to put dollar-values to each of the above costs. If you know how to investigate this further, please drop me a line. Also, there must have been some set of conditions under which this sounds like a good idea: if anyone can throw some light, I'd be much obliged.
a post on presenting with an active backchannel: but what if you were twittering during your own presentation? you could create a depth of interactivity that wouldn't otherwise exist... participating in the backchannel to unpack your ideas, reveal sources, create connections, explain uncommon concepts. twitter plugin for powerpoint: where are you?
Here's an example of one my favourite ethnographic analytic moves: 'unpacking'. Unpacking is one kind of interpretation, where an observation is examined for unstated (or implicit) assumptions, consequences, and meanings. Here's how it works.
Consider the above image: a newspaper dispenser outside a subway. Here's what we're going to assume about it:
- It is intended to sell newspapers
- It is designed to support this intention
Now, notice the statement on the bottom of the dispenser: "We capture history every day". Unpacking this involves finding premises that give this statement meaning:
- "History" happens every day
- Some things are Historic and some things are not
- History can be identified as it happens
- "Capturing" history - by identifying what is Historic and what is not - is a non-trivial task
- the Dispatch performs this non-trivial task every day
Taken together, the premises make an argument for how value inheres in the Dispatch, and why you should buy it. Note that in order to accept the statement, you have to accept the premises, but in order to unpack, you only have to notice something and wonder what makes that thing work. What, one asks, has to be true to make this true, to make this believable? The insight is in the unpacking, the discovery of assumptions.
The insights here have to do with the claims being made about the nature of history: if one wanted, say, to counter-advertise, one could devise an advertising strategy designed around these claims. For instance, one could reverse the time-orientation and claim value in reporting and making sense of the present, and pointing towards the future.
But unpacking doesn't happen in a vacuum: in order to perform this particular instance of unpacking, I had to have cultural knowledge - (that the statement is an advertisement, that advertisements are stories that help sell something, and so on, that advertisements can appear on newspaper dispenser). This is what makes unpacking a particularly ethnographic move: after all, that cultural knowledge had to be acquired somehow. In this instance, advertisements & newspapers are common enough and shared enough that I could do this analysis without having to do research (although you could count my living 5 years in the US as a process of gaining cultural sensitivity; just growing up as a city-bred person counts too, I guess).
In cases where the things being noticed are in less public or familiar contexts - a McDonald's in India, or on the shop floor of an oil rig, or in a hospital - cultural, contextual, and procedural knowledge has to be learned, and often the quality of the learning depends on the amount of exposure one has to that context (what we call 'research'). This is why anthropologists and ethnographers prefer longitudinal participation - the longer one stays in a place, the more one learns, the more things one can unpack and find the premises of, the more powerful the insights. This is also why the ethnographic method has little to do with mere observation alone - you have to do a lot more than that to interpret and find meaning.
The real-time web is producing interesting developments in how information is pushed to a variety of devices and through different channels (twitter, email, RSS, iPhone/Blackberry push notifications). What seems to be missing, however, is an attention to alert redundancy: when the same information is pushed through multiple channels simultaneously, creating more information management interactions than are strictly necessary (e.g. Mint.com alerts pushed to email & iPhone reached my email first, and was seen there before the iPhone notification arrived.
What is needed is a way to mark alerts as 'read' across channels when they are seen on any one channel, and ways to not send notifications after they've been read on any one channel. This, of course, will need the development of a unified notification infrastructure, ecosystem-aware APIs that allow a person's suite of channels and applications to act in concert, models of network performance, and techniques for context-sensitivity that can make judgements about the appropriateness of generating alerts.
Of course, this is a problem that no one organization can solve, but unless it is, we stand in danger of a worse case of information overload than CrackBerry's ever represented.
left: on-camera flash
right: on-camera flash with a packet of "sugar in the raw" slipped on (it's made of brown paper)
this is part of an ongoing obsession of mine to understand how to do photography under varying light conditions with a minimum of additional equipment, and possibly reusing available materials
when ideas become the foundation for social value claims, discussions become evidence of value. note the urge to 'render' permanent a diffuse ephemeral conversation, thus making it easier demonstrate the 'influence' (and thus value) of that idea.
a.k.a. all your conversations are belong to us.
imagine doing this in real life: "can you come over here and talk in my notebook, please?"
Personas are composite constructions that serve two distinct purposes: to act as aids for design decisions, and to generate empathy. The two can easily get in each other's way: people looking for information that they can act on might consider all the additional texture of people's lives "fluff", whereas people for whom a persona doesn't represent a specific set of information but, rather, a set of contexts and behaviours might be disappointed if the persona had "just the facts, ma'am".
Within corporations, personas are an intensely political artifact: claims on what they should contain are made by many different groups of people: marketing, product planning/management, designers, researchers, engineers.. Each has their own set of questions they want a persona to answer, and each has their own claims on what the persona means. Our poor hardworking persona, then, has to act both as an embodiment of consensus and as a coordinating artifact - something that various kinds of people can look to for guidance as they go about their work.
Regardless, personas are usually composites: rarely in research are personas constructed from one perfect respondent - they are amalgams of many stories and many situations. This is (hopefully) not the case for personas that are entirely behavioural, and who are being constructed for a highly specific activity or around a particular product; the necessity for composition arises when generating personas for a wide variety of activities or products, and especially the case when personas are created as part of generative research, which tend to include attitudinal and aspirational data (to use marketing terminology) in addition to behavioural data. The point is to create a person who embodies the entire range of behaviours and attitudes for that class of people - so that the resulting design covers as much range as possible.
