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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Monday, October 8, 2007

This is my last post on this blog. Radio Userland has served me well since I started blogging in 2003. I will post more details on the transition, at my new blog - for now I just wanted to make this announcement, and provide the new url and feeds.

New Blog URL - http://dinamehta.com/
Subscribe via RSS 2.0 - http://dinamehta.com/feed/
Subscribe via Atom - http://dinamehta.com/feed/atom/
Comments feed - http://dinamehta.com/comments/feed/

The new blog will also be called Conversations with Dina - it's just a new blogging platform - but the same old blog! I do hope you continue reading and feeding it.

My old blog will be archived at its old url (http://radio.weblogs.com/0121664/) and I will keep the archives going. Stuart, who has worked out the platform for Conversations with Dina on Wordpress has done some neato hacks - one that I love a lot is that the search function will not just search the new blog archives, but also my old Radio blog archives. And he has managed to transfer some of my posts over too. That's so cool!!! Lots more needs doing there ... and that will emerge I'm sure.



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Monday, March 19, 2007

"Design Democracy is the wave of the future. Exceptional design may only be done by great star designers. But the design of our music experiences, the design of our MySpace pages, the design of our blogs, the design of our clothes, the design of our online community chats, the design of our Class of '95 brochures, the design of our screens, the design of the designs on our bodies---We are all designing more of our lives. And with more and more tools, we, the masses, want to design anything that touches us on the journey, the big journey through life. People want to participate in the design of their lives. They insist on being part of the conversation about their lives."  Bruce Nussbaum, Businessweek Online  [link via Putting People First]



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Saturday, December 23, 2006

A picture named elegance1.jpg

Choices,

Simplicity

and

Elegance

"If you're using the term simplicity to mean "grace and economy" or "elegance," that's terrific. A great example of this is the difference between the way you search for music on Rhapsody and the way you search for music on iTunes. Rhapsody makes you decide if you want to search for albums, tracks, or artists. iTunes doesn't give you any choice: it just searches all fields, which works just as well and is easier. Economy means power, in this case, and itís a feature.

On the other hand, if you're using simplicity to mean a lack of power, a lack of features, that's fine, if you want to be in the paper clip business, good luck with that, but the chances that your product will solve my exact problems starts to shrink and your potential market share does, too."

Great stuff from Joel Spolsky.



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Wednesday, November 8, 2006

is on November 14, 2006.  An interesting initiative from Making Life Easy:

As part of World Usability Day weíre asking you to make some noise about things that are hard to use. London-based research and design consultancy Flow is marking World Usability Day with a campaign to get people to speak up about the things that make their life needlessly difficult.

Confusing cash machines, unclear signs, frustrating websites - poor usability is everywhere and it gets in the way of life. Sometimes it is just annoying. At other times it stops us doing what we need to do. It can even be dangerous.

World Usability Day is an international event promoting the message that people have had enough of things that are hard to use. We want people to share their usability frustrations with their fellow sufferers. Record your experiences at the campaign website MakingLifeEasy.org and:

1) See what is frustrating other people
2) Rate these annoyances on a scale of Usability Pain (coming soon!)
3) Upload a photograph and describe what makes life needlessly difficult

Get Involved!
Submit an Entry
Usability Hall of Shame/Hall of Fame
Send us a photo of your good or bad usability example! Either add it to our Flickr Group or email it to us and tell us what's good or bad about it. Then, join our blog and you can write and submit a blog post to put your submission in the running for the Usability Halls of Fame/Shame and we'll post it to the blog where everyone can comment and vote!
Log In To Add A Submission Here

Vote for the Usability
Hall of Shame and Hall of Fame
Cast your vote on any of the examples you find on the site by adding a comment with a +1 (for Hall of Fame) or -1 (for Hall of Shame). We'll tally the votes and announce the inductees on World Usability Day, 14 November 2006.



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Sunday, October 15, 2006

"A camel is a horse that was designed by a committee. In my experience, market research can sometimes feel very much like "design by Committee", which can spell disaster with a capital D. Your product, or service, can't be all things to all people, even those within your target market. So beware of embracing the committee mentality. Sir Barnett Cocks said it best: A committee is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled."

