IA Summit 2009 Podcasts
The IA Summit was held in Memphis, TN from March 20-22. Boxes and Arrows captured many of the main conference sessions (“see schedule”:http://iasummit.org/2009/program/schedule/).
| “Preview”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/when-life-intervenes | “Keynote”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-09-keynote | Day 1 | “Day 2″:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-09-day-2 | “Day 3″:http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/ia-summit-09-day-3 | “Closing Plenary”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-09-plenary |
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Main Conference Sessions, Day 1 – Friday, March 20
These sessions were recorded on the first day of the conference. Download them individually here, or get them all with the Boxes and Arrows “iTunes feed”:http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=275459507.
Links to the presentations and “slidecasts”:http://www.slideshare.net/faqs/slidecast will be updated continuously. See the Slideshare “IA Summit 2009″:http://www.slideshare.net/event/ia-summit-2009/slideshows page for up-to-the-minute lists of available presentations.
Thanks to the speakers for their hard work and for sharing their knowledge with the community.
You are (Mostly) Here: Digital Space and The Context Problem – Andrew Hinton
Lead Information Architect in Vanguard’s User Experience Group, Andrew Hinton provides engaging examples (including Mr. Spock, a speeding trolley, and a Dada urinal), illustrating how language powerfully affects context, and vice-versa.
Andrew connects this understanding with real-life IA design issues such as Twitter’s syntax or Facebook’s Beacon and challenges us to think more carefully about how we shape context in the digital dimension.
Transcript of You are (Mostly) Here: Digital Space and The Context Problem – Andrew Hinton. Main Conference Session, Day 1 – Friday, March 20
Announcer: This podcast brought to you by ASIST, the American Society of Information Science and Technology, the society for information professionals, by the IA Summit, the premier gathering place for information architects and other user experience professionals, by Boxes and Arrows, visit Boxesandarrows.com/about/participate to be a part of your peer written journal. And special thanks to Axsure and Morae for sponsoring Boxes and Arrows, as well as the many other sponsors of the IA Summit.
Lead information architect at Vanguard’s User Experience Group, Andrew Hinton, provides engaging examples including Mr. Spock, a speeding trolley and a data urinal, illustrating how language powerfully affects context and vice versa.
Andrew connects this understanding with real life IA design issues such as twitter syntax and Facebook speak end and challenges us to think more carefully about how we shape context in the digital dimension. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast, cheers.
Andrew Hinton: So thank you for coming, this talk is about context, it’s about how context has been disrupted, about what I’m calling here, digital space. I don’t, we need a word for this stuff, this digital space thing, digital space doesn’t quite seem to do it, cyberspace is sort of old hat, I’ve been toying with metaspace but it’s already being used in some other areas, so anyway, I’m tossing it out there, work on that.
But first I want to tell you about this amazing fake news that’s coming out of Vegas, out of Las Vegas, which has a thematic connection to Elvis’ home town, right? So, OK, yeah. Actually, it has nothing to do with, but as you know, Las Vegas is America’s playground for grownups.
It turns out that Las Vegas has had a dip in tourism and they want to enhance their service model. So some brilliant people from, I won’t name the department, have come up with a way to surprise its visitors with a whole new, fun, sort of social program.
First, they’re going to watch you as you spend money in Vegas. They’re going to watch everything you spend money on in Vegas, by the security cameras that are already in Vegas all over the place. But they’re just adding this new layer of functionality. Wow factor if you will.
And they’ll also be transcribing everything that you spend money on. They’re going to keep a nice, line by line record of everything you do in the city; probably the equipment will be a little bit more updated than what you see here.
The products you buy, the shows that you see, the services that you may acquire; everything that you spend money on, cash, credit, check or money order or barter will be captured and transcribed.
Oh but it gets better, you’re really going to love this. Then what they do is they go into your hotel room and they find your address book, which I’m sure looks exactly like that.
And everybody that’s in it, who are obviously all your friends, your very close friends, right, who are all, everybody in your address book is; they’re going to grab that thing and they’re going to copy all the contact information for everybody you know.
And then what they’re going to do is, they’re going to send a notice to everybody you know any time you buy anything in Vegas. Right? Isn’t that cool? What? Who, tell me, who would love to have that service when they go to Vegas? Nobody?
You guys, God you’re so, no, it’s not, nobody wants that and obviously as I said, the story is not real, but it is, because this is what happened on Facebook.
How many of you have heard of Beacon, the Facebook service? OK, so Beacon was a service Facebook launched with very little warning. Basically everything you bought at a connected partner venue site, store, would show up in your news feed and the news feeds of your friends.
So everything you bought, right, at Amazon, Zappos, I don’t know, what else was on there, but all these other stores. They assumed that this was something that everybody was just going to love. And essentially it was a recommendation engine, right, that was going to give people the idea that, “Well, if my friends bought that, maybe I should buy one too.”
But this was an awfully convenient thing for them to assume, because really, it fit into their whole marketing model.
But unlike Vegas, where it would have taken a major expense, a lot of physical work to create the infrastructure, not to mention a radical overhaul of Nevada privacy laws, right, there would have been news everywhere about this.
Everybody would have seen it coming, it would have cost a lot of money, a lot of time, at Facebook this feature just meant somebody had to write some code and flip the switch, that’s all it took.
And suddenly you were in a very different place than you thought you were in.
So what was the outcome? It caused a giant user revolt, a lot of controversy, why? Because the nice people at Facebook did not comprehend a lot of things about their user base. They made a lot of assumptions about their users’ context.
For one thing, Facebook took great liberties with what the word “friend” means. “Friend,” right?
And people recoiled in horror because this lumbering creature had invaded their privacy; it had connected things that many users did not want connected. If you’ve seen “Frankenstein,” this scene does not end up well.
Now here’s another story and I really love this story. This is a urinal. Does anybody recognize this urinal? OK, this is also, according to most historians and experts, the most influential work of art of the twentieth century.
Influential, not prettiest, right, not most inspiring, most influential, and why is that? Well to be exact, it’s a urinal that Marcel Duchamp submitted to an art show in 1917.
He didn’t just submit it though, he scrawled R. Mutt, 1917, which you can see there and, like an artist’s signature, and he called it “Fountain,” he put it on a pedestal and then he submitted it to the art show.
It was a splendid act of Dada or Dadaism, which Professor Wexler’s talk earlier, showed us a lot, sort of like, twenty first century things in the spirit, like the dancing male members in “Second Life.” So it was, it ended up being more than just a joke.
I mean this was sort of early twentieth century participatory playful culture hacking, right.
This is what Duchamp was doing, he was hacking the culture, he was disrupting people’s expectations about western art and western culture, because, World War I had just happened and the Dadaists were like, screw all your values and all your morals, and all your priorities because they obviously don’t work so we’re here to upend them.
So it was like, what was that site for, I know what it is, anyway, it was like that site but in the nineteen teens. OK, you know what I mean; you know where I’m going. So he labeled it and he put it in a different context, on a pedestal and submitted it to an art show.
Duchamp changed the frame of reference for the object and it was a challenge against everything that had come before, every cultural assumption or taboo. It eventually affected how people thought about high art, low art, culture, everything.
So these histories of language and context can have really history changing effects. Here’s a graphic that was on boingboing.net, not long ago, notice the sort of grainy, satellite photo, the labels say that there’s a decontamination vehicle, a security post and a large chemical munitions bunker.
So immediately I’m thinking, “Well let’s bomb that. Let’s get rid of that thing. I don’t like that. Nobody should have that.” Well, that’s enough to convince anybody that there’s trouble afoot, right?
The real trouble is that what’s afoot is the language because this can just as easily be a delivery truck, an SUV and an IHOP. Now, whether you like IHOP or not, if you think their food is really terrible, it’s not toxic chemical munitions, it’s not that bad. Maybe later it gets that bad, but not in the actual restaurant.
Here’s another fun thing about context. This is the trolley conundrum. And by the way, everything you see here, I basically learned in podcasts, so I’m not an expert on any of this stuff.
Imagine there’s a trolley, and it’s going really fast, but its brakes are out. And it is racing down the tracks.
And you, lucky you, you happen to be standing right by the tracks, and you can see that the trolley is hurdling toward a fork in the track.
And on one side of the fork is someone lying on the track unconscious. And on the other side of the fork there are five people lying on the track unconscious.
OK. Why they are unconscious, we don’t know. Maybe there was a rave there last night by the train yard.
Regardless, not only are you witness to this impending catastrophe, you also happen to be the only person within reach of a lever which you see next to you right there that happens to control which fork the trolley will take.
Right now it’s set to go down the side that’s surely going to kill five innocent adorably passed out ravers. And on the other side, there is only one of them.
So if you pull it, you are going to save a net of four lives. Do you pull the lever?
Well, in experiments where huge samples of people were asked this question, and this is a very common psychology situational ethics question, nine out of 10 people say, yeah, I guess would have to pull the lever. Not like joyfully. But they are like, yeah, guess I would do it.
Well that’s fascinating. But that’s not all. Because if you ask a bunch of other people, a very similar question which is this: There is a similar problem with just a few differences. So here’s the trolley hurling down the track, only there is just one track this time, and the five unconscious people are lying on it.
And this time you are not on the side of the lever. You are standing on an overpass above the track. And there is a huge bodybuilder, like 375, standing on the overpass. He is like Andre the Giant size. And he is teetering over. He’s looking. He’s teetering over.
You just know… You are a tiny wimpy person. If you threw your own life in front of the trolley you would never stop it.
But you know that this guy, if he fell down there, he would definitely stop it.
And if you did this: “Oh, excuse me.” He would fall. And he would stop the trolley and save five people.
Well, would you do that?
Nine out of 10 people say no, I could not push this person to his death. Well that’s strange. It’s the same effect, right?
Only recently are scientists really starting to figure out what’s going on when we are making these sorts of decisions. And it has to do with brains.
Some scientists have been working on why we do this. They think they have some answers. And it turns out when you ask the trolley conundrum of people who are in an FMRI scan… these things are the favorite toy now of science. They are throwing everything in them.
It’s like when you were a kid and you first discovered xerox copiers. And you were like, “Well let’s see what this looks like.”
That’s what they are doing. Oh, let’s put a rat in there! Let’s put somebody in there and make them do a jig.
But they are doing things like this. So they are putting people in there, and they are asking them these sorts of questions.
Each of the sides of the trolley conundrum is affecting the brain differently. Our frontal lobes are the most recently evolved part. They house our more rational, logical processes. This tends to engage the version involving the lever. Because it’s a cost benefit analysis. And we are more physically removed from the results of our action.
Pulling a lever is not a visceral or intimate act like pushing bodily another human being. So let’s say this is sort of the Spock side.
Why yes, I would pull the lever. That sounded totally not like Spock. Did it?
I think I was doing Eddie Izzard doing Sean Connery.
Anyway. Then there is the limbic system which is quite ancient. It’s back in there from back when we use to swim in the ocean. Or eat flies off the ground and stuff. It handles a lot of stuff like breathing, bodily functions, but it also handles instinctive things like fear, revulsion, and pleasure.
Now this is important, an awful lot of our behavior, what we are discovering in brain science, me and all the other fake brain scientists.
You listen to podcasts about this. What we are discovering is that maybe the vast majority of the stuff that we do on a day to day basis is really coming out of these deep sort of roiling, weird, ancient, jungly, recesses in our brains.
And then this little flap, this frontal lobey thing, that we have evolved in a very recent human future, or human history, is catching it and making sense of it for us.
So we’ll say, I am going to drink this water.
[drinks water and swallows]
OK. But I didn’t do a cost benefit analysis just now to do that.
But I can easily explain to you all the reasons what I did while I was thirsty. I picked it up. I was careful. But none of that stuff was actually happening because my frontal lobe was telling me to do it. Anyway.
Just to keep the metaphor clear, let’s say that this is the Captain Kirk side of things. So what these scientists contend is that when we encounter a problem like this we’d like to think that we are very rational. But in fact both of these parts of the brain are heavily engaged. They have to fight it out to see which side is going to win as illustrated here.
Or better yet.
Can you hear that? There you go. This is human morality in action. Of course you have to see Kirk’s nipples at some point in the fight. All right. So let’s move on to something more civilized. That’s just the most awesome clip ever.
So one thing this tells us is that language actually shapes the way we perceive reality in a very deep biological neurological way.
Another study using the same FMRI scans ‑ those are so fun ‑ tested how people would respond to wine. They had subjects take two tastes of wine while being scanned. And they told them that one was this really inexpensive cheapo wine. And the other was a very high priced, fine, expensive wine that won a lot of awards.
Actually, I think all they told them was the price. People not only said that they thought the expensive wine was more delicious, but according to the FMRI scans they’re brains reacted in very different ways. The cheap wine was OK.
Oops. Oh, have to start over now. OK.
The cheap wine was OK. But it didn’t really cause that much activity. You can see if we are saying, “Which apparently was coined sometime in the ’90s. According to professor Wesch. And the expensive wine lit up more of the brain’s pleasure center. Literally. The funny thing is, it’s the same wine. Same wine.
So the next time you think, I am going to spend $50.00 on this bottle. I bet it’s really good. There are two problems with that. One is well, it might be chemically substantially the same as the $6.00 bottle of wine. The problem is, something about it being $50.00, literally in reality does make it taste better even though the physical reality of it is no different.
OK. My word, isn’t that strange? How deeply our experience, and meaning, can change just because a label on something.
Well, you are all information architects. You label stuff for a living. I am simplifying things. So this is important. This is an important thing to think about. These studies are teaching us a lot about the power of context and language. And the fact is that context to some degree is biological for us.
And our brains can respond very differently to just a few changes in context. So, these things that people were hearing for the trolley conundrum, and the things that people were hearing for the wine tasting, were just language. That’s all it was.
You weren’t putting somebody on a train track. You weren’t making them have to pull a lever. You weren’t actually even changing the wine. All you were doing was labeling it with something.
So context and language are highly symbiotic. They affect each other very, very deeply in ways that we don’t really intuitively understand.
This is Boylan Heights, it’s a historic neighborhood in Raleigh, North Carolina. And on the left is the map snapped from Google Maps. Maps are a very specialized form of language that we use to form our understanding of geographic contexts.
And on the right is the satellite view with the Boylan Heights area highlighted. Now, in a physical world, map and landscape are not the same thing. At least not literally but in every way except literally, the more you look at all this, the more they start to blur.
When you look at this photograph of Boylan Heights and you layer it with these streets, you realize you already had a filter when you were looking at the satellite picture. You are already thinking of it as a map.
When you are looking at satellite pictures, we have been trained culturally to look at these streets and say OK, we view it as a map of streets, basically. Everything else is undifferentiated mass of houses and people and trees and stuff.
Well, there is something special about Boylan Heights. It was a subject of obsession of a writer, artist, and professor of geography named Dennis Wood.
And it was where he lived when he was teaching at North Carolina State University, and some of you may have heard about this on This American Life. They played it a couple of times, it is really good, another podcast.
So, Wood is something of an artist philosopher and for a while he had a project going where he mapped his neighborhood in some really unconventional interesting ways.
There is the map of the overhead lines. So if you were electricity, this is how you would understand Boylan Heights. The street signs, there is an underground map showing sewer and water lines and cisterns if you were water. This is how you would experience Boylan Heights.
There is a street light maps where light divides darkness after sundown. There is a car spaces map.
Now, this is interesting. This is the mentions in the newsletter map that track mentions of certain addresses in a neighborhood newsletter over the years. Interestingly, no matter who lives in the homes, that are being mentioned a lot. It didn’t matter who live there, they were the same homes being mentioned a lot in the newsletter, right?
So does this mean that a certain home just command more attention? Does it mean particular homes attract certain kind of owners?
Interesting question. All the conceptual mapping by the way that we do in our work is trying to get similar kinds of answers, right? Well, this is my favorite. It’s the porches in the neighborhood where you find one or more jack‑o‑lanterns.
And interestingly, it corresponds highly to the mentions in the newsletter map. Interesting. So when you correlate this two things, you realize people who like being participatory, who like to be front and center in the neighborhood, maybe they are attracted to these corner lots, etc., interesting.
Taken together, these maps are really, really enlightening because after all a neighborhood isn’t just streets. A neighborhood is made of neighbors, and the streets are just one very thin slice of what that place means to human beings.
What these maps remind us of is that we often received messages about context without really thinking. And without questioning what other experience or wisdom might be hidden from us because we haven’t looked or we haven’t asked.
It’s not the maps fault. The map is just doing its job. It is doing the work the maker assumes they needed to do. The map can’t do everything, it can’t show you everything because if it did it would be the landscape and it wouldn’t be a map anymore.
So, the territory was there first and the map came later, but the map has a lot of power over how we understand the territory, which is really basically the same thing as saying what Michael Wesch was saying earlier which is the context or the places or the…
Actually I can’t remember exactly what he said, but basically these things that we make shape us and then we shape them. It goes like that.
Dennis once says the map’s effectiveness is the consequence of the selectivity or interest with which it brings the past to bear on the present. Maps written by serving interests. There is always interests behind the creation of them.
So that is not bad. It just makes a map a map. And every time we shape language and context it is serving some interest whether consciously explicitly or not. I suspect that more often than not when we describe context with language, we don’t consider the options because they have not occurred to us.
So, now you may be wondering when we are going to get into the digital part of this talk. Well, online we have a lot of maps that shape how we understand the things that they describe but online, it gets weirder. Sort of MUD, a multi‑user domain or a multi‑user dungeon.
OK good, not alone, OK. I have not logged into one of these things in years and so in my room, I logged into this just so I could get a screen grab.
So basically, these are the great grand daddies of World of Warcraft and Second Life but it’s all text. And you navigate and play by a command line. You type North, South, whatever. It’s all text. I bring them up because they illustrate something very important about digital space to make a modern mush or moo of the various flavors of these things.
You start by making rooms. A room is basically just a space, OK. It’s a particular context. And what you do is you use a command such a dig, dig and then you scraped out all the things about the context, about the room like it is going to have an exit here that is going to go to this, it’s going to link to this, it’s going to look like this and then it’s all just text.
And then when somebody is playing the grid or the place… When they enter it then experience it, right?