It is at this point that something like the following occurs:
"Does he have a car?"
"Uh, I don't know. I mean, he has an iPod.. isn't this the persona who doesn't like CDs because he wants access to his music all the time?"
"So, ok. He has a car, and he listens to his iPod in it and his FM connector keeps getting interference but his car stereo is old so he has no other way of connecting it"
"Yeah, that sounds about right"
If you're a ux/design researcher you've probably had a conversation very much like this. This is the act of composition: when the essential stories & features have been picked, and they have to be woven into a single story. In this sense, personas are a collection of fictional facts: the stories come from different places, but they have to be made part of this person's life, reflecting their desires, their interests, the conditions of their life and so on - and in the process are given a fictional form. At all times the data speak, but through the voice of this character. In this sense, defining personas seems remarkably similar to writing a novel...
To see this, we turn to the most excellent Umberto Eco (and it is worth reading in full):
What I mean is that to tell a story you must first of all construct a world, furnished as much as possible, down to the slightest details. If I were to construct a river, I would need two banks; and if on the left bank I put a fisherman, and if I were to give this fishermana wrathful character and a police record, then I could start writing, translating into words everything that would inevitably happen. What does a fisherman do? He fishes (and thence a whole sequence of actions, more or less obligatory). And then what happens? Either the fish are biting or they are not. If they bite, the fisherman catches and then goes home happy. End of story. If there are no fish, since he is a wrathful type he will perhaps become angry. Perhaps he will break his fishing rod. This is not much; still, it is already a sketch. But there is an Indian proverb that goes, "Sit on the bank of a river and wait; your enemy's corpse will soon float by." And what if were a corpse were to come down the stream â€“ since this possibility is inherent in an intertextual area like a river? We must also bear in mind that my fisherman has a police record. Will he want to risk trouble? What will he do? Will he run away and pretend not to have seen the corpse? Will he feel vulnerable, because this, after all, is the corpse of the man he hated? Wrathful as he is, will he fly into a rage because he was not able to wreak personally his longed-for vengeance? As you see, as soon as one's invented world has been furnished just a little, there is already the beginning of a story.
Eco, U. (1994). The novel as cosmological event. In The Name of the Rose (1st ed., pp. 512-515). San Diego: Harcourt Brace.
Exactly. Of course, if you're creating a persona you're working off of data, and the construction of the world is not random but is informed by your data (though there may be a few judgement calls along the way for clarity's sake, or to include perspectives). Importantly, the more constraints (user stories, situations) you add, the more formed your story (persona) gets.
The problem is to construct the world: the words will practically come on their own. Rem tene, verba sequentur: grasp the subject, and the words will follow
YouTube blogs today about how their ratings system is broken, and not doing what they thought it should be doing. The nub is: people tend to rate either 1 star or 5 stars, with the majority rating only 5 stars. This indicates that people tend to rate when they like a video enough, or less commonly, when they dislike it enough. The comments, of course, open up the whole can of worms around whether to use like/dislike indicators only likes, both like/dislike and ratings, and all sorts of other scale systems.
Which totally misses the point.
YouTube is a cultural resource. As a freely usable platform for expression, passing the time, making jokes, commentary, finding & sharing culturally meaningful events - and so on - YouTube generates enormous cultural capital. But the ratings systems don't capture that cultural capital - they merely capture one indicator of interestingness. The debate around ratings systems & scales is essentially one of classificatory accuracy: how do we get people to tell us how much they like something, so we can make a good judgement on how large masses of people like that same thing? The elephant in the room - the one not being addressed - is what exactly is the point of rating? Who benefits? What is YouTube trying to identify? A common enough answer is: the videos that are interesting. But that doesn't hold up: YouTube currently has 4 systems for new video discovery: network-based delivery, a viewing-trail based similarity & recommendation system, a curated set, and a current-activity view. None of them really use the rating system (or at least not visibly so.)
Answer 2: to separate the wheat from the chaff. But that doesn't stand up on scrutiny, either. Even if people had perfect agreement on ratings scale (they don't), any ratings system would still suffer from selection bias. Also, accurate classifications are only one of several use cases: for selecting a video to watch when having to select between multiple similar choices (picture quality, possibility of interestingness). Most of the time - especially with Facebook sharing and embedding and so on - the portability of YouTube videos means that they are in a specific context, and either watched if they seem interesting, or not at all. (In which case the static screenshot might be a much better signal of interest).
But neither of these have much to do with cultural capital: knowing what gets people attention and their engagement.
Culture is created through interaction. Stands to reason, then, that cultural capital - the amount of attention something gets - should also be measured through interaction. Here, then, based on thinking about the interactions one has with videos on YouTube (and taking into account the fact that YouTube videos are not really social objects within YouTube), are a few measures of cultural capital
- no. of times favorited
- no. of times embedded
- no. of times linked to / blogged about
- no. of times replied-to
- no. of times remixed
- no. of times removed due to copyright violations
- no. of times downloaded
- no. of variations uploaded
- no. of times re-uploaded after removal
- no. of times commented on per view
- no. of times added to a playlist
Of course, for some of these we're going to need object descriptors beyond just IDs and URLs, but Google & YouTube have a bunch of smart engineers, and I'm sure they can figure something out, eh?
looking at online media services it strikes me: what use is an aggregator without a queue? why is instapaper not part of youtube and google reader and twitter?