Danielle Rodgers reminds us of some of the challenges in traditional Market Research and shares some boobytraps to watch out for.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I discovered and enjoyed a series of qualitative user research reports by Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase, who takes some amazing photographs and blogs them with observations at Future Perfect. [link via Chetan Kunte via Adaptive Path]

Interesting to read about informal repair cultures in India and China ..

A picture named Nokia_RepairCultures_vFinal-thumb.jpg"What sets these locations apart from cities in more 'emerged' markets? Aside from the scale of what's on sale there is a thriving market for device repair services ranging from swapping out components to re-soldering circuit boards to reflashing phones in a language of your choice , naturally. Repairs are often carried out with little more than a screwdriver, a toothbrush (for cleaning contact points) the right knowledge and a flat surface to work on. Repair manuals (which appear to be reverse engineered) are available, written in Hindi, English and Chinese and can even be subscribed to, but there is little evidence of them being actively used. Instead many of the repairers rely on informal social networks to share knowledge on common faults, and repair techniques. It's often easier to peer over the shoulder of a neighbour than open the manual itself. Delhi has the distinction of also offering a wide variety of mobile phone repair courses at training institutes such as Britco and Bridco turning out a steady flow of mobile phone repair engineers. To round off the ecosystem wholesalers' offer all the tools required to set up and run a repair business from individual components and circuit board schematics to screwdrivers and software installers."

Not so different from what I had described in this series on culture of business in India.


And more - some observations and insights into non-literate communication practices - wow - this is a staggering fact -
"Everyday many of the 800 million non-literate people in the world use phones and mobile phones to communicate."

"We noted that textually non-literate users of public call offices often took a scrap of paper with a phone number scrawled on it to the owner and asked them to dial the number. This system is open to errors caused by inaccuracy, either because the number was not clearly transcribed, or simply because the paper on which the number was written was worn and faded from being carried.

User interface designers often talk about the user's mental model of a system, and how it maps to the reality of how a device actually functions. It is typical for designers to use metaphors such as the 'desktop' or 'soft keys' to support the building of an accurate model. Textually non-literate users will not have access to textual cues, so their mental model may well be poor. Whilst a poor mental model is not a problem within a limited range of (rote learned) tasks, if and when errors occur users may adopt the wrong strategies to correct the problem. Designers use a myriad of audio, visual and textual cues to support the user's understanding of how the mobile phone works. Literate persons are able to quickly absorb (and subsequently ignore) this textual information and apply the knowledge in practice. A positive outcome reinforces their understanding of how the system works and helps build an accurate mental model. Textually non-literate people are required to make assumptions for the textual prompts based on how the device responds to their actions. A plausibly positive result is sufficient to believe that is how the system works regardless of how well it maps to the actual system."

A picture named mobile-essentials-02-thumb.jpgThere's also a brief report on 'Mobile Essentials - Field Study and Concepting' (download paper, 0.4mb). The paper introduces three interrelated ways to understand human behaviour - centre of gravity, point of reflection and range of distribution.
"The second idea is the Point of Reflection - the moment when leaving a space when you pause current activities turn back into an environment and check you have the mobile essentials. Typically this involves looking at the Center of Gravity, sometimes tapping pockets, sometimes speaking aloud. Not seeing the objects where they are supposed to be (the Center of Gravity) can be a sign that they are already carried."

Great stuff ... and no wonder then that Nokia is always stretching the boundaries of mobile phone usage in India. All images here are from Nokia and Jan's blog ... thanks for sharing these reports and observations ... it is is not what most 'corporates'
believe in or do.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

This is the last in the series of Cultural Insights for doing business in India. Just wanted to say these observations are based on learnings over 18 years of doing qualitative research in India. It's interesting to see how some things have changed, while others remain constant, over generations.