MUDs and their kin have their own script language for their creation. And what you create ends up being experienced like a series of connected spaces, contexts, sub‑contexts. All making up the larger context of the MUD.
This is a map of just part of a long time MUD based on the Discworld novels which is still out there. It’s the one where I get the screen gram from.
So even though I am showing you a map here which is just another language artifact. The visual is just meant to evoke the fact that there is a context being created with this language.
But unlike Boylan Heights, there is no physical context with which to compare this map. This map is a map of another map, right? They are just experienced a little differently.
In digital space, map creates the territory literally. So, I know most of you. Actually, more than I realized are familiar with MUDs and [mumble] but the web is not really that different.
So, on the web we make the territories, the context by mapping them and the map becomes its own territory and vice versa. So, at Google there is a site map and the site map represents the space you are in but unlike regular maps, when you click this, when you actually go to the place that you are… That is being described.
So, there are this weird fuzzy boundary that is happening in the digital space between the real and the virtual. So let’s say you are interested in how saddles are made and so you search leather working on Google, and I don’t know if you can see that but what it brings up is leather working and World of War Craft.
Now, you got to wonder what’s up with this. These are all about how to make leather goods in the land of Azeroth. Why?
Well, because there is eight million or more at last count people playing this game and a lot of them frankly want to know how to make a detrimental chest guard. So, remember as Dennis Wood told us earlier. Maps serve map’s world by serving interest. So online, wherever the central gravity of interest is, that’s how the maps are going to behave.
Early on in Wikipedia’s history, there were ten times more pages for a while there on the wars in the Star Trek universe than there were in the Peloponnesian wars just because there are a lot of geeks on there.
So if this makes you a little bit dizzy? It should because there is this vertigo that you get when you realize that we are living in more than one place at the same time. It is less and less exclusively physical this world that we are in.
And just as I was speaking a lot of you may probably have been text messaging, or twittering or chatting or whatever. Increasingly, we are walking around in many contexts at once that are all blurring together and Michael Wesch was talking about this as being context collapse.
For me it is not exactly collapse because it sounds apocalyptic although it is basically a collapse, but it is a readjustment. Radical readjustment of context that we still really don’t have our heads around.
This dimension, this information dimension is really screwing up what we mean when we say the word “here”. Because if you are in Twitter right now and you got friends who are not in this room, they think of you as being here on Twitter.
I am assuming not all of you are on Twitter and recommend you stay away from it, because it will just destroy hours of your day. But even on Twitter you will see people go away and say, “I am leaving for a little while, I am going offline” and will come back to say, “I’m back.”
Back where? Because it is not even like IRC or a chat room where there is one room. It is all these different multi‑variant versions of rooms that people have that they are looking at. We’ll talk about twitter again in a little bit.
We’re in this weird situation where we have this fuzzy human stuff that we’re trying to make into data but the data, these machines that we make screen out a lot of human ambiguities. It loses a lot of meaning along the way. You take something like love and then you go to Facebook and you say, well I’m in a love relationship.
You get six mutually‑exclusive choices here. The computer is saying you have to be one of these. Even though in public we might always describe ourselves as one of these, in reality, we might be some mixture of them, right?
Or we might not really be ready to actually instantiate the fact that I’m engaged just yet like in Facebook. It’ll bring up some conversations you have to have for your partner.
Andrew: Digital space tends to be very narrow in its definitions and it takes words that have a lot of richness and it truncates their meanings into these logical obsoletes. Again, language shapes context, shapes language but in this world of pure context and pure language, it can get crazy. Digital space is pretty ruthless about interpreting our ambiguities and that can be a problem, because our lives and language are full of ambiguities.
There’s the classic example from the book, “Eat Shoots and Leaves,” all about grammar and syntax. This phrase can be understood in a couple of different ways. There’s the cute panda, eating bamboo shoots and bamboo leaves.
Or if you just add a comma, suddenly you’re dealing with something surreal and violent, right? Now, just one little typo in a letter or email to one of you where I made this typo isn’t really going to confuse you because there’s more context around it, where you’re going to say: “Oh, it’s just a typo.”
The computers don’t understand that context unless we tell them to and that’s extremely hard to do. It’s still very rudimentary even with the advances that we made.
I say “we,” as if I’m one of these scientists doing this and I’m not. “We,” as methodical people.
What I’m getting at here is where something as small as a comma can radically change the meaning of language on a page in digital space. Something that small can radically change the meaning of the space.
For example, on physical space, there’s an obvious difference between a little nook in the corner of the room where I can whisper to someone, a private interchange and compare that to a stage in front of thousands of people where a microphone announces to all of them everything that you’re going to say. There’s a pretty obvious difference there.
It would be really hard to confuse these two places. It would be really, really hard to suddenly change from one to the other, right? You would have to tear down the alcove, build a stadium, invite a bunch of people and then suddenly they’re there. Well, you can’t actually physically do that.
But on Twitter, you have both options. You have the hidden nook, which is the “D” for direct message to someone, or you can just do a reply which everyone going to see. OK? In the physical world, it’s hard to mistake one for the other and do one over the other in haste, but on Twitter, it’s incredibly easy to make this mistake.
It’s just not so obvious. You are literally changing; remember what I said about the wine labels and the brains. Our experience of reality is so bound up with these things, but we’re literally shaping the reality of human beings when we are creating these digitally‑linked, labeled, shaped context.
I just don’t think we’ve been taking it seriously enough, really. We tend to think, “Well it’s just the web. It’s just this medium.” I’m sure everybody here has hit “reply all” at some time so even if you’re not on twitter, you know what I’m talking about, you actually did the “reply all” thing. It can be very disorienting.
Context really tends to shape identity as well. That’s why we get these weird, buzzy feeling in our head when we’re stuck in these confused situations. If you think of the Garden [?] office building, an office typically has a particular architecture. It has specific design choices that afford certain kinds of things.
At a night club, it affords completely different things because the layout is different, the equipment is different, the lighting is different, the bathrooms are situated differently. There’s a bar. All these things, of course if you started up ten years ago, maybe you’re at a bar, but that all went away.
Now when you’re at the office, you’re wearing your office hat, right? You’re playing that role, it’s not fake, you’re not pretending, it’s just the side of you turn on there. If you go to the nightclub or wherever you like to spend your evenings, you might have a completely different side of yourself, right? You go bowling with your friends.
How many of you have had the weird feeling of: I’m in this other place and someone from my workplace is suddenly there in front of me saying, “hi.” It’s as if, “I’m not sure if I recognize this person,” and then you realize, “I work with them,” but you don’t realize them right away because you know them from a different context.
Their identity in your head is very bound up in that context and yours is too. It would be awkward and it gives you this weird sense of vertigo, because these are parts of yourself rubbing up against each other in ways that you’re not used to.
Well, now online we’re offered this plethora of choices for extending and refining the facets of our identity and each has its own architecture that shapes who you are when you’re there. At LinkedIn, you have really different choices than at Chemistry. LinkedIn will ask you about your job history, not about what you like to do on a date. Chemistry is the other way around.
All of these architectures are for certain sorts of identity and facets of ourselves. That brings us a lot of challenges when it comes to cross‑overs of context.
We might not want our office mates to know what nightclubs we frequent or who we’re dating or what we like to do on a date. Unlike an office, or a nightclub or a church, or Vegas, these are not the physical places we’re used to. These can cross over or change in a moment’s notice.
Lots of people who started out using Facebook while they were in school and the strong implication was that nobody is going to be here except your classmates. Even now there are core pieces of the way Facebook functions structurally, architecturally, that still has that legacy assumption.
Now they’re trying to layer on all this other stuff. Almost overnight, Facebook changed into, “Oh, we’re really just an everybody and everything space.” Right? All the people who were students on there, we had people in our office who are members going, “Oh, I’ve got pictures on there that I should really take down, because all my co‑workers now are trying to link to me.”
My thirteen year old daughter was trying to link to me recently. I didn’t have anything embarrassing up there but I did do a double take.
What do I have up there? Who am I linked to because I couldn’t tell her, “No honey, I’m not your friend on Facebook.”
Andrew: You can’t do that. Again, you get this weird identity vertigo. People I knew from twenty years ago are putting pictures of me as a fourteen year old, because I happened to be standing at group a photo of some kind.
All these people that didn’t give a damn about me twenty years ago are putting pictures of me up and carefully labeling them and linking them to my profile and I’m like, I worked damned hard for twenty years to get separated from the me that was seventeen years old.
I deserve to have that in the past. All those people, all those things, I would have kept up with you if I cared, but I don’t. Yet, here it comes. Again, we get this weird sense of vertigo.
We like to think that our identities are not so dependent on the context we’re in or the people we’re around but as we found out that, with the whole FMRI scanning thing, it’s more complicated than that. The way we perceive reality is very much driven by a lot of fluid things.
Science and philosophy have been telling us, especially the philosophers, have been telling us for a generation or more now that objectively speaking, we’re just not all that solid in terms of identity. We’re constructed from the interactions, memories, and stories around us.
The self is a useful illusion, a reification that we depend upon for getting along in the world, right? We have to think of ourselves as a reified self in order just to get along, but it’s actually multi‑layered, multi‑faceted.
There’s another Marcel Duchamp creation, nude descending the staircase and it also prefigured this weird time space to displace dimension that we’ve created for ourselves where our identities are sliced and frozen in time and spread across space.
Our identities are inextricably bound up in the spaces and systems that we make for ourselves. Because most of the planet now, is living in environments that human beings made, rather than emerged from nature.
Sherry Turkle, a professor and writer in my Tees has been exploring this issue for a long time. Back in 1995, she wrote a book called “Life on the Screen” and she explained how the Internet have brought to a literal combination, of what people like Lacan, Fuko, and Levi Strauss have been saying about us all along.
She described herself, as a multiple distributed system, a de‑centered self that exists in many worlds, and plays many roles at the same time.
A world in which so‑called real life, is just one more window, and the ethnographic research, she did was in multi‑user domains, MUDs the text thing I showed you earlier. It really prefigured so much of this indigenous user content, contextual weirdness that we find ourselves in now.
Our esteemed guest, Professor Wesch, talks about context collapse, and he mentioned it in his presentation today. Basically he says thing about how on the other side of this glassed lens, is almost everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever heard of, even ones you’ve never heard of, billions of potential viewers.
The seemingly innocuous and insignificant glass dot is the eyes of the world in the future, and the problem is not lack of context. It is context collapse. Basically, the sort of black hole that sucks everything in, and squishes it all up.
I don’t think that it’s collapsing into nothingness. I think it’s just collapsing into something radically different. But it’s already happened basically, and yet we don’t have the language, we don’t have the brain wiring. We don’t have the cultural structures to deal with it yet. We need to maybe intentionally start working on that.
I’m going to hurry though this. This is an interesting thing to get across, because I think it’s a lesson we all need to learn as designers. Even understanding all of this, even if we got it all just right, if we design context, and connected contexts, so that they’re just exquisitely like they are to be. We still don’t really have much control over it.
On Twitter, it was originally made to go on your phone, on a very narrow aperture experience, a very atomic, one thing at a time, piecemeal experience, write one message at a time.
Let’s prone the web, too, because there’s the web, and they’d be nice people who would love to be able to do some stuff, and do their profile and all that there. But it’s a linear feed, right? But it’s still a fairly narrow aperture.
Once people were there, they started using it differently. They started replying with an ad symbol, because they figured that other people were seeing this, too. It caused this whole way people were using Twitter to emerge. And now there’s this abomination called TweetDeck. How many of you use TweetDeck? OK, stop!
No, I’m not going to tell you to stop using TweetDeck. But TweetDeck causes people to use Twitter in ways that are completely different than the inherent architecture of Twitter.
The inherent architecture of Twitter for example is: If I follow you, then you’re going to be in my feed right? If I follow you, you’re going to show up, whether I skip your message or not, you’re there, and it’s a gentlemen’s bargain if you will, going on with that…
TweetDeck, breaks it, because you can filter people out, you can put them in groups, so only read some people, and sometimes when you read these other people. TweetDeck, turns Twitter into this gaming platform, where people are trying to create trends and do all this other crazy stuff. It completely changes the way that people behave in the space, right?
We’re all in here, and we’re all in the same room. But if one of you started dancing a jig and screaming at the top of your lungs, we’d all look at you like, dude, you really don’t seem to understand the space you’re in.
Andrew: Have you ever heard of people say, use your inside voice, right?
Andrew: On Twitter. If I’m in TweetDeck it is a space, where I can basically be dancing a jig and being an idiot, right? Because that’s what it’s encouraging me to do so. It’s encouraging me to do all the other kinds of things. Whereas if you’re the unlucky SOB that’s got a phone, where you’re getting that persons messages, right? It’s like [noise], every two seconds, you have to turn it off.
So it’s crazy. Anyway, I don’t totally mean to pick on TweetDeck, use it if you want to.
But I have like this thing about it. So the implications are everywhere, I’ve really focused a lot on identity and privacy here, but that’s mostly not of any interest of time, but I want to be sure to mention that the context problem is a lot bigger than that.
It affects everything we do, it affects the way we earn, the way we spend money, the way we learn things, and read things. The thing about money is that, the mortgage crisis is a great example of this.
But basically, you had a situation in the mortgage crisis where people were no longer doing mortgages, in a way where it was intimate and visceral. It was so disconnected and attenuated across space and time that you basically had people pulling levers very far away from the people that were getting the actual houses, right?
So, it was very easy to completely misunderstand that context when you really are selling your packaged up mortgage things.
So the context problem exists everywhere we, or anything about us can be online, and that’s important to distinction. Because there are millions of people who were not online, on our planet. But the information about them still is.
How many of you saw this thing about Darfur that Google put up? Are you familiar with this? It’s a map that Google partnered with some nonprofits, like the holocaust museum, I think, to show the destruction of villages in Darfur, in basically real time or practically real time.
Well, this is an astonishing powerful example of how radically context has been disrupted for our species. Implicitly, raises the question of what the human limits are to comprehending context. At what point, no matter how much information we receive, is another context only abstraction. If we can’t reach into it, and affect it the way it affects us.
You can look at this, but you can’t do anything about it in this context. There’s no link to click, to get money. There’s no plane ticket to buy to go and help out. There’s nothing there that really tells you what to do about it, and yet it’s putting this thing in your face.
You just want to be able to wet your thumb in some water, and put the fire out right there on it, because it’s not it right? So it’s strange. I understand why they didn’t links to these, because that’s not really it.
So it’s strange. I understand why they didn’t put links to things because apparently it was like, we can’t endorse particular organizations. We can’t endorse particular methods.
But then it’s like, yeah, but, maybe just one? Because imagine all the people that looked at this, and maybe could have done something in the moment. I don’t know.
So as we’ve established, language and context, shape one another, they’re especially online, where everything is made of language, and more and more in physical space, where all that language space, that digital space is getting inter leaved, and intro‑woven, and inter‑twinkled with our physical lives.
So you’ve got a language, which is basically information and the context that was formed from this information, and then you’ve got context, which is basically the architecture, right? What I’m talking about here, is a very big picture of information architecture.
Information architecture is great at find‑ability. But I think even Peter Morville, who coined the term, has been saying for awhile find-ability is just part of the value proposition of information architecture. It’s part of what where we’re about, but it’s not like the whole story.
What I’m getting at, is that, I think that the shape of the act of shaping digital space, with links, and language, is an architectural act. It’s an act of designing context itself. That’s our medium.
When I say our, I mean, people who do information architect. This is not a turf war, right? This is just me trying to expand what the label means enough to see what it’s been doing all along. Like every taxonomy you’ve ever made, every control of vocabulary you’ve ever made, has been basically been a machine for shaping human context.
It’s just that we need to understand, that in a bigger frame, it has a lot more implications than we may have thought of before. We lack a suitable language for all this, this dimension of contextual systems. As a result, we really lack suitable tools, methods, patterns, and heuristics for thinking about it in this way.
Now people are getting started. There’s been some progress. There’s a book that I love is called “Contextual Design.” It doesn’t talk about this in a philosophical way, but it gives some really great tools for designing with context sort of at the forefront of what you’re doing.
There are some diagrams and things that my colleagues and I at Vanguard have been working on. Richard Dalton actually has an updated version of this one on the top right as a poster at the conference today.
There’s some very fine academic work going on that’s dealing with context both in the realm of ubiquitous computing and in the growing academic side of information architecture itself. This is on SlideShare. Luca Rosati and Andrea Resmini worked on this, and they’re working on some great stuff.
So it’s happening, right? But I’m just wanting to shout to the four winds that, “Hey everybody! Let’s all talk about this. Let’s work on this. I know we have lots of stuff to build for our jobs, but let’s also work on this thing.”
I think that as a community it’s a great thing to do. So who’s going to figure this out? And I just think it’s a huge challenge, so it’s going to take all of us and let’s get to work. Thanks. Hopefully, we have a couple minutes for questions.
Andrew: Anybody? It’s not a very questiony audience this year, is it? Oh! Yeah, go ahead.
Announcer: Speaking to the issue of context can you address, for instance, this idea of post once, ping many? So all these services are coming out like Ping.fm, where I post something and then it goes on Facebook. And instead of saying my status is “going to dinner,” it says “at so‑and‑so. Be there in a second.” And it’s totally out of context. I wonder if you could address how these services are coming out as found with ads, but really they’re taking away the value of other services because the context is [off‑mike speech].
Andrew: So yeah, yeah. So I think the question is that what about this post‑once‑ping‑many thing where you post something in one place and it ends up going all over the place? But then the things that are going all over the place are ending up in contexts where the original context isn’t there anymore? And it’s like, well, what does that mean? Well, as you were asking the question, I was thinking about the fact that even in newspapers, for a long time you had all kinds of stories and postings and classified ads and things.
Even now in a lot of news weeklies there’s this thing where people can post these things like, “Hey, I was the guy in the blue fedora, and you were the girl in the high heels with the jester hat on. We saw each other across the room, and send me an email here.” Right?
That has nothing to do with me. That had to do with some context that I was not in., but it’s sort of this S. O. S. in a bottle out into the world to say, “Hey, maybe you’re going to see this.”
Well, now on Twitter I see people getting really pissed off at Comcast or Apple or Vanguard where I work or whatever. And they’re like, “Hey, ad [?] or whatever. This really screwed up. I hate you.” It’s similar. I’m not that person. I’m not in their situation. So in some ways it’s some stuff that published media has allowed us to do already. It’s just cranked up to 1, 000.
Personally I think what’s going on is we can’t stop that stuff. It’s just going to happen. It’s a byproduct of all this wonderful friction‑free linking that we can do. We’re all learning a new literacy, though. We’re learning ways to filter some things out for ourselves and to tell right away, “Oh, OK. That doesn’t have anything to do with me.”
And we’re even learning ways to put the little S. O. S. bottles out there with maybe a little bit of metadata on it that says, “OK. This really doesn’t have that much to do with you maybe.” Like even the hash tags people are putting on Summit stuff to some degree are signal not only to look at this if you’re interested in the Summit but, well, skim by it if you’re not.
So I think that we’ll see things emerge because I do think that our attention spans are really limited. Mine’s incredibly limited. So we collectively come up with these ways of handling that stuff. Anybody else? Yes.
Man 1: I was wondering how exactly you felt about it, if you were kind of positive about it. On these Facebook [off‑mike speech] we’re seeing people have pictures put up that they didn’t want people seeing and taken out of context or shown to a different group. All of a sudden it’s awful. Someone [off‑mike speech] Hillary Clinton [off‑mike speech] on something they don’t want people to see. And I think it’s maybe this more realistic society. We’re more honest with each other, saying people make mistakes. People are, I don’t know, messy. We say things we shouldn’t in situations, and that’s OK. Are you optimistic about that as opposed to [off‑mike speech] be too safe?
Andrew: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So the question is ‑ and again I’m saying this so the little recording can get it ‑ that like on Facebook and places like that there’s this tension between the fact that stuff’s getting taken that’s seen out of context. Stuff that maybe should be private or whatever is now anybody can see it. Like an employer might be able to see your drinking pictures from your fraternity days. I wasn’t in a fraternity, so I don’t have any of those. I just have sitting around and arguing over Risk games pictures.
Andrew: … which is not nearly so, I don’t know, [laughs] dangerous. Anyway, but what was the question? No, I’m kidding. What we’re hearing is that in some ways maybe it can make us all more forgiving over time. People get used to the fact that, “Oh, yeah. Well, that happens. Big deal.” But then on the other hand maybe it’s going to make us all more afraid. Maybe we’re going to see that and we’re like, “I’m not going to post anything.” Which is it? And am I positive or negative on it? I think I’m neutral on it. Like I was saying about the context collapsing, I’m not negative on it.
If you take an evolutionary framework perspective, it’s more like things are just changing. And we’re changing reality with these artificial environments. Where am I going with this? I think that in some ways it can be positive, and in some ways it can be negative.
I think for a lot of people it makes them shrink back. It makes me shrink back. It makes me be a lot more careful.
I don’t even go on Facebook, probably because my attention span can’t handle all the inputs of Facebook. Even though I deal with many more inputs on the web, on the web they’re more differentiated for me. There’s [inaudible 50:39] like I do this on Twitter. I do this here, and I do this here. For my head that just works. On Facebook, I’m getting zombies thrown at me, and…
Andrew: … on my website, like on my blog, Inkblurt.com, I can post a post and it can be there. On Facebook I don’t even know really where to do that. So it’s just strange. For a lot of people it’s just perfect for them. So I think that for some people they’re going to start being OK with it. For other people they’re going to be more careful. That too, though, is a new literacy in a way. It’s understanding, “Oh, OK. This thing that I’m seeing didn’t happen in any context that really is affecting me or my relationship with this person.” Right?
It’s like when you’re dating somebody and all of a sudden you find out all the other people they dated. And you get weird out. You’re like, “Well, you dated those people? Well, that guy was a linebacker. I’m not a linebacker.” It’s this other context.
And then after a while you realize, “You know what? That actually doesn’t have anything to do with me” and you have to be cool with it. So I think that’s an adjustment that people will probably have to make. I do think that we’re going to have to come up with a language around privacy boundaries. Well, does this place have that kind of privacy or that kind of privacy?
It’s like Creative Plamins has three or four different permutations of ownership. It would be interesting to see if we could come up with this sort of standardized way of talking about patterns of privacy. Just made that up, but that’d be cool.
Andrew: Anyway. Wrap it up? OK. Going to wrap it up. Thanks, everybody.
Portable Research: Observing Users on the Go – Nate Bolt
As technology becomes increasingly portable, mobile, and ubiquitous, new challenges to traditional ethnographic user research arise. Bolt|Peters CEO Nate Bolt discusses these challenges and how to use new technologies pragmatically to document, broadcast, and involve stakeholders in mobile research process.
Additionally, Nate identifies the key considerations when designing a mobile ethnographic study, indicating how technological developments in the future might be used to improve upon current methods.
Transcript of Portable Research: Observing Users on the Go – Nate Bolt. Main Conference Session, Day 1 – Friday, March 20
Announcer: This podcast brought to you by ASIS&T, the American Society for Information Science and Technology, the society for information professionals; by the IA Summit, the premiere gathering place for information architects and other user experience professionals; by Boxes and Arrows. Visit boxesandarrows.com/about/participate to be a part of our peer written journal. And special thanks to Axure and Murray for sponsoring Boxes and Arrows as well as the many other sponsors out at the IA Summit.
As technology becomes increasingly portable, mobile and ubiquitous, new challenges to traditional ethnographic user research arise. CEO Nate Bolt from Bolt Peters, discusses the challenges and pragmatics of using new technologies and web services to document, broadcast and involve stakeholders in mobile research as it’s ongoing. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers.
Nate Bolt: Hi everybody. Thanks for coming out for the 10:30 session. There is no way that I’m standing up on this big ass stage for this. So I’m just going to hang out down here. I was thinking it was a little claustrophobic so I think everybody should move back six rows, just to have, no, I’m just kidding. So the session that we’re in today is called “Portable Research: Observing Users on the Go, and why it Matters.” I really appreciate everybody coming up for the first block, especially those of you on West Coast time, what is it? Seven thirty, so and thanks for coming to IA Summit too, I’m looking forward to hanging out here.
So, okay, we’ll start off with a little bit of background about myself, our company Bolt Peters, and then we’ll jump into the talk. So my background is in the social impact of digital technology, which was one of those make up your own major deals at UC San Diego. It was kind of a mix of cognitive science, social sciences, computing in the arts, and stuff like that. It was really just a way for me to kind of get interested in the social and cultural impact of technology in people’s lives.
I took one class there called the Cognitive Consequences of Technology, which, you know, was my first exposure to the idea that there were people out there that cared about the way technology impacts people’s lives, other than engineers. I didn’t even know that existed, so then I just totally fell in love with the idea and kind of have been working on those kinds of things ever since. Co‑founded Bolt Peters User Experience about seven years ago and I’m, we’re in the middle of writing a book for the Rosenfeld folks on remote research, which is kind of our shtick at Bolt Peters. We do a lot of that kind of research and some other stuff too. I’m also number one on Google for remote robotic dog treats, so that’s something.
So, just about today’s session, I would love it if you guys tweeted your questions, you can use this hash tag. You can also get up to the mike and ask the questions, that’s totally legit and this is going to be completely open discussion so, you know we’ve got a half hour, ask questions any time, all the time, comments, heckling, fruit throwing, all that is totally cool, it’s going to be real casual. If you feel like tweeting, the only benefit is that I can look at the end and see if there’s like more than one of the same kind of stuff, I can address those. If I’m feeling super slick I’ll try to check it while I’m talking but probably not. And if you haven’t used twitter to ask questions before, feel free to ignore me and sign up for an account while I’m talking, so…
So Bolt Peters, we’re located in San Francisco, we do primarily remote research, as I’ve been saying which is just observing people’s screen and talking over the phone. We also do some video game research and automotive stuff, field research and stuff like that. Been around for seven years. Oh, thanks, Peter. Does that sound like an auction?
Peter Sweeney: It’s the ducks.
Nate Bolt: It’s the ducks?
Peter Sweeney: They’re announcing the Peabody Ducks.
Nate Bolt: Oh, God, I thought it was an auction.
Peter Sweeney: Nope.
Nate Bolt: [laughter] Also we have a magic door, that is sweet. So, awesome, alright, woo hoo. Peter Mels, thank you. So, okay, so, this is the number of user research studies that we’ve done over the last seven years. I’ve kind of been, you know, either indirectly or directly involved in almost every single one of them. That’s the number of one on one qualitative participants that we’ve done, which, I don’t know if that’s depressing or good, but that’s how many. You know for all sorts of folks, all across the map what, you know, different kinds of industries, all that jazz. Okay, this number’s important. So, this is the number of simultaneous projects we have going on right now. This is the single busiest quarter in Bolt Peters’ history, and the only reason I’m saying that is because I’m so sick of sitting in sessions, there were six at Southwest Southwest last week which were “How to Survive Because Things are All Crappy and it’s the Apocalypse and everything’s going to die.” So for the session for today, things are awesome. Can we just choose to do that? Just for today?
So, alright, so I think this might be the first question that you guys have. I think it’s a really good one and so to address it we’ll just, we’ll start off with what it’s not. So for the purpose of this talk, we’re defining portable research as any research that involves mobile or location dependent interfaces. So things like GPS, mobile devices, sidekicks, PDAs, whatever, anything that’s out with you out and about. This was user number seven’s dog, the participants in the case study we’ll be referencing today had a lot of pets and kids and it ended up being a big part of it, but it’s not about the dogs.
So what? Who cares about portable research? Why does it even matter? Well I think anybody doing research on interfaces sort of touches portable research. Like whether or not we like to think of ourselves as working in the mobile space, it seems like just all of a sudden overnight, we all do. Just because people access stuff, you know, all over the place now. And that could be, right now it’s obviously on a mobile device, but it could be from their cars directly, I mean it’s happening so fast.
So how many people here do design research? Awesome, so everybody, pretty much. Killer. And how many people do that in the lab? Okay, a little less than half. And how many people do it out in the field? Oh,okay, a little bit more than half, sweet. Awesome. And can, for the people that are doing not in the lab type research, can you guys shout out like different, what types of stuff you’re doing? Just out of curiosity. If anybody feels like shouting.
Man1: Homes and offices, store observation.
Nate Bolt: Store observation, home and offices. Okay.
Nate Bolt: Hospitals, great.
Man2: Dental offices.
Nate Bolt: Dental offices. Say, that counts. And…?
Nate Bolt: What’s that?
Nate Bolt: Funerals. Wow, holy cow. And is it kind of like follow‑alongs, like crazy ethnography? Okay. Okay, okay, awesome. So this, the method that we’re going to be going over today, is pretty similar probably to what you guys are already doing. There’s just a couple of small differences. And one of the reasons why I think it matters is because it’s so easy. The first part of the talk, the sort of case study or how to, is really basic. We’re going to learn in probably like seven minutes the entire breadth of what we did differently in our portable research study. And then I kind of want to talk about why it matters. So we’re going to split it right in half. We’ll start with the how to. OK, so, more raising hands and then we’ll be done with raising hands forever for this talk. So, while you’re driving, have you ever, used an MP3 player? Awesome. Talked on the phone? Sent a text message? Looked up directions? Tweeted? Wow, really? Awesome. Facebooked? This is, I think it’s mostly embarrassing for me because because my hand’s up like the whole time.
Used your laptop?
I’m so glad it’s not just me, last time I was the only one. Used GPS? Typed out GPS voice commands? OK, I get to lower my hand. Oh good. And then made flash cards with the voice commands [laughter] for your wife? OK, no more hands, finally.
What, I mean, so this really isn’t working out. It’s like we all know this implicitly, but this is crazy. I mean the amount of technology we’re dealing with literally while we’re piloting a three thousand pound piece of metal is over the top. You know, and manufacturers are aware of this, you know and so, the major auto manufacturer that we worked with was particularly aware of this and was interested in designing some technology solutions that didn’t just pretend that the only thing you have to look at and do in your car is the dashboard of the car that we all bring multiple devices into the cockpit with us. And they wanted to understand how they could sort of look at that fact and design prototypes and future generations of the in car experience for, you know, ten years out, something like that.
So the idea we had is like you know how do we really study, effectively these crazy new interfaces? And on one level you could say, “Well you just sit in people’s car and watch them use a bunch of different devices and report about it.” But we felt that the big challenge for this study was getting the design team, which was located in one country and engineering team which was located in another country, to both be inspired to get on the same page.
That a car manufacturer had already identified that one of the reasons that we have ended up with the state we have is because the engineers and the designers aren’t necessarily working together. And I think, you know, it doesn’t have to be a car company to see that happen, we probably all see that happen all the time, so. You know the idea we had was, if we’re going to study this crazy stuff, let’s use more technology to actually study it. Which may seem like a really bad idea, but here’s what we did.
So, the basic part, just to start off, we did sit in people’s cars. So we did, we chose fourteen participants in San Francisco and L.A., seven in each. We did about three hour sessions with each person, so nothing crazy, pretty standard. We gave them a two hundred and fifty dollar incentive for their time. We had one researcher and one camera person. Our researcher sat in the back seat and our camera person sat in the front seat. And we also got permission from all these participants to use their images publicly, in case you were wondering, so they, they’re signed off.
And then the only thing we did differently was we decided to broadcast the whole thing live. So we wanted to involve people, everybody live in the field research. So to do that, we just got a 3G card. How many of you guys have some kind of Evdo or, you know, Sprint type of 3G card for your laptop? OK, so a few. It’s like, what is it like 50 bucks with the plan? It wasn’t a big deal and then we also got an additional, an extra webcam. And the webcam clipped on the laptop facing outward so that the researcher was sort of pointing at the subject, and then we just used stick cam to live stream the entire thing.
That’s pretty much it. The only other thing we did was we used IM, the researcher used IM during the whole session to communicate with everybody on the team. So there was, you know, our direct clients, but there are also stakeholders just chiming in telling the researcher, ,em>”Ask them more about what they just did.” You know, in the front seat they’re like, “What happened?” So that, along with spare batteries is really that’s it, that’s the whole how to. I mean that is the whole methodology behind the portable research.
You know I think the main reason why it became important is because we wanted to look at the points in the study where people’s use of the technology involved their environment. And us as researchers, even if we like get good at understanding the study, we don’t know nearly as much as the client, like they’re the experts on this stuff. So having them IM‑ing with us the whole time was totally awesome. And you know, we’re used to doing that stuff with our remote research so we’re used to, you know, kind of IM‑ing and talking with people at the same time which, everybody’s used to that, but in the field it was a totally different experience.
And having this sort of page where people could go, just a URL where people could go to and tune into the, you know during the days of testing, tune into the research and see like, “Oh they’re going down Highway Five right now,” you know, “What are they talking about? What are they doing?” It added a sort of excitement I think inside the organization around the study that was totally different than any other of these kind of studies that we’ve done. You know, people were so happy to tune in live and almost everybody involved with the project, at some point, was sort of watching and listening live and piping in with questions and stuff like that.
So, the other specific goals that we were looking at was, you know, how did they modify devices or use devices in combination during the study, how did their, sort of home and work life get reflected in their use of the devices.
And this user was really interesting. She split her purse up into business and pleasure. [laughter] So, I don’t know which side is which in this photograph, I can’t remember, but her whole life was really, she was self‑employed and it was really important to her that everything be divided that way so her use of the devices also reflected that. So it was just, you know it was the kind of thing, I think when it happened, you know, somebody on the client side said, “Wait, can you ask her about that? You know, like why does she do that?” And we, as researchers, might not have even known to bring that up, but it was just this huge thing.
So I’m going to play you some clips now of what it looks like side by side now of the live streaming and the sort of in person view. What they’re saying and doing isn’t that important in this clip, it’s just to give you an idea of the difference and what it looks like, nothing that exciting happens but here we go.
[Start Audio Segment]
Woman: That’s right. Come on. I’ve got it. Grab her by the legs. Get her little arms in.
Child: Go, go, go.
Man: Now it’s in your… [inaudible]
Woman: Alright, you know that is.
Man: How do you know where to go, it’s just goes with experience?
Woman: There’s usually a guy sitting right there.
Woman: Or somebody sitting right there. They’re not now. What do I do when I want to see Aurora? If I can’t.
Man: Yeah, if you want to keep tabs on her.
Woman: Only if I wonder, I’m on the freeway, I’m wondering if she’s asleep, or I’m like, ‘You’re too quiet back there, what’s going on.’ Yeah.
Man: So it’s… [inaudible]
Woman: She has some pictures.
Woman: That I’ve taken down off Flickr.
Woman: And they’re two little tabs up there and we stick the pictures underneath the tabs so she can look at them.
Man: Those come with the car or it’s a…
Woman: Yeah, I mean it’s an improvised, improvised thing.
[End Audio Segment]
Nate Bolt: So, you kind of get the idea. It’s pretty choppy but, the audio comes through perfectly. So where 3G is as it stands in our country, it’s at least good enough to stream the audio with no problems. The other thing that was really important for us, just kind of mentioning, was having an easy, single URL that people could go to. Stick cam gives you an embed code that you can plop down in any website. It takes roughly twelve seconds. And then you have, you know, the whole thing, there’s no big setup or blog in or conference call to join or any of that hassle, it’s just easy for the observers to get involved. The only other thing that was sort of required for this method, and I don’t know if it’s really regarding the live streaming, is that we just had crazy forms for them to fill out, my favorite of which was the “Please drive carefully” form. Which just says that, “Just because we’re observing you, doesn’t means it’s our fault if you hit something.” So this is kind of, this is the how to, you know, just the mobile broadband, the webcam, stick cam, couple of spare batteries and being able to IM with people live, and you know, a bunch of long legal forms. That’s really the whole, that’s the whole deal.
You know, obviously with any sort of hack of existing technology like this, there’s going to be a bunch of stuff that’s off, one of which is that, you know, it’s not reliable at all. So we never set the expectation with the clients and the designers and engineers that like it was going to be some perfect live streaming event that was like it never went down. Because you know the stream dropped all the time. Go through a tunnel, whatever. So we sort of set up the expectation of like, “Hey, pipe in, listen, if it works out great, if not then just hang out for awhile.”