Part 4. Technology Perspectives

  • Technology adoption doesn't always follow trends in the West
    • India is leapfrogging the PC stage - cell phones are becoming our gateway to the internet
    • From no cameras to cam phones - digital cameras are being squeezed out
  • 4.5 million cell phones are added every month, 95 million subscribers in March 2006, 200 million projected in 2010; landlines a little over 50 million
  • Most turn off power to hardware when not in use to save electricity, and avoid power surges due to fluctuations. Less of an 'always on' perspective in India.
  • Belief that cost of technology is dropping - so no point planning purchase in advance.
  • Little DIY - cheap service is available
  • Assembled goods and second hand goods are freely available from the grey market
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  • Upgrading is not a natural habit - the average consumer is not tech savvy, and technology products are usually used until they break. (Exception being cell phones, esp.among youngsters as they can be a status symbol).
  • Upgrading often needs to be driven by buy-back/replacement schemes offered by
  • Choice of brand and model often made by price/discounts/deals
  • Celebrity endorsements rampant for tech products - playing on image and low role of product or features
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  • Trend towards 'all-in-one' gadgets - e.g. cell phone + camera + mp3 player. PCs play multiple roles, for instance as the household DVD player, communication medium, gaming system, etc.
  • Trend towards laptops which is the fastest growing segment - costs dropping, mobility, status associations are key drivers.

The complete series:

Part 1. Culture of Business, Service and Consumption
Part 2. Attitude towards Rules and Regulations
Part 3. Value for Money Equations
Part 4. Technology Perspectives

Many thanks - to all those who have commented and linked to this series of posts - I love the conversations around these issues - keep them coming - and I will add my two-cents shortly!

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Charu is sick of Focus Group bashing, and feels, Don't Shoot the Messenger!

It's a debate that's been going on for years ... its funny .. I feel a little caught in-between ... as I do more and more ethnographic research, I'm getting less fond of focus groups. Still, traditional FMCG sort of clients rely heavily on focus groups as their preferred method, and I work with many such Clients.

Perhaps part of the problem is that Clients and Researchers don't really look at these tools as data collection tools but as ends in themselves. How many times have you heard the brand manager or the account planner say ... we've done the 'mandatory' focus groups. Both researchers and clients adopt one or the other method, depending on their own comfort levels, rather than the requirement or need from the project.

Focus Groups are a bad word among many anthropologists and ethnographers ... and Ethnography is seen as the latest hyped buzzword by many motivational researchers. It's about hybridization and we need to be flexible as researchers in adopting these tools ... I remember during a recent project that involved Ethnographies, there came a point when I felt a couple of quick focus groups might help our understanding of an issue ... luckily the Client, although a workplace Anthropologist, felt the same. We did them, and they added lots of value to the Ethnographic Study.

I'd rather think of myself as a Qualitative Research Practitioner or Consultant ... than a focus group moderator, or an ethnographer !


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Thought I'd share some great blog posts and papers I had bookmarked and finally got down to reading:
 
Rashmi Sinha has some really good essays on Tagging.  She has a whole category dedicated to this area, and I found the following posts particularly useful:
A cognitive analysis of tagging (or how the lower cognitive cost of tagging makes it popular)
A Social Analysis of Tagging (or how tagging transforms the solitary browsing experience into a social one)
- "Tagging: From Personal to Social" - a powerpoint presentation here.

Some good tips in An Adoption Strategy for Social Software in Enterprise by Suw Charman.  She suggests that its key to identify users "who would clearly benefit from the new software, helping them to understand how it could help, and progressing their usage so that they can realise those benefits". I still struggle with tryig to figure out how we can enable the lowering of perceived risks in using such technologies. 

Doc Searls introduces the concept of the Intention Economy turning on its head the Attention Economy conversation that focusses more on the 'seller'.  He says:

"The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. It leverages the simple fact that buyers are the first source of money, and that they come ready-made. You don't need advertising to make them.

The Intention Economy is about markets, not marketing. You don't need marketing to make Intention Markets.

The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don't have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal info (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer's purchase. Simple as that.

The Intention Economy is built around more than transactions. Conversations matter. So do relationships. So do reputation, authority and respect. Those virtues, however, are earned by sellers (as well as buyers) and not just "branded" by sellers on the minds of buyers like the symbols of ranchers burned on the hides of cattle.

The Intention Economy is about buyers finding sellers, not sellers finding (or "capturing") buyers.

In The Intention Economy, a car rental customer should be able to say to the car rental market, "I'll be skiing in Park City from March 20-25. I want to rent a 4-wheel drive SUV. I belong to Avis Wizard, Budget FastBreak and Hertz 1 Club. I don't want to pay up front for gas or get any insurance. What can any of you companies do for me?" ó and have the sellers compete for the buyer's business."