The way that most people did it, and this was interesting for me, is they just opened it up in a tab in their browser, put a pair of headphones on and all day long they just kind of listened for something that sounded interesting then they would switch over, IM us, if something came up.
Obviously it’s, it’s time consuming, you know you already have a bunch of stuff that you’re doing as a researcher, question?
Nate Bolt: Good question, yeah we also were recording locally. So both, and in two places, the laptop was recording locally and there was a camera person recording. Yeah. And the question was, did we also record locally? It’s super awkward handling the laptop, you know, I think the primary researcher also felt they were kind of like a camera person. So you know, you’re kind of like walking around with a laptop, one handed trying to type even with like a netbook. And it’s kind of awkward. But I feel like we’re at the beginning of this sort of livecasting type of technology and that’s only going to get easier. I’m sure you guys have seen the Ted videos with all the small, little livecasting stuff. So I feel like as a researcher this is sort of a practice that will get easier over time.
And you know, the other downside is that you still have to do all the other crap that a researcher has to does, and you’re like running this livecasting thing. So it’s, like so many of the research studies that we do, kind of stressful or chaotic. Another question?
Nate Bolt: Really another good question, so how do we recruit? We used a company called Davis Recruiting, that’s in the Bay Area, they’re our favorite recruiting agency. We just, you know, standard, we gave them the screener and they found folks on that one. Actually, we didn’t, this is probably like the only study we didn’t run into any challenges on recruiting. The biggest thing that we did a little bit differently from normal was, we required that people had destinations that were part of their real lives that we could go along with them with. So we kind of had Davis, we gave Davis a set of questions to sort of suss out if they were giving us fake destinations or not. So we ended up with a lot of like, kids’ birthday parties, school events, things that we could verify were like real and people weren’t just making up that they had to go somewhere just because they were excited about participating and getting the money. You know, because we wanted it to be some place real. That was the only challenge in this one.
So, also you know, obviously it’s not feasible to use the laptop while you’re walking around all the time and you know, we tried, oh sweet, nice, wow. That’s, so I just switched to a Mac like three weeks ago. One of the primary reasons that I switched is because I heard they crash less. But apparently. That’s hilarious. Does that happen a lot on the Mac?
Nate Bolt: Oh, so I haven’t yet switched fully into keynote, OK, I see. I’m holding on, I’m holding on by a thread. That is hilarious. Any other questions while I’m fiddling?
Man3: When keynote crashes, it crashes gloriously.
Nate Bolt: Oh really? That’s awesome.
Man3: Oh no, it’s brilliant. So Nate, did you do a full day study so it’s like you woke up with them in the morning and followed them throughout the entire course of the day and then signed off and went home?
Nate Bolt: Another good question. So did we do a full day study? We just did three hours per participant, one to two participants per day. So, only three hours. Okay, sweet so who cares? What does it even matter? Use a webcam and a 3G card. Wow. I mean it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. But, I actually think it is important and it is important because I believe after ten years of delivering information to clients that giving information to people is one of the most useless forms of getting anything done.
I feel like inspiring people is way more important than giving them information. So we’ve done research until our ears turn blue on all sorts of different stuff and people were like, “This is great, we’re never going to do any of this stuff.” Because we have this giant list of reasons coming into this research and list of tasks about why we should do what we are going to do anyway. And that doesn’t go away when you give somebody a bunch of detailed information.
So we asked the Bolt Peter’s clients like what does this type of research accomplish? We did a little survey. So, this was one answer. [laughs]
Burn! This was another. And then this kind of stuff happens. Any of us doing research are thinking on incremental improvement. And then, what was interesting for this one is this actual car study resulted in the whole team being super excited.
Now, if you are working on concept car dashboard prototypes I feel like that’s already exciting to begin with. So, I’m not saying because we did proto research it got the team excited. But, in any research study that we’ve ever done, I’ve never seen more people be involved on the client side. I don’t remember how many, but it was a lot. Because, we got emails from people, “The stream is down. I IM’d you and you didn’t respond.” All that stuff.
So, we also looked at the industry to see what are people saying, what is the general consensus. There is of course, the mantra of screw user research. Just build it for yourself. There is also the…
We don’t really believe in research at all. Just ask Steve. But, for our friends that work at Apple they say that this is actually total BS because they do user research. They just do it with the same user over and over and over again. [laughs]
And then, just a few days ago, I don’t know if any of you were there, I at South By Southwest, Kathy Sierra of blogging and other Internet fame, had this whole talk, and the main point of her talk that was twitted a billion times was for incremental changes ask your users, but for the really big stuff, for the breakthroughs, ignore everybody. Be brave.
And I love the ‘be brave’ part, but I feel like it’s kind of looking over the inspiration that can happen, the empathy that can happen in some user research. And I also asked the FACE which is this interface list in San Francisco run by the esteemed Jeff Veen. And people on there said, “Hey, you know what, there’s been tons of bold, transformative, amazing interfaces that have come from research, not from one person, one man, or woman’s vision. Windowing UI’s, the whole foundation for our desktop computers came from research.”
If you expand the notion of this research to include things that are going on in the real world then Flicker and Twitter are great examples of amazing interfaces that evolved from research. And the Palm V, Ivio all about research.
So I guess what I am trying to say is I feel this kind of research, and research in general, can inspire transformative interfaces, and anything that we can do as researchers to make it more exciting or more engaging for our audience. I think it makes a big difference that helps things be successful.
I remember the keynote from two years ago, I think it was Mr. Merholtz that said one thing that unites all of us, IA’s, is that we care. We’re idealists. We work on these things not just to make a buck or be successful. Those might be factors, but ultimately we want to make a hit, we want to make something that’s really cool.
So, I think the question is how does portable research help? I think all it does is inspire, just maybe a little bit more than other forms of research. And what this is that came out specifically because the client viewing live was a photo that one of the moms had stuck in the headliner of her car. And the client really was interested in that. They wanted us to probe deeper. So we said, “Okay.” And it turned out that she used Flickr tags to jot down her daughter’s interests. Not interesting things like calmed her, soothed her, and then she would print out those photos from Flickr that her daughter liked and stuck them on the headliner.
The mom said that this is a huge thing that she did. She had a stack of photos that she rotated in the headliner because for whatever reason her daughter would just stare up and be a little bit more mellow of a passenger with that stuff in the headliner.
Now, it doesn’t take a genius technology leap to figure out that the auto manufacture could think about other ways to incorporate technology in future interfaces that would help parents with that exact situation on the backseat.
So I feel that was one really specific example the way that a little bit more inspiring than other kinds of research. And that said I think it also unites. As you guys have known when you get a ton of people working on a project, one of the biggest challenges is that stakeholders kill ideas. Not intentionally… [laughs]
There is nothing wrong with them. We are all stakeholders too. It is not that stakeholders are bad. Individually, they are wonderful people. But, there is something about large teams, especially at giant organizations that has this process of eliminating risks and stomping ideas into the ground. And I feel like any other inspiration that we can offer helps with that, and also it is exciting. Live streaming. “Really? You are streaming from a car? I am totally going to listen.” So, it gets people engaged.
So, that’s it. Thank you.
Designing For, With, and Around Advertising – Karen McGrane
User experience designers often express a desire to play more of a strategic role in guiding business decisions. Yet UX designers don’t always seek to understand the advertising business model so they can maximize revenue. Instead, they often treat advertising as “clutter” — to be ignored at best and actively disliked at worst.
Senior partner at Bond Art & Science, and former VP and National Lead for User Experience at Avenue A/Razorfish, Karen McGrane teaches us ways to help advertising-supported sites be more successful. She presents case studies of several publishing sites from her body of work and explores the business decisions behind them.
Transcript for Designing For, With, and Around Advertising – Karen McGrane
Announcer:User experience designers often express a desire to play more of a strategic role in guiding business decisions. Yet UX designers don’t always seek to understand the advertising business model so they can maximize revenue. Instead they often treat advertising as clutter. To be ignored at best and actively disliked at worst. Senior partner at Bond Art and Science Karen McGrane teaches ways to help advertising supported sites be more successful, presenting case studies of several publishing sites she has worked on and the business decisions behind them. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers!
Karen McGrane: Okay. Just a couple of housekeeping notes. I am Karen McGrane on Twitter and also here in real life. And if you don’t get quite enough of this, I’m going to be hosting a lunchtime round‑table today. So please feel free to come to that and ask questions. So, Okay, let’s have true confessions time to get this kicked off here. How many of you by virtue of having a TiVo or a DVR or just a really small bladder, somehow manage to avoid seeing TV commercials? Okay, come on, raise your hand. Okay, pretty much everybody. You know there’s medication for that, right?
How many of you have an ad blocker? Not just a pop‑up blocker, but some kind of ad blocker on your browser that lets you avoid seeing online advertising? OK, all right. I do, too. How many of you find yourself thinking, “You know, I just really hate advertising?” Okay.
So I’m aware that all of you think this. And so over the course of the presentation today I want to do a few things. I want to persuade you to think a little bit differently about online advertising. I’m going to come down here and do this.
I want to persuade you to think a little bit differently about online advertising. I want to open up your mind, maybe make you‑‑explain why you should care more about it. I want to tell you some of the basics that I’ve learned about how online advertising works. There are some things that I’ve learned over the years that you might want to know. And then finally, I want to speculate a little bit about what the future of the revenue model online might be. For those of you who continue to be uncomfortable with advertising, there might be other business models that we can discuss.
This is a huge topic and there are a lot of things that I am not going to be able to cover today. I’m not going to be able to talk about designing creative for actual banner ads themselves or for micro sites. So if you’re an IA and you’re working at an advertising agency and you’re making micro sites and banner ads for Starburst, I’m not actually going to talk about how to make that creative better.
I’m also not going to talk very much about search ads, like the ads that appear next to Google search results. Choosing keywords for that is an entirely different ball of wax and I’m not going to talk about it here. I’m really focused on how you design pages that advertising is going to sit on. Or how you design experiences or structures that advertising will live in.
And finally, I’m not going to get too much into the details of things like targeting and measurement and optimization. That’s a huge subject and it’s probably one that’s really interesting for IAs. But it’s one that I just can’t begin to cover here today.
While I’m at it I saw the delightful Heather Champ of Flickr when I was speaking at a Google conference this fall. And she had a slide like this. And I was like, “Oh my God, I have to steal that for my next presentation!” So she said, “You know when you go to a play sometimes and they put a little warning sign on the door that’s like, ‘a strobe light is going to go off’ or ‘a gun might be fired in this Chekhov play’?” So I just want to warn you right now that it is incredibly likely that I’m going to use bad words during this presentation. And I just feel so much better getting that off of my chest.
So if any of you feel like you want to get up and leave and maybe go see what Andrew Hinton’s talking about in the next room, I’m going to feel better knowing it’s because I’ve offended you and not because I’ve bored you, so.
Okay. With that said, I do want to be a little bit serious here for a minute and talk to you about what my qualifications are. How did I come to be standing here in front of you today talking about advertising? And I want to make it clear. I am not a shill for the advertising industry, Okay?
I am a longtime advocate for information architecture. I spoke at the first one of these conferences. I have hired dozens of IAs over the course of my life. I’m really passionate about IA. And I’m incredibly unlikely to be standing up here saying, “Hey. I think advertising is a really great thing.”
So I just want to talk a little bit about how I came to be here. And in giving you this sort of obligatory about me slide. I thought it would be kind of fun if maybe I mapped it, mapped some of my career highlights against the performance of the S&P 500. So let’s get this started here. I was hired as the first information architect or the first person with any sort of usability or IA background at Razorfish in 1997.
And at that time when the Internet was very new and online advertising didn’t really exist, that was when you got put to work designing banks. And it wasn’t like you got put to work designing a little section of a bank. It was like they said to you, “Hey. We need a bank and we need it right now. So please go design it because we don’t have a bank on the Internet.” So I did that for a couple of years.
After that then I did a couple of projects that I think really taught me a lot about information architecture. But also were kind of my first taste of how the world of IA intersects with the world of the advertising business model. So I did one project for Encyclopedia Britannica, which was‑‑I learned everything I know about taxonomy from that project because they have the largest taxonomy in the English language. I learned a little bit about an advertising supported business model versus a subscription revenue business model. And I learned absolutely nothing about user generated content.
I also did another project for Disney on their ill‑fated portal go.com. And that was a really interesting project in that I learned a lot there about‑‑they were really kind of pushing the envelope in terms of advertising supported content. We did some experiments with ways to target search ads, your target ads against search results, which I think were really interesting. And while they failed for Go, I’m convinced that this model of search ads has legs. And some company is probably going to do really well with it.
So then, as you can see, the market kind of tanks and whenever the market tanks advertising collapses. So advertising is one of the first things that goes whenever the market goes down. So at that point, that’s when you retreat to the safety of working for financial services.
Karen McGrane: So I did a number of projects with the 401 companies. I worked with the Federal Reserve Bank. And right about where the market hits its absolute low point there in 2002 or 2003, that was when Razorfish got sold to a roll up for eight million dollars. So we all kind of huddled together for warmth for a while and eventually got sold to aQuantive. Which some of you may know has an ad serving technology called Atlas. And they had a services arm called Avenue A. And so we all kind of got merged together. And that was a really strange point in my life. Because it was like one day I woke up and I worked for an advertising agency. And up until this point, one of the things I was really lucky about was that the values of the company and my values around user experience were really well aligned.
They had a conference every year and I remember talking to somebody I worked with in the hallway. He came up to me and he said, “Karen, Karen they’re really serious about this whole advertising thing aren’t they,” and I’m like, “I know, it’s crazy!”
As a result I started to feel like, I care about user experience and these people want to put ads all over the pages and it just made me feel bad inside. But based on the strength of those relationships I had the opportunity to do a number of projects in the publishing industry.
I worked for many years with Condé Nast which is the world’s largest magazine publisher. I led a redesign of The New York Times which launched in 2005 and I did a little bit of work right before I left with CNN.
So I kind of got a good sense of mainstream media and what their challenges were, in taking content that they monetize off line and trying to do it on line. But in 2006 or so I left Razorfish for many, many reasons. But in large part it was because I really felt that my values and the values of the company were so divergent and I was having a really hard time reconciling my ethos of user experience to a world in which everything was going to be monetized by ads.
So I left to start a company called Bond Art + Science and I probably wouldn’t be here talking to you about this particular subject today if I had not done that and frankly I probably would be a shill for the advertising industry if I was having that conversation and I still worked for Razorfish.
But over my years with Bond I have worked with literally dozens of publishers. I have worked with publishers that are big, that are small, that are on line only, that are focused on subscription revenue, that are focused on advertising revenue.
Over the time of working with all of these different publishers I have really gained perspective on what it means to try to monetize the site through advertising.
In addition to that Bond also has its own publication called Cool Hunting. many UX organizations have a blog, we have a blog that we actually sell advertising on and so I have the experience not just of being a designer, but now I have the experience of being a publisher. Trying to figure out how do you deliver content, tools and services that users want, but also meet the needs of advertisers.
So that’s why I’m here today to talk about you, as IAs, can design for the ads, design with the ads or design around the ads. But also its a little bit about how I learned to stop worrying about the ads with the politics of Dr. Strangelove.
I want to say, everybody here today, you’re not here because you see yourself as just drawing boxes. You’re an advocate for the user and you want to make sure that user needs get taken into account. But you’re also focused on understanding the business. You want to know what is going to drive revenue and you understand that those two things sometimes have to be a trade‑off.
So imagine that you heard people complaining about the placement of the buy now button on the commerce site. I have heard people say all of these things when talking about advertising on the site. I have said them my self and had my ass handed to me by publishers who were basically saying, “You know? The advertisers are the customers, the advertisers are the people who make all of this possible.”
When I told a friend of mine who works for Huge that I was going to come speak here he said, “You’re talking about advertising. Please, Please tell you’re Information Architects, User Experience Designers or Interaction Designers or whatever the hell you people are calling yourselves these days, please tell them they can’t take the ads off the page.”
So a lot of this for me is coming from a place where I have heard people say this stuff so much and I kind have come around to saying, “Let’s poke at this a little bit and understand how we can make trade‑offs between what makes the user experience good and what makes a good experience for advertisers or what makes advertisers want to pay for things.”
Now, I know how you think about this. One of the things that you think is that users hate ads so therefore ads must be bad and we shouldn’t have them. You can try all kinds of commentary from people online about how much they hate advertising. How they wish it wasn’t there.
I hope to get across this presentation that ads are necessary evil and they’re better than most potential alternatives and that our job is not to hate, is not to say there should be no ads because users don’t like them but rather to try to make a corporate trade‑offs so that the ads are well integrated to be experienced. Some of you probably site well know studies. This is Jakob Nielsen’s Banner Blindness Study and it suggests that this entire business model is a failure. The emperor has no clothes and no one ever actually looks at the advertising at all or sees it. So, there is no point really having it.
And to this I say, if you are saying the emperor has no clothes, everybody already knows that he is naked. You’re not really giving anybody great insights here. The people who work in this kind of online advertising in publishing field have way more data than you would ever believe about what people see, what people click on, how much recognition they get, what people’s behavior is after they see an ad and they go search for something and then they go buy something.
This is not news to anybody and it doesn’t mean‑‑you might look at this and say, “Oh, this is a failure.” But I think for most people in the advertising industry, this does not represent failure. This just represent status quo.
And finally, I think some of you probably still have this lingering, hackerish ethos that says every Internet should be free. And to this I have to say the money from advertising is what pays our salaries. It’s what pays editor salaries. It’s what pays for servers and features and new technology and if you have ever said, “God, I wish I had more money so that I could do more research or spend more time on this.”
The only way we’re going to get that money are into our field is through advertising.
So, let’s talk about how much money that is. U.S. advertising spending, and this is just in the U.S.‑‑let’s go through. Kicking of the field is every IA’s favorite category, the other category at $17.9 billion. This is kind of a hodge podge of things, but the main thing that it includes is movie advertising, so like movie trailers and things you see before movies.
Outdoor comes in at $8.8 billion radio at $15.7, magazines at $26.6 billion a year. Cable TV is $25.4 and broadcast is $35.5. So, another way to look at that is that the television industry as a whole is a $70 billion business a year.
Direct mail or original spam is $14.6 billion. Directories‑this is things like the Yellow Pages or restaurant guides is $17.2 billion. Newspapers $39.7 billion. This was interesting to me because I didn’t actually realize that newspapers were a bigger business than broadcast television, but they are.
And a point that was really interesting to me: You can’t swing a cat right now with reading some story about how the newspaper industry is dying and we killed it.
So, if you look at the newspapers in the industry revenue today at $39.7 billion, it is down from its peak. The peak year in which the newspaper industry made the most money that it ever made in the entire history of advertising at which it made $41.1 billion. So they’ve lost more than a billion dollars which is not nothing, but it hardly to me represents like the complete and total collapse of an industry. And then finally, coming in, at the top is the Internet at $18.5 billion dollars.
So, we bid out others. You can see that the Internet has grown. Certainly, it is made huge uptick since 2003 ‑ 2004. But one thing I would like to point out is that it’s only maybe 78% of $220 billion business. And for everybody who thinks about the Internet as like stealing all these revenue away from traditional media, over the period of time that the Internet has been growing, say over the last five years, the entire industry has grown.
So, it isn’t that the Internet as taken $20 billion away. The entire industry is bigger, and the Internet is just sitting on top of it. Now that is in contrast to the fact that user engagement‑‑the Internet has taken time away from traditional media. People are spending less time watching TV, their spending less time reading newspapers, and they’re spending more time online. So, let’s put these two things together.
This slide should really piss you off. Okay? That’s our money! What this means is that even though people are spending more time online, that time is not being monetized. Another way to look at it is that people’s time spent watching TV is worth comparatively more than their time online. So, when someone is sitting there watching TV, the advertisers are paying more for it. Even though everyone acknowledges that their engagement is less, their interest is less, that all the young kids that advertisers want to reach are now on the Internet.
So, one way to talk about this is a quote from Times CEO Anne Moore, who referred to it as “Print Dollars, Internet Nickels.” What that means is that traditional media has a long‑established business model, and so when they try to transition it online what they used to make dollars for they’re now making nickels for.
One media pundit that I read estimated that online CPM‑‑which is cost per thousand, which is how they measure things‑‑is worth 1/7th to 1/10th of a print CPM. So, what that means, to put it in simple terms, your time when you’re online is worth 1/10th of the time that it’s worth when you’re doing something in traditional media.
And maybe you’re thinking, “Well, who cares about traditional media? You know, that’s old school. Maybe they have problems transforming their antiquated business model to the Internet, but so what?” The most popular and probably the most important revenue model for any Web 2.0 business is also advertising. Everybody’s all excited about new platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and we all talk about them, all the time. But they’re not making any money; they do not have a business model.
And whatever business model they do eventually figure out, I guarantee it will involve advertising. So, it is time for us to stop hiding our heads in the sand. Advertising is not going to go away. Advertising is going to decline during this current period of economic uncertainty.
But when it comes back, it’s going to come back with a vengeance. And I guarantee you that advertising will be a major, if not the most important way that any business makes money on the Internet. And so, for you all, as UX professionals, you have a responsibility to make things not suck. And so, that’s going to start with advertising.
So, here’s some of the things that I’ve learned, that I think you should know about advertising. The first thing, and probably one of the things that is kind of hard to wrap your head around, is just how many people are involved. Historically, advertisers and publishers have gotten together in the service of trying to attract what the advertisers call consumers, and what TV people call viewers, and radio people call listeners, and newspaper people call readers, and what we call users.
And sitting in the middle of them is a set of people called agencies. And they are a vast network of middle men who are all involved in not just creating, making the creative for the ads, but more importantly they’re the people who are responsible for buying the space in the medium, and the people who are responsible for selling it. And these are incredibly high‑touch businesses. One of my clients from Conde Nast said, “You know, for something that’s supposed to be mediated by technology, online advertising sure requires a lot of people.”
And so, to kind of explain who these people are, I want to talk about who a media buyer is. If you’re a publisher, you have a website, someone is coming in to buy that ad space, who is this person?
This person is Brooke. She is in her mid twenties. She was probably in a sorority. She was hired because she is smart and personable. She has a spreadsheet to fill in. Brooke’s job is literally all day long. She sits there and she fills out a spreadsheet and she wants numbers to plug into her spreadsheet. Her job is not to invent the future of the Internet. Her job is not to think strategically about different revenue models online. Her job is to fill in those numbers on the spreadsheet.
So, this is an incredibly simplified model and please don’t check my math, but basically when she comes in and says she has $100,000 and she wants to buy 500 clicks to an ad. And what she does is she looks through and says, “Are the ad positions what I want? Is there an ad above the fold? How many ad positions are there? Does this site meet the demographics that I want? Is it attracting people in the right age range, in the right household, income group?”
And then she does some pretty simple math to say, “How much does it cost for me to get a thousand people to view this ad?” If that is $20 or $50 or $5, she takes that into account. She takes the traffic to that site and she divides it by 0.1%. Everybody just assumes that the click‑through rate is nonexistent, but they measure that. And then she figures out what the price is going to be and how many clicks she is going to get. It is a very simple business that requires an enormous number of people to do it because it is all based on personal relationships.
One of the things that I think IA should be aware of is that media buyers are purchasing the top level of the nav. So, for example, one of the things when we redesigned the New York Times, we had a whole conversation that was like: “Why do you need a Health section? Most of the content that you publish in your Health section basically also sits in the Science section, they sit right next to each other. What is the difference? There is not really any need to have both.”
The truth is there’s a very big need to have both, which is that advertisers want to buy that section. If Brooke is working with a pharma client, Brooke comes in and she says, “I want to know that my ad is going to appear on the home page of the health section.” They are selling those major categories as a way to say where the ad is going to sit.
Similarly, the Huffington Post used to be formatted, structured very much like a blog. When they redesigned, which they did recently, they redesigned with more global nav categories, with the purpose of being able to sell those section fronts. It doesn’t matter to people. It’s not that those section fronts are the primary way for people to navigate. The importance is that an advertiser comes in. And, they’re very simple. They want to say, “Okay, you have a travel section and the ad for my travel company is going to go on the front page, and on the article pages in that section.”
Similarly, we worked on a redesign of the Atlantic. They had previously been organized around content types. The goal there was to give them a separate navigation system, so that the main focus of the architecture would be on topics like politics, or science and technology, which they can sell. You can sell a category called science and technology. You can’t sell a category called blog.
I had a conversation with somebody where he was like, “Karen, I thought everything worked the way Google Ads work. I thought you sold everything based on tiny, little, micro key words, and you try to figure out what those key words are.” The truth is, Google Ads are bottom up, and banner ads are top down.
Google Ads, you can focus on trying to identify very, very small little key words. But, if you are trying to sell display advertising, banner advertising, it is really all about having giant, important words, like business, travel, politics and science.
I want to talk about the IAB. Does anyone know what the IAB is? It is the Interactive Advertising Bureau. It is a cabal. Just to introduce you to the organization, let’s talk for a moment about the IxGA. Everybody knows about the IxGA, right? Here’s what the IxGA does. They intend to improve the human condition by advancing the condition of interactive design. That just sounds nice, doesn’t it? Yeah, that’s a good thing.
Okay, let’s talk about the IAB. The IAB, they have six core objectives. Number one is fend off adverse legislation and regulation. I love that verb fend. It just suggests that we don’t even want to inspire our members to actually obey the law. We want to be there to avoid anybody making laws that might harm people. The second thing they do is coalesce around market making guidelines and creative standards. Now what the hell does that mean? I’ll translate that into language that I know you all would understand, which is the Visio stencil.
So what that means is that you can only make ads of a certain size, you cannot make ads that are any other sizes than these sizes and frankly they don’t even want you to use all of these sizes. They really just want you to use one size and that’s the rectangle ad.
You can have a rectangle ad, you can have a leder board maybe. People don’t really want to even solve the skyscraper anymore. The giant half‑page ad I think is a much better experience for advertisers. But it’s very hard to get sites to integrate it because it’s kind of big. So really what that means is that the IAB has said, “You can use three ad sizes, you can only use those ad sizes and you cannot ever use anything else.”
So what this means is that you have to design your grid around those ads. So if you were working on any project that involves advertising, the absolute first thing that you must do is start designing the grid and figure out where your going to put in the ad.
The rectangle ad has to go above the fold. If you want to have a leder board they really want it to be in the content of the page and not sitting above the header. If you want to have a left nab you can put a skyscraper in there because it’ll fit, otherwise you don’t need the skyscraper.
Somebody commented to me, “God why do all the web pages look the same and can’t you guys come up with something more creative to do, more creative ways to put the ads on.” And I laughed and I said, “I guarantee you I have set of grid explorations that puts that rectangle ad every physically possible place that it could go on the page.”
The reason that all websites look the same are that you can point to websites in lots of different categories and say they all use the same layout. It’s because they all have to put that rectangle ad somewhere above the fold and its not going to really make sense to people unless you put it in the right hand column.
So you are really left doing some grid explorations, trying to get those ads above the fold. My other advice designing your grid series is that you don’t need 17 ad positions on the page. Don’t walk out of here and say, “Oh. She said advertising is great, so I’m going to put more ads on the page.”
Three or four positions is good. When Brooke comes in and she says, “What if I wanna buy this entire page up for my advertiser.” If she’s looking at six positions, then she’s like, “Well that means that means I have to have six different pieces of creative to buy up all those slots.”
So if you have three or four positions and they are the standard ads and she knows what to expect she’s like, “Great!”
Now, I know some of you are thinking, “God, but Karen the ads, they’re so annoying can’t we make them stop being so annoying.” And my answer there is, “A little bit.” Many, many things for a media buyer coming in are gating factors. There has to be an ad above the fold. You have to allow rich media, you can set some specifications, though, for how that might work.
If you look around on‑line you can find media kits for just about every major publisher. They want you to have this information, they are very eager for you to know how you would buy ads on their websites. So you could look around.
I think Business Week does a great job of specifying things like how big can the rich media file size be, how many times can the animation loop around, how does audio get called by the user. These are all thing that you can specify and they will ask you to specify.
It doesn’t mean that you can go in and say, “Oh you can’t have any audio at all.” Or, “You can’t have any rich media at all.” That would mean that they won’t buy ads on your site. But you can set a few requirements for what might make that acceptable. This is what we do for Cool Hunting. We just said, “What do we think is going to be the maximum allowable irritation that will get advertisers to buy our ads but will still not totally piss off our users?”
If you’re interested in this or any more information you can just Google media kit and find lots and lots of specifics about not just what requirements they have, but how much they charge for ads. Keep in mind that whatever they put in their media kit about their rates is really the hotel rack rate. Everything gets negotiated and dealt and there are back room deals.
You can ask to customize the text placement so if you’re running Google ads, or any other ads from any other vendors on the site, all of these ad formats come in the exact same standard banner ad sizes. You can customize the colors and customize the styling of it. I highly recommend that you do so. Do anything you can to try to make those ads feel like they’re more integrated into the site.
If you’re from a bigger site and you actually have a Google ad sales rep or Microsoft ad sales rep you can go to them and ask to let them put the ads, not just in these banner sizes, but let them put the ads in whatever size and shape you want to put them on the site. It’s a better experience for users and it’s a better experience for advertisers.
You should be thinking creatively about your ad placements, which means that you’re going to need to make friends with your ad sales team. There are some interesting examples of things that people are doing to try to bring the ads more integrated into the site.
Pitchfork just launched a redesign and Apple did this whole thing where they showed the iPhone and it actually interacted with the nav and it was like the nav was breaking into the wrapper. I’ve saw a lot of commentary about how annoying it was but I guarantee you every Pitchfork user who had never heard of the iPhone now has seen what the iPhone looks like.
When we did the New York Times one of the things that they had was an internal ad on the left corner and an external ad on the right corner. One day somebody on our team was like, “Hey what if we sold both of those positions to advertisers?”
The ad sales guy was just like, “Oh my God this is the greatest idea,” and was really excited about being able to have this sort of dual position in the header. Being able to have this dual position in the header was what enabled us to negotiate not having the entire rectangle ad above the fold. If we hadn’t done that, the other designs we were working with had the rectangle ad a lot higher cutting into the content real estate above the top.
The Gawker family of blogs was doing some interesting things right now with skinning their entire site, like skinning the look and feel of the site for an advertiser. A site like HP or an advertiser like HP will buy all of the positions‑‑or Entourage here, you can see how this is skinned.
Everything online is measured. Whenever anybody talks about the benefit of online advertising one of the first things out of their mouth is to say, “Well it’s all measurable. Isn’t that great?” There’s a lot of measurement going on. I don’t know exactly how. There’s so much data out there.
I can’t even really get into this in much detail except to say that what I’ve learned is that data’s cheap and insights expensive. You can gather all of the data that you want about how ads are performing, but finding the really smart people who can go in there and do the hard core work, business analytics work, to figure out what that actually means, those people cost a lot of money.
Finally, the last thing I want you to know about online advertising is that you should forget pretty much everything I’ve just said here because the banner is dead. Oh my God, they’re dead. What are we going to do without them?
So I want to speculate a little bit about the future. I do not claim to know what the future of online advertising is. But I do know that there is no shortage of pundits out there just dying to tell you that the banner is dead. The problem is that they’ve been saying that for, like, ten years now.
And I would just say that I think it’s hooey. The advertising industry’s reliance on banner ads is like our country’s dependence on foreign oil: everybody knows it’s a bad idea, but actually fixing this problem is a lot more complicated.
You have to remember, there is enormous amounts of infrastructure built up around these things. Display advertising in general, whether that’s in print, or outdoor, or magazines, or whatever is the cornerstone of the advertising industry. And, frankly, what I would say in response to this is that, rather than expecting banners to go away, you should‑‑when advertising comes back in the next cycle, you should expect bigger, crazier ads.
What that means is that we’re all going to be pushing more money online. And the more money that gets spent online, the more advertisers that are saying, “Okay, we’re going to invest in bigger campaigns online,” it’s going to mean better creative for the ads, so there’s going to be fewer “punch the monkeys” and more well‑designed ads like you see in print. And, hopefully, many of these sites will stay in business because they’re going to be making money off of advertising.
I want talk about sponsorships as concept; a way to make money. In the olden days, media had standards for what was advertising and what was content. And they would get very huffy if you tried to bridge those two. That’s different on the web: people don’t have those same standards.
So, Razorfish, in their commentary about their digital outlook, says, “Package everything as a sponsorship, because advertisers love to convey the idea that they’re bringing your content from their brand.” I would say my experience with this, when working with Cool Hunting, is that sponsorships continue to just be the icing on the cake; the cherry on top.
Brooke comes in, and she’s got a spreadsheet to fill out, and she wants to know your banner placements are. And then, on top of it, what you do is throw in a sponsorship. And you’re like, “And, we’ll also let you sponsor our gift guide.” And she’s like, “Oh, well, that’s a nice little extra bonus, extra credit check in my spreadsheet.”
It’s not what she’s buying, it’s what you’re giving her so that she will buy the banner ads. And that, I think, is actually proven by the data here. You can see, this is how the different formats of online advertising have changed in the last few years.
Sponsorships is the one that’s gone down the most. It’s only like two percent of the media share. People are still buying display banners, they’re still buying rich media and video. Sponsorships are getting tossed in for free.
And I think I would be remiss in not addressing the subject of, “What if people just paid for it? Can’t we just get people to pony over some cash, and get them to buy the content we provide?” And I think this is something you’re going to see a lot of interest in and talk about over the next few years because the advertising industry is going to be in a decline.
Chris Anderson is going to tell us that the future of business is free. And that things like giving content away for free to get advertising, or giving something for free and then getting people to pay for it later is the future. The Economist just published an article yesterday basically saying, “No, no, no. It’s over again. The idea that content is free online is going the way of the dodo.” They said this in 2001, and I think you’re going to see the same thing again.
Publishers are going to experiment with it. I think there are all kinds of things that might happen. My experience, just anecdotally in working with this. I was working with the Times when they did an experimental program called Times Select‑‑which was a way that they were going to charge people to look at some of their content online.
They did away with it after not all that very long. I don’t have any of the data about how that performs, I don’t think they’ve shared that at all. But one of the anecdotal things that they did share was that they gave online subscription access free to anyone who was a home delivery subscriber. And they thought people who subscribed at home would be delighted. They are like, “That’s great it’s something for free.”
In fact, people who are home delivery subscribers hated it even more. They were surprisingly negative about it. The rationale that they got was that home delivery subscribers said, “We want your content to be read by other people. The reason that we support you is because we want other people to read your editorial.”
So for a lot of other brands that are providing content and not functionality. The idea that their ideas are hidden behind a pay wall and not accessible to the blogosphere and not accessible for people to share and link and discuss. The upside they get from the pay wall might be offset by the fact that their brand doesn’t get the exposure that it needs.
I’ve heard people say to be basically, “Karen, can’t we come up with something better than this?” What I would say, quite honestly, is that the Internet is the biggest source, the biggest Petri dish, the biggest source of exploration for different revenue models that we’ve ever seen.
Believe me, if there is a way to charge for something, or monetize something, or experiment with different ways of getting people to pay for things. Whether that’s by eyeballs or whether that’s by actual cash money. The Internet has experimented with it. I think the next few years will be very interesting in that you’ll see people trying and experimenting with a lot more.
But, having done all of this for a while I am left saying that advertising is the worst revenue model for the Internet. Except for all the others. With apologies to Winston Churchill and the concept of democracy.
So, I wanna wrap this up with a couple more thoughts. I went out and interviewed a number of my former clients in preparation for this. One of the guys I talked to was the publisher of, the head of Atlantic Media. He was formerly the publisher of The Week. And I asked him at the end of the interview: Do you have any parting words for the user experience for this community? Anything you really want people to know?