Reading this, and with my limited understanding of the Attention Economy, am wondering .... does one follow the other ... from Attention to Intention ... or Intention to Attention?

Tracking the Future of Telephony ... a great transcript of a very interesting by Norman Lewis director of research for France Telecom at eTel.  Really good stuff ... some snips:
"The fundamental point is voice and audio now just becomes another application on the Internet. And that is incredibly exciting, as far as I am concerned, because it is like time, it is now liberated, it is not a stand alone application anymore. It is embedded in everything we doÖTime has became intrinsic in everything. I think that is where voice is going in the future. I think that is truly revolution".

"... we have that possibility of taking that application [voice]Öand liberating it [voice] from that kind of stranglehold that I think telcos have had in the pastÖ and now we can begin to do things we have never done before. ÖIf you just look at the recent period with Ebay-Skype...voice is becoming something of an adjunct to other services and will open up new possibilities...I see this as a huge golden opportunity for immense innovation...What we [the telcos] are doing is re-arranging the deck chairs on the titanic. That is essentially what a lot of us are doing in our companies. The innovation landscape has changedÖ"

"It can actually create a sweet spot for all of usÖfor me innovation is rarely about identifying problems our customers have got and trying to solve them. Real innovation is about social change. It is about adopting, it can be incremental, it can also be very disruptive. But if really had to begin with real social motivations, of why people are doing things. What kind of things that they really want to doÖ it is a social consequence that they [ìdigital childrenî] introduce technology into their lives in ways we do not quite fully understandÖ understanding customers [social] behaviour and motivationsÖthat is the coal face as far as I am concernedÖAre we going to develop Internet apps that really embed voice in everything we do, and fundamentally transform that whole experience. I think that is the question."

 
danah who is a really really smart researcher, ethnographer, media-ecologist, digi-culturist, sociologist, (she's looking for someone to bestow upon her an 'ist') explains Why Youth Heart MySpace.

Geeks in Toyland - a Wired article on how Lego managed to effectively convert their customers to their R&D labs and effectively re-wrote the innovation game! [link via Steve at All this chittah-chattah]
"Some Lego executives worried that the hackers might cannibalize the market for future Mindstorms accessories or confuse potential customers looking for authorized Lego products. After a few months of wait-and-see, Lego concluded that limiting creativity was contrary to its mission of encouraging exploration and ingenuity. Besides, the hackers were providing a valuable service. "We came to understand that this is a great way to make the product more exciting," Nipper says. "It's a totally different business paradigm - although they don't get paid for it, they enhance the experience you can have with the basic Mindstorms set." Rather than send out cease and desist letters, Lego decided to let the modders flourish; it even wrote a "right to hack" into the Mindstorms software license, giving hobbyists explicit permission to let their imaginations run wild.

Soon, dozens of Web sites were hosting third-party programs that helped Mindstorms users build robots that Lego had never dreamed of: soda machines, blackjack dealers, even toilet scrubbers. Hardware mavens designed sensors that were far more sophisticated than the touch and light sensors included in the factory kit. More than 40 Mindstorms guidebooks provided step-by-step strategies for tweaking performance out of the kit's 727 parts.

Lego's decision to tap this culture of innovation was a natural extension of its efforts over the past few years to connect customers to the company."

I tested VoiFi ...was disappointed with the basic sound quality.  Uninstalled.

Bookmarked ... and still to read/play with:

-
When The Long Tail Wags the Dog and The Long Tail of Popularity

- On quick glance, basic orientation by Paul Beleen in a whitepaper called Advertising 2.0 (pdf), on "what everybody in advertising, marketing and media should know about the technologies that are reshaping their business"  Printed, to be read in detail on my flight to Delhi later this week.

- Veer, who has an excellent blog that I recently discovered on the Indian mobile revolution, has launched MyToday, a public RSS aggregator, with Rajesh Jain.  Haven't yet played with it ... will soon!  I like that it has a mobile phone edition too.