He was like, “Yes.” He said, “Everybody wants to think that user experience is like this paramount good, like it is the enviable truth.” He said, “You know, you think that if you look at ads on the page and think that provides a bad experience, so you want to take them off the page to provide a better experience.”
He said, “If you think that taking the ads off the page and making the page nicer and cleaner and easier to read and less cluttered and less distracting and that user experience in and of itself is going to get more people to come to the web site. That’s going to drive enough revenue to make up for the fact that you don’t have ads there. You are kidding yourself. User experience is not going to drive that much revenue. If you want content, sites, publishers to be successful, you have to give the advertisers what they want.”
Just to conclude this, I really want everybody to think about our future as an industry, our future as professionals. I think if there’s a group of people out there who can find really smart ways to integrate the advertising, to provide value for advertisers, still deliver quality experience, it is you guys. But please think about it in terms of: Let’s get advertisers to spend more money on the Internet. Give them what they want.
So, I just want to say thanks to the many people who helped me out as I was preparing for this presentation and‑‑I forgot to take the build off of those logos. And that’s it. Thank you.
Creating Magic Kingdoms: User Experience Lessons from Disney’s Imagineers – Mike Atherton
Ever been in love? We can all recall user experiences we admire. But do we love them?
Emotional engagement is an enormously powerful driver in ensuring product success. One group of UX designers, Disney’s Imagineers, uses this approach to build experiences that people not only engage with, but truly love.
Mike Atherton aims to reconnect us to the passions that brought us to the IA Summit with his lighthearted and inspirational presentation. We love the work we do. Let’s make sure our users love it too.
Transcript of Creating Magic Kingdoms: User Experience Lessons from Disney’s Imagineers – Mike Atherton. Main Conference Session, Day 1 – Friday, March 20
Announcer: Ever been in love? We can all recall user experiences we admire, but do we truly love them? Emotional engagement is an enormously powerful driver in insuring product success. One group of user experience designers, Disney’s Imagineers, knows this, and understands how to build user experiences that people not only engage with but truly love.
Mike Atherton presents a lighthearted and inspirational presentation aiming to reconnect us with the passions that brought us here. We love the work we do. Let’s just make sure our users love it, too. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers.
Mike Atherton: So hi, I’m Mike Atherton and I’m from London. And let’s give this a whirl, shall we? Love, exciting and new.
Mike Atherton: It’s a many splendored thing. It’s a battlefield and a losing game. But what is love anyway? Perhaps you’re more Ben and Jerry’s than Haagen‑Dazs. Maybe you’d gladly mortgage your children for an iPod Touch but wouldn’t be seen dead with a Zune. How would you make Sophie’s Choice should I rob you of your Twitter or your Facebook? When we talk about the love we have for the Apples, and Nintendos and even the WordPresses of the world, we’re talking about [zing sound] emotional engagement. Now I make user experiences for what some have called a living, most recently with the BBC. I’m fascinated in finding out what separates mere respect from true love. And what’s love got to do with it? Well for one thing, designing a product for emotional engagement could be the difference between launching a Smart Car and a Volvo, a Netflix and a Blockbuster, a Firefox and a, well, nobody every tattooed themselves with the other guy’s logo.
Emotional engagement is an instant bond with our audience so they feel our product or service is as much theirs. And I believe that emotional engagement aids the design process itself.
But before we get to all that I hope you’ll let me indulge in a spot of hero worship because it strikes me as I zip through my mental Rolodex of fetishes that there a group of architects and designers and engineers building user experiences that enjoy that high emotional engagement that’s almost like being in love.
Maybe if we take a walk through their work, there are lessons to learn about putting a little heart into our own.
Now they may not have the transient cool of today’s Technorati but they’ve been working tirelessly their brand of magic for over 50 years. And like the kind of experiences we all architect today, it all started with a mouse. I’m speaking of course of Disney’s Imagineers. Now I should stress that I am not now nor have I ever been one of them. I’m merely a fan and an evangelist, a Mouseketeer.
Around 1950, Walt Disney was in Griffith Park. He was sitting on a bench and eating peanuts. He’d taken his daughters to the merry‑go‑round. And as he sat watching them play, he thought, Wouldn’t it be ‑ I can’t do the accent ‑ [with American accent] Wouldn’t it be great if…
Mike Atherton: I’m just going to abandon the whole accent thing ‑ if there was a place that the whole family could enjoy themselves at the same time. Well, in that single thought lay the genesis of Disneyland and what would be the discipline of Imagineering. Now Walt’s studio was alive with animators, and model makers, and scenery painters, and special effects technicians, and writers, and composers and lyricists. And it was from these ranks that the Imagineers came. These men and women worked tirelessly to design and build some of the best loved user experiences anywhere, things like Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, the Jungle Cruise, Spaceship Earth, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and yes, the one with that damn song.
Mike Atherton: Guided by Walt’s vision and a culture of idea sharing, experimentation and all out guts, they took their film making magic into unchartered territory, actually used their lack of experience to their advantage. As Marty Sklar puts it, “Our greatest asset was ignorance. We didn’t know we could fail.” Now at this point in the presentation I’d like to introduce you to my co‑host. So let’s just unclip this little guy.
Walt Disney: … how Disneyland evolved from a dream to a reality. Now it was about 1954 that we came up with this, what you might call the climax to the [Inaudible 5:50].
Mike Atherton: Yeah.
Walt Disney: “This was the concept that we hoped Disneyland would eventually be. Now we’ve made a lot of changes through the years but this still remains the basic plan.”
Mike Atherton: In fact, Disneyland was a hard sell. This wasn’t just a case of an animator going into the them park business. There was no theme park business. Disneyland was a world first. And what separates a theme park from the Coney Island fairgrounds that came before it, well we would call that user experience. Walt wanted visitors to step out of their own reality and into a movie. But this dream needed cold, hard cash. And then bean counters saw nothing but problems. Disney’s folly, they called it. How would he operate it year round? Were the tiny details a needless extravagance? Customers won’t care. Stick to what you know. If you build it, they won’t come.
Well, one weekend Walt collared a storyboard artist, this guy Herb Ryman. “Herbie,” he said, won’t do the accent again, “I need to show these bankers exactly what we mean. We need to get them excited.” Well with Walt on his shoulder all weekend, Herb’s renderings captured the essence of Disneyland. And they’re not based on the blueprints, no wire frames to work from here, just the swirl of ideas in Walt Disney’s head.
Those drawings that Herb Ryman worked on that day started a visual culture that still leads Imagineering even today. We all know that it doesn’t really matter how nice you make your functional spec documents or even your wire frames. The client always gets excited over the pretty pictures.
Now in my own work I’ll often visualize early project discussions. These are not carefully thought through IA masterpieces. Indeed many of them would fall apart completely if you look at them funny. But really that’s the point, having some visual meat to rip into like cynical raptors, it focuses debate and clarifies whether we all have the same broad vision in our heads. That instant connection to artwork isn’t just about understanding. It’s about getting fired up. It’s emotional engagement.
So when Imagineering comes and builds a new attraction, they don’t start with blueprints or project plans. No one ever falls in love with a Hobson spigot or a Gangly wrench. This isn’t yet about the structural. It’s about the dream. Now of course I’m not suggesting that we dump the wire frames, and use cases, and functional specs, we will still need detail after all. I just think they are not what opens purse strings or even heart strings.
Since Disney married Pixar in 2006, John Lasseter, this guy, has helped Imagineering maintain their creative culture. Both Pixar and Imagineering, have strong principles for creative management. Creative people have control over every stage of an idea’s development.
Now, I don’t just mean visual designers here. Products ideas may move between disciplines, be it story development or architectural engineering. The trick is to create cross discipline teams, who will bring different insights and work well together, refining good ideas into great ones.
Daily show and tells, no matter how rough, help people get over any embarrassment when showing incomplete work, and promote healthy competition. Everyone has the freedom to talk to everyone else, regardless of departments or rank. There are no proper channels to go through. Managers aren’t always the first to know, and sometimes it is nice to walk into a meeting and be surprised.
Training courses and learning lunches help teams from different disciplines to interact, and appreciate one another’s skills. How many times have we sunk hundreds of hours into a project, only to move on and try to forget it the moment it is out the door? Well, instead list the top five things you would do again, and the top five things you wouldn’t‑‑the roses, and the thorns.
In the 1960’s, Bill Bernbach of the advertising agency DDB, transformed the industry when he invented the creative team. Specifically, the teaming of a copywriter and an art director to work on an ad simultaneously. At the interactive agency, Sapient‑‑you know them? They have adapted this practice, and our pairing information architects with visual designers. The complement of skills ensures balance between structure and esthetic at the BBC.
Anyone with a dream can workup their idea, and present it to a panel of experts, who might throw the odd brick back at them, but only so they can go back to the drawing board and refine their idea. It is a great way of funneling the creative juices from fertile minds‑‑which sounded a little better when I wrote it.
So, by developing user experience in small cross‑discipline groups, organizations like this, and like Pixar, and Imagineering, they learn and succeed by dreaming and doing.
Walt wanted every inch of Disneyland to feel like part of a story, to have a strong narrative, driving the layout and architecture, and design and service. Things that happen in view of the guest are on stage. Park operations are backstage. Staff are cast members, and they wear costumes, not uniforms. Two‑faced facades inspired by movie back lots set the scene, be it a broken‑ down Hollywood hotel, or a Wild West railroad, or Ana Paula Base Camp, or even an 18 story geodesic sphere. They call it ‘architectural’ story telling.
The Hollywood Tower Hotel has directed every inch to be an 1930’s grand hotel, now rather down on its luck. The Base Camp at Expedition Everest tells of a Yeti Hunt through news clippings, and documentary photographs, and artifacts. At the Kidani Village in Animal Kingdom, you will still find the outlines of the old city walls around the Portuguese fortress that once stood there. Engravings commemorate the political events that shook the village in 1961, and yet none of it is real.
There was no fortress, no events of 1961. It is just part of the story on story layering that gives each experience its rich tapestry.
Now, over at the BBC, we’re revolutionizing the way that we tell stories online. The BBC, as you probably know, makes thousands of hours of television and radio programming, widely regarded as some of the best programming in the world‑‑oh, and I think so.
Yet our online efforts have met with mixed success, static websites dot the landscape like silos, disconnected from the wider BBC universe. For example, you might like this man, Stephen Fry, and some of you may even know that he was in this show, Black Adder, and he had a comedy partnership with this other guy, who you may know from this show.
He also did something about the Gutenberg Press for the BBC. He suffers from bipolar disorder, which he made a program about. Most recently, he made another series, where he took a trip around these United States. In that series he visited Kentucky, and Hawaii, and Nevada, where he visited one of these brothel, as did this guy, Louis Theroux in another BBC series. Which tells us if nothing else, that our documentary filmmakers are getting one over on us.
Well, for the longest time there was no way to make those connections or follow those journeys. We only retold on air the same stories that were first told online. Now, thanks to minds immeasurably superior to mine, we are seeing those rich relationships exposed, so we may follow our own narrative paths.
If you want to see how Michael Palin became a comedy god as part of Monty Python, and then transitioned into a travel correspondent, visiting the Sahara, which was repeatedly created by climate change, which is an issue that this guy wasn’t so big on, but this guy says he will be, well then go on. Follow that camel, because you don’t need us to explicitly tell you that story.
There is a combination of approaches here. The BBC’s Topics Project is a way of bringing together all our stories on a particular theme, lifting them out of their silos, and making aboutness a form of navigation.
Then there are the more detailed domain modeling efforts, which explicitly define the relationships between our programs, and people, and events, and topics, and even our recipes. These are our voyages into the semantic web, and it is a lot like love. It is rather straight forward in theory, but somewhat messy in practice.
So, non‑linear dynamic narratives aren’t exactly like theme park attractions, but like with the imaginers, our designs should be led by the stories we want to tell. Disneyland was designed to be an unbroken user experience‑‑over to my co‑host for a moment.
Walt Disney: At the foot of Main Street, about where you are sitting is the Plaza. The Plaza, or the hub, is the heart of Disneyland. Shooting out from here, like the four cardinal points to the compass, Disneyland is divided into four cardinal realms: Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and Frontierland.
Mike Atherton: The hub and spoke mode created different distinct lands, that didn’t visually compete. It allowed for very controlled traffic flow, which paved the way for some very filmic spectacle. When you first entered Disneyland, you do so by a railway station, giving you a sense of arrival at this happy place. At this point, you still can’t see into the Park, until you enter under a stoned underpass, and emerging from the darkness you find yourself staring straight down 19th Century, Main Street, USA, with a fairytale Sleeping Beauty Castle ahead in the distance.
It is a deliberate piece of staged management, transporting you from the real world into Disneyland. Now the castle itself serves the same purpose as the hat in the Hollywood studios, or the golf ball at Epcot, or the Tree of Life in the Animal Kingdom. These huge and iconic structures serve as a navigation anchor, signaling the hub from which visitors can spoke out into different directions. They call these proud directions “weenies”, I kid you not.
Mike Atherton: Like us, the Imagineers understood that user journey should avoid distraction, so they worked to prevent visual intrusion, which would break the illusion of each distinctly themed land. Still led by the movie making metaphor, Imagineers designed smooth cross‑dissolves from one land into the next. In Florida the journey from Main Street to Adventureland gradually blends themed foliage, color, sound, music and architecture. The Crystal Palace restaurant fuses the American colonial with the British colonial style of India and Asia, providing an ideal transition between the two lands. The Big Thunder Mountain in Florida is modeled after the red rock of Monument Valley, but in Disneyland it’s based on the striped hoodoos of Utah’s Bryce Canyon. And why?
Well, because in the smaller footprint of Disneyland the cartoon‑like Candy Mountain is better suited to peer over storybook Fantasyland. This attention to detail is everywhere, adapting the filmmaking convention of the long, medium and close‑up shots into the park design.
Long shots are done through false perspective, a trick where the buildings are built progressively smaller as they recede into the distance in order to appear larger than they are. It allows for a grand view within a very small space. The medium shots are the building facades, with theming that turns an ordinary ride queue into a bustling space port or an automotive test center.
And then the close‑ups provide the subliminal detail. In keeping with the “lived in” look, the Imagineers designed signs, doorknobs, light fixtures, trash cans, menus, concession stands and wallpaper, all supporting the attraction’s backstory.
Walt and his brother Roy took their first major creative and financial risk back in 1928 when they released their first cartoon with synchronized sound. They did it again with Snow White in 1937, the first time that the critics had used the term “Disney’s folly,” claiming that there was no market for a full length animated feature and it would never make back its 1.5 million dollar budget.
So despite the success of Snow White, by the time Disneyland opened in 1955, the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. The park was their biggest gamble yet for much higher financial stakes.
Walt Disney: Oh, it goes back so… I had different cost estimates. One time it was $3,500,000 and I kept fooling around with it. It got up to $7,500,000 and I kept fooling around a little more. Pretty soon it was 12‑and‑a‑half, and I think when we opened Disneyland it was $17,000,000.
Mike Atherton: But Walt wasn’t afraid to take risks. He made a career focus out of an investment in new technology from those early sound cartoons to surround sound, like Fantasia, to the first monorail in America, to a new kind of animation that would bring three dimensional life to the stories he wanted to tell.
Walt Disney: We created a new type of animation. So new that we had to invent a new name for it.
Walt Disney: Right, Audio‑Animatronics.
Mike Atherton: This cunning businessman avoided paying for advertising by using his TV show as an extended commercial for the park. He was quick to capitalize on merchandising, and having just lost money on Pinocchio and Fantasia, it’s no accident that Sleeping Beauty Castle took its cue from the next film on the drawing board. Despite this expanding media empire, he was driven not by money but by the pursuit of quality. In fact, Walt didn’t like the idea of corporations very much, recognizing how much harder it is to maintain clarity of vision and get things done within a large organization. So he repeatedly looked to carve small, creative niches out of his larger structure, the most notable of which was WED Enterprises, known today as Walt Disney Imagineering. These days, entrepreneur risk taking is second nature in our business.
Our medium of choice has matured to a point where the building blocks of innovation &8211; APIs and web services and open source‑‑are readily and cheaply available. Even the teams to help us assemble them are never far away. One evening chef Niall Harbison was lying in bed and came up with an idea for a Twitter‑based recipe application. The next morning he sent out the following tweet.
[Imitating Irish accent] Need a smart developer who… he’s Irish, by the way… who thinks that they could build a simple… that’s probably racist, isn’t it… a simple app in one day. Cash or profit share pay depending on preference. Big idea.
Well, 17 replies and just $300 later, would you believe, twecipe.com launched, offering recipe suggestion for things that you have in your fridge. The product launch came exactly five days after Niall had first thought of the idea. More sophisticated services are still relatively cheap to develop. We’re fortunate to live in a time and work in an industry where product development cycles can be measured in days and costs are in the low thousands, not the umpteenth millions.
Yet we’re also in a worldwide scramble to build the next big thing. With everyone borrowing from the same toolbox, we can afford to take risks and to innovate. We just can’t afford not to.
In 1969, Marty Sklar, the guy we heard from earlier, had been asked to pitch an attraction concept to RCA. At the time making strides into personal computers, Marty and John Hench, another Imagineer, came up with a ride through a computer thinking that might RCA’s buttons. The pitch went well among the lower ranks of RCA’s staff, but then the client hit them with an uber‑client that hadn’t been involved in any of the discussions to date. [sarcastically] I don’t know if that sounds familiar to you.
The pitch to RCA’s head honcho was a bit of a disaster. He didn’t see what was so exciting about touring the guts of a computer, so the Disney boys went back to the drawing board and decided to revive an idea that had fired their own passions years earlier. RCA could buy into it if they wanted to, and they did, putting $10,000,000 into an attraction called Space Mountain, today one of the principal icons of Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
It was a valuable lesson in trusting their instincts. Of course they needed to design something that guests would enjoy, but this is, after all, what they do for a living‑‑what they’ve done now for 50 years. They really should be able to do it and make it user‑centered without having to stop and solicit opinion from guinea pigs every five minutes or being held hostage to the whims of clients or focus groupies. They are the recognized experts. They have the experience to know what their customers want, and so they build it, then they test it in the field.
Now in our own industry, whether we’re talking about the YouTubes and Twitters and Diggs and even Googles of our generation, or the Apples and Microsofts of eons ago, we can see that true originality, true change, comes from a clarity of vision and a confidence of purpose.
I’ll go out on a limb here and claim that none of the websites that have set the world on fire over the past 10 years were made by an agency working for a client, or even by a particularly large project team. When you look at the poster children of Web 2.0, you see the same story coming up again and again: two or three guys working in their basement to develop an idea that was useful to them personally, and putting a lot of love into their new baby, but somehow transferred to their first flush of users, who loved and nurtured the product just as much.
I propose that those products, and the love users have for them, could only come from that working environment; free of corporate politics, free of clients appeasement, free of iterative compromise and watering down, the death of a thousand cuts. The projects developed in larger organizations seem destined to suffer.
Now, it might appear somewhat unorthodox of me to contrast the working practices of a couple of teenagers in their parents Palo Alto basement with a multi‑billionaire juggernaut like Disney. But Walt Disney Imagineering, the small niche carved out of that larger studio by Walt himself, was designed to be just that think tank of talented enthusiasts, free to dream their dreams.
Sometimes the first idea isn’t always the best. In the past, Disney’s biggest change from concept to execution was Epcot, or to give it its proper name, the ‘sciencey one with the big golf ball,’ but who knows what ‘Epcot’ stands for? Wait‑‑I’ll let Walt tell you the best part of his plans for Florida.
Walt Disney: The most exciting, by far the most important part of our Florida project, in fact, the heart of everything we’ll be doing, Disney World will be our experimental prototype city of tomorrow. We call it “Epcot,” spelt “E-P-C-O-T,” Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Here it is on a larger scale.
Walt Disney: Epcot will take its queue from the new ideas, the new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing, and testing, and demonstrating new materials, and new systems. At Epcot, we will always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise. I don’t believe there is a challenge anywhere in the world that is more important to people everywhere, then finding solutions to the problems of our cities.
Man 1: So, where do we begin? How do we start answering this great challenge? Well, we are convinced, we must start with the public need, and the need is not just for curing the old ills, the old cities. We think the need is for starting from scratch on virgin land, and building a special kind of new community. First, the area of business and commerce. Next the high density apartment housing. Then the broad green belt and recreation lands, and finally the low density neighborhood residential streets. In other parts of the country, a community the size of this prototype could become part of an entire city complex, composed of many such communities, planned and built a few miles apart.
In Disney World, about 20,000 people will actually live in Epcot. Their homes will be built in ways that permit ease of change, so that new products may continuously be demonstrated. Their schools will welcome new ideas, so that everyone who grows up in Epcot, will have skills in pace with today’s world.
Walt Disney: That is the starting point for our Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. And now, where do we go from these preliminary plans and sketches? Well, a project like this is so vast and scoped, that no one company alone can make it a reality, but if we can bring together the technical know‑how of American industry and the creative imagination of the Disney Organization, I am confident we can create right here in Disney World, a showcase to the world, of the American free enterprise system. I believe we can build a community that more people will talk about and come to look at than any other area in the world. And with your cooperation, I am sure this experimental prototype community of tomorrow can influence the future of city living for generations to come. It is an exciting challenge. A once in a lifetime opportunity for everyone who participates, speaking for myself and the entire Disney Organization, we are ready to go right now.
Mike Atherton: Before we sliced it, Walt Disney was dead. Now, if you have ever been to Epcot, you will know that it is not a city of the future. After Walt died, much of the company’s imaginative risk taking died with him. Still, the public wouldn’t let Epcot lie, and Disney knew it would have to do something. The result was a theme park, focused on science and innovation and corporate sponsorship, representing the spirit of the original vision. In 1982, the Epcot Center opened, located at what would have been the heart of Walt’s progress city.
After the story about corporate, it reminds me of the one about husband and wife team, Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield, struggling to develop their massively multiplayer online game back in 2002. They were running out of money, and fearing that the end was nigh. They made a difficult decision to ditch the game, and focus instead on its best feature, sharing photos with other players.
Well, that feature morphed into a site called Flickr. What makes this story interesting is that Fake says, “Had we sat down,” I won’t even try it, and said, “Let’s start a photo application, we would have failed. We were stupid and naive, which turned out to be a wonderful thing.” Like the early Imagineers, ignorance was their greatest asset. They didn’t know they could fail.
Disneyland was propelled by Walt’s frustration with movie making. Once a film was made, it was fixed, unchanging forever, but Disneyland he said would never be completed. It would always be evolving and revolving, giving people new reasons to come back.
He had an apartment built above the fire station. On weekends, he would come down and stay in the Park, chatting to guests and finding out just how they would make Disneyland better. Walt called it “Plussing,” a never ending cycle of iterative improvement.
Over the years, the Park’s have seen different attractions come and go. In fact, the list of the past attractions is easily as long as those still present, gone, but not forgotten, by the fans who still speak of them fondly.
Our Imagineering Legends have consistently acted as creative leaders. When it comes to testing, they are like the drunk with the lamppost, looking more for support then illumination. Wow! Controversial perhaps, to say that product design should be led by the shared vision of the project team. Only involve the opinions of users where necessary, and really then only when you have already gone ahead and built what you wanted to build anyway.
BBC iPlayer is a service that lets you watch or listen to BBC TV and radio shows online, provided you live in the UK. The project first kicked off around 2004, and was mired in political trials, and dog murk, and rights negotiation, and changes in technology platform. It was costing millions in public money, and hadn’t so much as a beater site.
And then this guy, Anthony Rose came along, and brought the touch of Silicon Valley to the mahogany corridors of the BBC. That is not straightly accurate, but it makes for a better story.
Mike Atherton: As creator of the online media group, he fast tracked the development of iPlayer, and instigated a bullish release cycle. In Rose’s view, real artist ship fortnightly, every two weeks. The idea is that if something goes out and it’s a bit rubbish, it’s not the end of the world because in two weeks it will be better. Again, we see the Imagineering practice of a small, self‑contained, creative team carved from a large organization and intent on getting things done. As Walt said, “You don’t design for yourself, you design for what you know people want.” Yet the way we as an industry build products has brought a shift in the way that we can engage users in product development. We can let change happen in the wild. We can let the audience do our plussing [sic]. By being transparent about the product architectures, by making it as much about the APLA as the UA, the things we make can evolve as users build new services on top using our building blocks to weave new stories. Not that you can weave with building blocks.
To date, Walt Disney Imagineering has built eleven Disney Theme Parks, a town, two cruise ships, dozens of resort hotels, water parks, shopping centers, sports complexes, and entertainment venues worldwide. They have over 28 patents registered. Their names adorn the windows of Main Street, and the legacy they’ve created in Disney Land and its spiritual sons will outlive them in the way that legacies do. People have loved their work so much that they bought the t‑shirt.
If only the work we did had such staying power, such permanency, not just on stage but in the hearts and minds of our audience. We spend months of our lives pouring our blood, sweat, tears, and other bodily fluid into the things that we build, and we think ourselves lucky if they see their second birthday. It’s time and efforts and brain juice we could have spent writing a novel or building a school or bringing enlightenment to the culturally impoverished.
So why do we do what we do? I mean information architecture seems rather a specific area of study, scarcely the thing that people just fall into as they might with management consultancy or petty crime, to name but one.
I think we have touched on the answer. I hope I’m preaching to the converted. I believe that we, all of us, want to make user experiences that are beautiful; lovable in their structure, in their execution, in the stories they tell.
Walt Disney said that Imagineering is not a specific discipline but more a state of mind. We can learn from these creative philosophies passed down through the years to expand our horizons by collaborating cross culture, sticking the spoon of user experience into every layer of the Web application trifle before scrambling it into an eaten mess, to understand the stories we want to tell and to have the sense of purpose, the courage to cut the ties and let our babies breathe and grow in the open air and not in the incubator.
A carousel of progress keeps turning as we sally forth into that great big beautiful tomorrow of the Web’s evolution. One where a free and open sharing of information will be underpinned by things we can point at and by relationships we can define succinctly and unambiguously. This cannot simply be an academic exercise in classification and order but a means of weaving new stories through a common language.
As the journalist Sydney Harris once wrote, “The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.” Or as the Imagineers understand it, it’s not the size of your slide rule that’s important, but how it’s used. Our stock and trade is the functional specification, but shouldn’t we also consider the emotional specification? How do we want our users to feel? How do we want them to think of us? Do we want to be the Firefox or the Internet Explorer, the Mustang or the Camry, the Diana or the Camilla?
We must be bold and imaginative; to dream, to believe, to dare, and to do, to think outside the boxes and the arrows, to be passionate yet infectious, but in the good way. To create experiences that people fall in love with, to consider the whole of the web as our own Disneyland, stitching in quality, consistency and excitement, from the long‑shots to the close‑ups, an unbroken user journey moving seamlessly from one adventure to the next. “It’s a small world, after all.” Thank you.
[Music “It’s a Small World.”]
Mike Atherton: A couple of minutes for questions, if anybody has any, or there is lunch.
Audience Question: [inaudible 39:48]
Mike Atherton: Exactly. So, I shall repeat the question for the tape. “How do we convince our project sponsors and our clients to let us work in a collaborative cross‑cultural way that follows the Imagineering trend,” I guess. To me, I think you only need to really look at the things that are truly successful. When I worked in agencies for 10 years building micro sites for vodka brands, and what have you, and just destroying little pieces of my soul every time. I mean, what is the point? These things take so much time and effort, and it is disproportionate to their value in a lot of cases.
Yet on the flipside of that, you have something like a Twitter or a YouTube, or something, which is developed in a very kind of free and open way. It is developed to be something that is quite single purpose that is not watered down in that way, and because of that, it is phenomenally successful.
So, I guess in answer to your question, I mean you only need to look at the things which those clients often aspire to be, that they often want to piggyback on, or bottle feed from. If they actually want to be the change agents in the industry, then this is the environment to do it.
Audience Question: [inaudible 41:09]
Mike Atherton: Chris, right? My hero.
Mike Atherton: I want your job. Yeah. That is right. I mean, Epcot was a bit of an apology really, from what was a strange dream for an animator to have, until it starts getting to the specific planning game. It is interesting to see the legacy that the Park has become. There is some tenants of that. Not only that, but if you take a trip to the town of‑‑not Stratford, but Celebration in Florida. You can see a vision, a reality, of what the Epcot vision might have been, which is a genuine town, but looks like you are living in Disneyland to a certain extent.
A Fundamental Disruption: Moving Information Architecture into the Hands of Individual Consumers – Peter Sweeney & Robert Barlow-Busch
A fundamental assumption in information architecture is that producers need to organize their content before consumers can access it effectively.
But what if content didn’t have to be organized in advance of its access, or even organized by producers at all? What if each consumer’s individual perspective could direct the organization of content, independent of the actions of other consumers?
Primal Fusion’s Peter Sweeney, Founder and CTO, and Robert Barlow-Busch, Director of Product Design, demonstrate existing technologies that are already moving the Web towards more consumer-directed forms of information architecture.
Transcript of A Fundamental Disruption: Moving Information Architecture into the Hands of Individual Consumers Peter Sweeney and Robert Barlow‑Busch. Main Conference Session, Day 1 – Friday, March 20
There’s a fundamental assumption in information architecture that producers need to organize their content before consumers can access it effectively. But what if content didn’t have to organized in advance of its access or organized by producers at all? What if each consumer’s individual perspective could direct the organization of content independent of the actions of other consumers? Primal Fusion’s Robert Barlow Busch and Peter Sweeney provide demonstrations of existing technologies that are already moving the web towards more consumer directed forms or information architecture. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast.
Robert Barlow-Busch: So I want to start here by asking who here owns a digital camera? Wow, just about everybody, that’s no surprise. Digital cameras have basically taken over the photography business at this point. Now, if you think back to the first digital cameras that came up, how would you describe their quality and performance?
Robert Barlow-Busch: Slow? Generally kind of lousy. They took awful pictures, right? You could only look at the photos on your computer, you know, existing processes for printing photos really weren’t compatible with that. You know the whole idea is that they were lousy to start off with, and professionals completely wrote them off. Why would anyone use that? And yet, today most professional photographers are using digital photography, digital cameras. Now this is a classic characteristic of disruptive technologies. Disruptive technologies start off really under performing, they’re just not good enough to actually use or to use for any serious purpose.
However, they do get better. And they eventually get better not just to serve the low end of the market, you know, the people for whom it’s just good enough, but they continue on a trajectory until eventually they get good enough to serve the high end of the market as well. And this is sort of the central idea behind disruptive technologies. And if you want to learn more be sure to check out Clayton Christensen’s book ,”The Innovator’s Dilemma”. That’s really where this model has come from.
So, today we want to propose that semantic technology is on this curve. Semantic technology needs to be on our radar as information architects. And take a look at really what semantic technology is about. It’s about automating the creation of concept models is a very concise way of saying it. It’s about allowing computers to recognize ideas and concepts and topics and what they mean and how they’re related to each other and then enable new computing algorithms to do interesting things with that data.
Now let’s compare that to IA. There is a real overlap between the objectives and goals of these two areas. IA is also about concept models. If you go to the crowd mine site right now actually, you know how they asked us the question about what’s your favorite UX tool or IA tool, concept models is I think the second biggest tag in that tag cloud right now. So, it’s something that IA has developed a lot of, you know, methods and practices and tools to help with, and semantic technology is coming like a freight train here. It’s right in IA’s backyard, so we need to be aware of these things.
In a nutshell, the disruption that we suspect is going to occur because we’re seeing to start to happen now, is that no longer will you need one group of people to organize data in advance for another group of people. These technologies allow information to be self organizing. And in so doing, it means that consumers will actually be able at the time that they want information to say here’s what I want, here’s how I’m thinking about this particular subject. And these technologies can respond by in real time, right at that moment, organizing it the way that it should in response to that request from the consumer. So that’s the proposal in a nutshell there. So I think I’m going to toss it over to Pete here to tell us a little more about this technology, and why we need to keep our eye on this.
Peter Sweeney: We’ve heard this sort of thing for a long time, haven’t we? There’s some people nodding in the audience. The notion of a semantic web of semantic technologies emerging in the mainstream has been something we’ve expected for many many years. And it’s been slow in coming, frankly. So, the question becomes, “When? When might this happen?” Well, what we wanted to do today is actually show you some technologies that are actually up and running today to make it very much in the present, but the other thing I wanted to, if we can go to the next slide, is talk about why the pace of the semantic technology and the semantic innovation is accelerating, because it’s important to understand not only where we are on the curve right now, but how quickly we’re rising up that curve. What is really interesting about Web 2.0 is something that is not in the semantic technology crowd, but it more than anything else, I think, is really accelerating the emergence of these semantic technologies into the mainstream. And the reason is that semantic technologies love data. They love big data. And Web 2.0 has created this abundance of semi‑structured data into the ecosystem. Wikipedia, for example, that poster child of Web 2.0, is the most important source for semantic technologies now. Now, you have a number of these very niche and specialized semantic technologies that have been baking over decades, frankly, but once they have this data, this proliferation of semi‑structured data to work with, they become far more performant, for more quickly than in the past.
The other thing that’s happening is this notion of the semantic web. How many people have heard about the semantic web? Just a quick pull. Oh, fantastic. So, the semantic web is a group of initiatives. A whole bunch of stuff is going on, in order to essentially provide semantic technologists with a way, a common framework to cooperate and to inter‑operate. So basically what’s happening is that companies like Primal Fusion and many many others are creating this type of specialized semantic data and pushing it out into this ecosystem that we call the semantic web. And because of that, each of these technologies can begin to cooperate in ways that they couldn’t before. So we have this spirit of cooperation, all using this common framework, and again that’s accelerating the emergence of this structured data. So, again, we’re going to keep it real, we’re going to show you some.. Are we going to show…
Robert Barlow-Busch: Looks like we’re not going to show functioning demos.
Peter Sweeney: We’re going to do puppet shows to show you what this stuff could look like, but the undercurrent of all of this is as these technologies begin playing together, you’re going to see an accelerating emergence of a truly semantic web over the next coming years. Okay.
Robert Barlow-Busch: Alright, so, if anybody has burning questions as we go, feel free to shout them out. We’ll absolutely, we’ll have some time for discussing some of these big ideas at the end. So, yeah, I apologize folks, while Pete was talking, I was trying to get the network running. The Peabody network does not reach here. Do we have more good news?
Robert Barlow-Busch: Yeah, well, I’m going to proceed.
Audience: If you have a laptop, you can tether it.
Robert Barlow-Busch: We’ll probably wind up running out of time. So the good news is having the functional demos is not absolutely essential for this. We’re going to go to Plan B.
Okay, so the first product that we want to talk about is Freebase. Anybody familiar with Freebase? Freebase is an interesting example. Let me just get this over to the screen here. So here we have a screenshot of Freebase. And I’m going to turn backwards to see what I’m clicking now. What Freebase is is it’s almost like Wikipedia, but for the relationships between ideas and concepts. It’s open to anyone to go in and edit and add just like Wikipedia is. So what we’re looking at right now is a page for The Peabody Hotel. And what’s interesting is that you see it understands what The Peabody Hotel is. There’s this idea of types. I’m going to mirror my display, one sec. Okay, you guys see that still? Cool. Now I can see it too. So if we go, we can see that the Peabody Hotel has certain characteristics, like a location. It has a type of building. It is a type of structure. Now what I was going to demo here, if we go into say, “Building,” and we say, “Show me the schema for building,” what we would see is that building as an idea has all kinds of structure around it.
You would see that buildings have architects, they have architectural styles. They even have information about projects related to buildings. There’s this enormous wealth of information about what objects are and what fundamental components they’re made up of. So it’s a fantastic resource.
Peter Sweeney: Now what’s underpinning Freebies and many other semantic services is a subset of the semantic web called Linked Open Data. Now linked open data is, essentially it’s like a great, big distributed database. Presently it has about four point five billion records of information within it. And what’s so cool about this resource and the semantic web is that anybody can use it. And anybody can use it like a database. So it’s not just retrieving four point five billion records, it’s how can each of those different facts be joined together to create more information, and to create new insights into information. Again, all of it is already available.