- A collection of articles on Creative Thinking [link via Chuck Frey's Innovation Weblog]


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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Last Session - Digital Summit 2006

Moderator - Rohit Mull, Tata AIG

  • Anup Bagchi COO, ICICI Web Trade Ltd.
  • Sanjeev Bikchandani, CEO, Naukri.com
  • Satya Prabhakar, President & CEO Sulekha.com
  • Harsh Roongta, Founder & CEO, Apnaloan
  • Sharat Dhall, Business Head, Ecommerce, Times Internet Ltd
  • Anaggh Desai, CEO, D'damas Jewellery (I) Pvt. Ltd.
Sanjeev Bikchandani - naukri.com
Foundation of naukri.com is based on the virtuous circle ---- we have the most jobs - so we get the most traffic - so we get the most response, so we get the most clients - so we get the most jobs. So first you have to have massive aggregation of content, unique content, need to know content and not nice to know, dynamic and updated content, and provide the best search of the content because there are 85,000 jobs on the site at any point in time.

Promotion and awareness - bootstrapping was a strategy - get repeat visitors, get buzz and word of mouth thru user experience, PR, early mover advantage. Today it is a much larger business with funds and a focus on promotions both offline and online.

Harsh Roongta - apnaloan.com
Put all resources into the online medium, although it was an online-offline service at that point in time. The biggest learning is that it is a mix of 4 issues - better online experience, value proposition - wanted to harness the power of the interactive medium, where our offers could be tailored, delivery to consumer - customer delight programmes - eg. we would contact the customer within 10 minutes of his putting his application online (so huge process adherence and processes were required) - and this got a lot of salience and goodwill. And finally, the CRM track. Some things were learned as we went along -- that we could calibrate our exposure to customers depending on our process capabilities.

To summarize - while user experience and value propositions are important, how you deliver, how quickly you deliver, and what tracking systems are in place are key.

Satya Prabhakar, President & CEO Sulekha.com
The most valuable commodity today is human attention. The number of offerings to us is exploding. So as the demand for human attention increases, but supply is constant, the value of attention will only decrease. The cost per unique visitor to site is about 30--35$ in the US.

Sulekha - connects Indians worldwide - blogs, groups, networks, classifieds, events, yellow pages.

The Internet can be a double-edged sword - while it is low cost to try and new service, it is also low cost to spread bad word of mouth. The 'mantra' - you get people, you get them to stay, you make them do new things. So acquisition is important, but retention the key. How can you get retention -- by providing value, a great user experience, caring for the customer at every turn.

Many media companies have a conflict between advertiser value and user value. Focus on the user, and the advertising will come.

Anup Bagchi COO,  ICICI Web Trade Ltd

Asks the audience, how many of you are in an online job -- i'd say over three-fourths of the audience had their hands raised. The point he makes is that businesses are businesses whether online or offline. The online world proposition must be strong. And is slightly ahead of its time - and thats good - examples - airline tickets, banking, naukri.com, apnaloan.com. In an online world service is key --- if you screw up, customer will go away and you cannot really track him. In an offline world, you can 'repair' the relationship - give him tea, suck up to him etc. Can't do that in an online world. Online can be cruel - it is completely transparent to the customer - you cannot fumble because he will not go to the next page. So the processes and policies have to be really well thought thru. Customer Activity Management must be really strong. There are no second chances, you don't have the nuances that talking to a customer can bring and that you can exploit to your advantage (IMO - Voice and even video may help here - more touch-feel definitely when servicing a customer!!!). And finally, there is a large offline portion to distribution -- eg. the supply chain has to be completed -- railway tickets must be ultimately delivered home the next day.

Anaggh Desai, CEO, D'damas Jewellery (I) Pvt. Ltd
What is customer acquisition --- boon or bane! Sells travel, and fine diamond jewellery. He uses the 3 I's model -- identify, invite, incentivize them to continue being with you. They provide a feel-good factor as opposed to the rest of the panelists who provide more functional offerings :). They kept advertising their travel portal on naukri.com -- naukri was doing the work and we were getting the customers !

Q&A

Q - A part of the job is to make it convenient for the customer to find what they are looking for ... but it takes ages to download many sites -so what works? A - it is true - we need more usability testing (yayyy). This is very important in a country like ours where bandwidth can vary so much. The panel agrees it is one of the biggest factors in customer satisfaction and usability. It doesn't matter how good the site looks, if it doesn't load fast enough.