Robert Barlow-Busch: So this is an example of one product that we could have in our toolbox for getting data. Another one we want to talk about now is Zephyra, and a product called Remix. This is just an example of a general class of tools that are provided for folks, such as ourselves, to use to actually work with data and build new applications from. So, Zephyra, Remix was used to build this example of, it came out of MIT originally, the Simile Project, and this particular product is called Exhibit. And what we would see, if we could click on this, is that this is a really interesting RIA that allows you to learn information about U.S. Presidents. It, essentially it’s created a sort of a faceted navigation experience for you to see. It’s mashed up data about Presidents with Google maps and with a timeline on the top and with facets down the left where you can say, “Show me, you know Presidents by religion, or by political affiliation,” and it’s a neat little tool to sort of play with data.
Peter Sweeney: So another part of the semantic web, but this time it’s on the Tool Set side, so not just providing the data but also providing tools to do interesting stuff with it. Really important point about this is that these tools are designed not for professionals. They’re not designed necessarily for classificationists, or librarians or architects, but consumers. Anyone who wants to build a type of complex website like this has the tools available right now to go out and do that.
Robert Barlow-Busch: Alright, moving on to another demo, here. This is an interesting one. Has anyone had a chance to play with Callay, open Callay and through it? You’ll want to check this out. So this is brought to us by Thompson Reuters, the news agency. They’re using semantic technology very heavily right now. And they’re making some of their tools available to anyone. So in this example, let me pull this screen up for everyone. What I would be able to demo, I can show you the results of this only, is, you can provide a URL to this service and it will go to that URL and it will read the documents. And in this case we actually pointed it to that seminal interview back in I think, 2000 of Peter Morville and Lou Rosenfeld by O’Reilly. So the results here, if I could scroll them, you would see that Callay has identified a whole bunch of core ideas in that paper. It’s identified people, it’s identified places, it’s identified disciplines. All kinds of rich information that is now available to us to use in many other purposes.
Peter Sweeney: This is a classic technology called, I’m sorry, yeah?
Robert Barlow-Busch: The URL? We’ll share these, we’ll post these up on SlideShare by the way so you’ll be able to see that.
Peter Sweeney: So information extraction is what this is about and the notion is you have this unstructured information, a document, and from it you can pull structure data, data that computers can read. The other thing that’s really cool about this type of initiative is that they’re providing the description of what these things are, they’re called entities, in a way that other companies would understand. So they’re using a vocabulary that other companies can share and use to inter‑operate. So if you combine a technology such as this with a resource such as the linked data web, you can use this to provide, for example, a structured entity like the name of a person, you can take that key, which is in computer‑speak and talk to the data web in order to pull out all of the information that might be joined to that particular person. So you can see how these technologies are cumulative.
It’s not just a one hit wonder. I mean, in of itself, the idea of extracting a structured entity from an unstructured document doesn’t seem very interesting, but when you piece it together into this larger ecosystem of activity, some really, really cool stuff begins to happen.
Robert Barlow-Busch: Alright, so breezing through some more of these. And we really are breezing since they’re not working. Clusty. Anybody played with Clusty? OK, quite a few hands here. So Clusty is a useful tool. It’s basically a search engine but a little step beyond that. Let me just zoom in here so you can see a Clusty screen shot up close. There we go. So when you do a search with Clusty, it is presenting you with the normal search results we’d expect to see, but then it’s clustering ideas contained within those search results. Basically providing a way to filter through the vast number of results you have. Now for any of these we could click them and expand to see more ideas, to dig down into it again, feeling very much like the familiar faceted navigation experience that we have. And all of this, fully automated. So Pete, you had some thoughts.
Peter Sweeney: Yeah, so clustering is a fantastic tool that you’ve got if you’ve got large corpra to manage. What it’s able to do is, looking at a very large set of documents it can extract the key themes of the different concepts that are embedded across those different documents. So that’s something that takes an awful lot of work for people to do. The other thing that’s cool about it is that because these topics exist across documents, it can actually infer relationships between different ideas. So for example, if I have document A and document B and both of them share a particular idea then perhaps they share different ideas across those documents as well. So those types of inferences are possible with semantic technology as well.
So what we have is not just pulling out themes and ideas, but also pulling out connections and relationships across those ideas as well.
Robert Barlow-Busch: So we’re starting to see some examples of how this technology is enabling, you know, useful consumer applications. So another example of that is Cosmix. Anyone familiar with Cosmix? A couple of hands. Another one that I encourage you to check out. So with Cosmix, let me go through the little dance here again, pull it up so you can see. Cosmix is a site where you visit it and say, “Here’s a topic I’m interested in.” So in this case we are looking at climate change. And it basically creates a website for you about this topic. Now if we were to explore this website, we’d see that it’s pulled together, snippets of information from Wikipedia, from search results, from blogs, from news stories, there’s audio, there’s video, and all of this is augmented, again as you can see over on the right with related ideas to climate change so you can then explore some more. So it’s another way to experience information about this topic on the web.
Peter Sweeney: So this is obviously hitting close to home, or at least it should be. You have a site here that’s actually building websites. And it’s building a website every time somebody types something into the query box. So what it’s doing behind the scenes, at least as far as I can guess is that it’s taking a query, whatever you type into that search box, and it’s situating it within a very large concept model that Cosmix has running underneath the surface. So the notion of using taxonomies or ontologies behind the scenes is a very important part of semantic technologies in general. Once they get the intent from the user, they can take that and situate it as best as they can within that existing concept model, and then they can do some really cool things, and really fast things. When they find out, for example, that this particular topic belongs in this particular spot within this knowledge structure, they can judiciously decide which other sources on the web might be relevant to this particular topic, and then in real time, they can take that query and federate it across all of those different sources. So, it’s unfortunate that we can’t scroll down here, because it’s really quite impressive the amount of content that they can aggregate together. Different photos, different blogs, q and a, a whole host of different media, all within the context that the person has established.
Audience member: I wish to ask you a question about this example. You started… [inaudible]
Peter Sweeney: Oh, this particular one is human rights now, but I’m sure your question will hold either topic.
Audience member: I was wondering about how you guys got from there to there.
Robert Barlow-Busch: Oh, okay. We didn’t. [laughs] We didn’t get from there to here.
Different screen shots at different times. Okay, let’s take a look at our final example right now. I should mention that, just to reinforce a point that Pete’s made, about how there’s a real spirit of collaboration and cooperation in this industry, so a lot of these products that we’re seeing make their data available to you to use in various ways. And so, the final example is the product that we’re currently working on at Primal Fusion, same thing holds true. This data will be available to folks to use in few ways. So, let’s zoom in a little bit so you can see this more clearly. Here we are. So, this is a product that’s in a very early alpha stage right now, but let me sort of example to you through a scenario what you could accomplish with this. What we’re attempting to do is to take these ideas and the power of semantics and bring it to a far more personal level right now. So let’s imagine that, you know, I’m a student and I have to write a paper on the relationship of climate change to economics. What we’ve built here is a product that will allow you to have a conversation with Primal Fusion to say here’s what I’m thinking about, you know, the end goal is for you to say this is the idea in my mind, this is how I’m thinking about that idea, and for the underlying data to be available to software agents to help you go act on your thoughts in various different ways.
So in this scenario, I would come and say, I’m thinking about climate change. Down below, in the lower panel, we go out to Wikipedia in this example, and we read everything on Wikipedia that has anything to do with climate change, and come back with some of the salient ideas about climate change. At that point, I make some selections, and say OK, climate change is a big subject, let me tell you a little bit about how I’m thinking about it. So, you pick off some of these subjects, and you say remember those thoughts.
Really what you’re doing in a nutshell is you’re building a tag cloud up in this top panel that represents your take on this subject. So, what I’m looking at right now is really just ideas about climate change, but my paper is about climate change in economics. So I need to bring some other ideas that the system currently doesn’t think of as being related, and I would do that by going down to the bottom and exploring economics now. I’m still keeping my context on climate change. So, we do the same thing: we read Wikipedia all about economics, give you lots of ideas about economics, pick off the ones that are relevant to how you’re thinking, and remember those. And so, the tag cloud you would have up top would really reflect this combination of ideas from these two distinct disciplines. Underneath that is a lot of semantic data that’s connecting these things. Primal Fusion is automatically creating new taxonomies and ontologies about these topics.
And then at this point, there are a lot of different things in the future that you’ll be able to do for today in our alpha. You can create a website. Let me just quickly show you what those websites look like. I will make no claims to saying that they’re pretty at the moment. But the idea is that you can create this resource that didn’t exist before about this intersection of topics that, you know, other semantics technologies might not normally think of as being related. So, that’s in a nutshell what’s going on with this particular product at this stage in its development. Pete, you had some further thoughts.
Peter Sweeney: Yeah, so, most of the technologies in the semantic world are of analysis. They’re about trying to extract these structured representations of knowledge from existing sources. So you have a bunch of documents, and you want to be able to pull out all of the different ideas and thoughts within those documents. Primal Fusion, by comparison, is a synthetic technology, so it’s not about extracting ideas, as much as helping people create new ideas. So the artifact that we’ve introduced here is what we call a thought network, and the thought network is really just a specialized type of semantic graph of machine readable data. And what the technology is doing by having this conversation with the consumer is it’s actually creating, dynamically, the semantic graph that didn’t exist before. And why that’s so important is that once a computer has this machine readable data, it can do some amazing things with it, and we’ve seen a lot of those, well we’ve told you a lot about [laughing] some of those amazing things already. But things like creating a website is a cakewalk, once you give a computer, you know, a list of the ideas, the connections, and the content that’s collated within it. You can create documents, you can tell it automate searches on the Internet, you can tell it to find like minded individuals. You have this incredible breadth of new capabilities that are enabled with the semantic data.
So, what we’re trying to show here in a nutshell is this idea of all of this tack is quite specialized, it’s quite deep, but it’s all very purposeful in within specific niches. But once you have a distributed web and once you have a semantic web, you have an ability to piece together solutions that use each of these specialties and cooperate to create some really powerful solutions. So just a quick survey of some of the things that we’ve looked at. Just as a quick caveat, I’m not an information architect. So what we’re hoping to do in the q and a is surface some of the ideas that we have about these subjects, and get from you your impressions on a, whether the stuff really is disruptive to what you do, and if so, how is it disruptive.
But just as a quick survey of some of the things that we’ve looked at, we’ve looked at concept extraction, extracting the structural concept models from unstructured information or even just the idea of information. We’ve looked at connecting information together in a myriad of different ways. We’ve looked at taking content inventories and collating content to a conceptual model that you’ve created. We’ve looked a number of examples of website building, you know, technologies that are able to synthesize documents and to synthesize websites. And in Primal Fusion, we’ve looked at synthesizing the actual semantic data itself, giving people an ability to create semantic representations of the way that they were thinking about the world so that computers can actually help automate their lives.
So, for us, again as people are coming, you know, from without the information architecture world, that seems to be stepping on some toes. You know, and just to return to, and I should also say that obviously information architecture is much much broader than the activities that I’ve just enumerated there, but I think it’s also important to note that the semantic technology is coming fast, it’s becoming quite good at the very specialized tasks that it provides, and also I think it provides a tremendous extension to an IA’s tool kit in order to enable consumers to really provide more malleable and more personal information.
Robert Barlow-Busch: So, flag us down, come up, grab these cards, be happy to give them out. Thanks for coming today, folks.
ROI: Speaking the Language of Business – Eric Reiss
What is the business value of Information Architecture? Eric Reiss, co-founder of FatDUX, a user-experience design company headquartered in Copenhagen, reviews our current approaches, including limited use of the bean-counter acronyms, and explains why these arguments are usually not compelling for business executives.
With an uncertain economy and tight budgets, we need to convince them that what we do will help their business and why. Our responsibility, Eric argues, is to focus on giving our clients viable choices rather than “it depends.”
The Semantic Web: What IAs Need to Know About Web 3.0 – Chiara Fox
Information architects have been singing the praises of metadata, thesauri, and controlled vocabularies for years. But there is a new game in town: the Semantic Web.
Chiara Fox, Senior Information Architect at Adaptive Path, answers the questions “What exactly is the Semantic Web?” and “Why should I care?” She provides greater context in how ontologies are similar and different from thesauri and taxonomies, provides examples of how this technology is being used in the marketplace, and looks at how these concepts can be incorporated into the information architecture work that we do today.
Designing Rules: The Engine of User Experience – Dan Brown
Rules provide an underlying structure that governs the experience: what is displayed, when it’s displayed, and how it responds to user actions.
The depth of systems means that information architects no longer design structures with specific pieces of content in mind, but instead have to design structures around classifications, categories, and abstractions. Information architects must consider the rules that govern these objects and their appearance, display, and response to users.
Co-founder and principal at EightShapes, Dan Brown lays the groundwork for how we think and talk about this aspect of our work and provides a rationale for why thinking about rules is important. He distinguishes good rules from bad and offers a framework for designing and documenting them.
A Real Nowhere Man: Managing Remote Teams Remotely – Joe Sokohl
Not only do we work with people across the hall, across town, and across the country, but we also work with people we never meet from countries we know about only through Wikipedia or the Travel Channel.
UX Lead for PracticeWorks, Joe Sokohl discusses principles to live by when managing teams remotely including: communication, flexibility, sensitivity, courage, and the best tool of all, empathy.
Experience Themes: An Element of Story Applied to Design – Cindy Chastain
In the context of design, experience themes can be used as a conceptual framework that unifies the form, shape and quality of interactions. They expand our approach to user-centered design by reminding us to step back and consider the aesthetic and semantic experience of a product.
In this presentation, User Experience designer and screenwriter, Cindy Chastain looks at what makes experience themes unique and important, using examples from other crafts to illustrate her points. She also discusses how themes can be used in the design process and demonstrates her approach with a project she has recently completed.
Design Games for IA – Donna Spencer
Would you like your design team to collaborate better? Are you looking to gather more valuable insights from your focus groups and interviews?
Freelance Information Architect and Interaction Designer, Donna Spencer, describes design games as a fun, technology-neutral way of gathering design insights for your projects. In this presentation she focuses on games and tips most applicable to IA projects, for all types of projects and people, including:
* Design the Home page and Divide-the-Dollar;
* Reverse-it and Idea cards
Site Redesign: When Hell Freezes Over Use A Blowtorch – Melissa Matross
Head of the user experience discipline for Hotwire, an Expedia-owned discount travel website, Melissa Matross shares lessons from successes, failures, and pain at Hotwire to help guide those embarking on a large-scale UX project.
Based on her experience driving the first successful Site Redesign at Hotwire, Melissa discusses strategies and tactics to:
* Sell your large-scale UX project, gaining support and approval to augment UX and Engineering staff to resource the effort.
* Make your project happen by distributing the work while showcasing UX leadership and maintaining momentum toward completion.
* Demonstrate UX successes and build equity within the organization for future work.
Motivating Teams: Inspiring People To Do Great Work – Dorelle Rabinowitz
How does a manager deal with an inherited team, rather than a team she hand-picked? Sometimes a manager has to motivate someone who applied for that manager’s job – and is extremely resentful. What about the differences between innies and outies?
Dorelle Rabinowitz, lead of the Design Systems Group at eBay, shares stories from both managers and individual contributors about how they either inspired their teams to do great things or how things fell apart.
Dorelle also talks about communication styles, team exercises like design sessions and reviews, sharing work, mentoring, and ways to foster a sense of community – all through real-life examples.
IA Spy School – Joe Dyer
Fact: The greatest Information Architect in the world may never get his or her work implemented without the ability to influence decision makers.
Senior Information Architect at Travelocity, Joe Dyer runs the IA Spy School, outlining simple techniques and methods for working IAs to gather, share, and exploit data to gain influence over decision makers, including areas of:
* Intelligence Gathering
* The Power of sharing intelligence and building a repository
* Five methods used to gain influence with any decision maker
* Ethical considerations when collecting and sharing intelligence.
Evolve or Die: the Future of IA examined – Christina Wodtke, Gene Smith, Russ Unger, Joshua Porter
For Information Architecture to stay relevant in this world of highly dynamic social websites, it must adopt new bodies of learning and new strategies.
This panel, consisting of Christina Wodtke, Gene Smith, Russ Unger, and Joshua Porter use scenario planning to look at four futures of IA exploring ways IA can evolve, including one dystopia in which IA does not. Four senior practitioners will outline each scenario, then invite dialog from the audience.
The Adoption of Web Standards into Web Design and Development: A Report on a Large Survey – David Robbins
David Robins, Assistant Professor in the Interdisciplinary Program in Information Architecture and Knowledge Management at Kent State University, shares preliminary results from a survey developed in partnership with colleague Sanda Katila to explore how web designers and developers are adopting web standards into their work processes.. The survey was administered to 128 people from 12 countries.
The preliminary results cover:
# The level of commitment to web standards by designers, developers and organizations.
# What forces drive the adoption of web standards.
# The extent to which web standards have influenced work processes.
Using Enterprise IA to Support Business Strategy: Driving Revenue and Brand Health with Better Information Management – – Samantha Starmer & Gary Carlson
Samantha Starmer, Senior manager at REI.com, and Gary Carlson, a senior consultant, share a case study where they identified a business case and ROI for an enterprise information architecture project that led to significant money and resource commitments.
Samantha and Gary explain how they were able to evangelize horizontally and vertically, present their case to executives, and bring a true business perspective to the project. In the end, these approaches enabled wide cross-divisional support.
These podcasts are sponsored by:
The “American Society of Information Science & Technology”:http://asist.org/: Since 1937, ASIS&T has been THE society for information professionals leading the search for new and better theories, techniques, and technologies to improve access to information.
The “IA Summit”:http://www.iasummit.org: the premier gathering place for information architects and other user experience professionals.
The theme of the event this year, Expanding Our Horizons, inspired peers and industry experts to come together to speak about a wide range of topics. This included information as wide ranging as practical techniques & tools to evolving practices to create better user experiences.
“Boxes & Arrows”:http://www.boxesandarrows.com: Since 2001, Boxes & Arrows has been a peer-written journal promoting contributors who want to provoke thinking, push limits, and teach a few things along the way.