Q - From a client perspective --- people invest in media in order to build the business for the future. Why is it they are not willing to invest now even in a cost-per-lead model - and support this medium so that it pays back in the future? A - no real answer

Q - related qn --- have you killed the medium with the Cost Per Lead model ? The problem with an emerging medium, there are a large number of questions being asked by seniors about why you want to get into that space. And it is a medium that allows clear measurement and quantification. It really is the most measurable form of advertising. It is a process of evolution. It will happen. Another view --- Also, making marketing expenditure accountable is one of the key characteristics of this space. If you move away from that, you will kill the medium. If you can't deliver, you should not be there !

Q - How are cost per leads worked out by clients? What if their own processes or products don't get conversions? Or interfere with leads? A - the way forward is to start off with a figure of faith - both parties must believe and trust in the value they have worked out. Its a partnership of leads, quality and conversion. Also, are their parallel processes to identify what it the weak link if you under deliver?

It was great meeting Rohit Mull and Harsh Roongta after many many years. I had done some qual research for apnaloan.com many years ago.




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Monday, January 16, 2006

Since today seems to be my day of linking, I thought I'd also shoot out this list of things that have caught my interest recently ... many are from bloggers I read regularly - Nancy for instance is a huge repository of resources. I've bookmarked many of them with Furl too.

Conversation as a form of social inquiry - emerging out of Goethe Kaplan.pdf (application/pdf Object)
The Individual is the new group
From Push to Pull

Some of these links are sooooo Web 2.0 ... yeah I know, I know many feel its just a buzzword or marketing hype. But I'm really ok with the term, it's easy on the tongue, it is more of an attitude than a technology, a renaissance. And, it is easier to explain 'social software' to the uninitiated, with some help of course :). . Jory des Jardins, in a comment here says :

"2.0 encapsulates both optimism and caution. It applies logic to illogical impulses to connect, share, and inform. It pulls the collective experience of kids straight out of college, with older folks (like you and me), and corporate older, older folks who are ready to move beyond the rules that have guided their careers. 2.0 seems to be this point of convergence. "

Web 2.0 sort of stuff I found myself playing with last week:
Face Recognition - My Heritage
1000tags.com





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Sunday, January 15, 2006

I finally got around to doing some housekeeping on my blog. Have edited the categories and links - am hoping they will render alright. The nice thing is each of them acts as a separate blog - so readers can subscribe separately to specific categories that interest you!

Here they are - links and RSS feeds :

Weblog Home : (all categories) subscribe


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Friday, November 25, 2005

I've set up a Bloglines account for the Global Consortium at Social Solutions on an aggregation of feeds around ethnography, anthropology, usability and user design and experience and some other feeds I thought might be useful. You can access it here. I leant heavily on Lorenz's hard work in setting up the Antropologi feeds :)




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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Nancy blogged my session - I enjoyed talking about the blog we set up for the Pitney Bowes project. I did run badly over time and wish i had had more time to talk about other social tools like VOIP, wikis, tagging etc that would be so useful for global projects of this nature.


I also discovered all full papers are available at the EPIC 2005 Website (pdf file).




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Using photographic data to build a large-scale global comparative visual ethnography of domestic spaces: can a limited data set capture the complexities of 'sociality'? Simon Pulman-Jones - GfK-NOP

This is a study I had done the India portion of the ethnographies through Social Solutions, and it's great to see how it was all pulled together.

"Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning" Clifford Geertz

The survey is a visual documentation of consumer homes over 240 households in 12 countries, on an ongoing basis and is a multi-client. First start with a mapping of global consumer "value profiles along dimensions of Fun, People, Power and Tradition. Value segments that have emerged - creatives, fun-seekers, strivers, altruists, devouts, intimates. Interesting, altruists and intimates drop and strivers increase perhaps due to the economic boom in India and China.

The VSDS (Visual Study of Domestic Spaces). To do conventional ethnography would have been prohibitively expensive, so visual ethnographies were done. The study covered nine functional areas - food preparation, consumption, relaxation/leisure, sleep, "center", personal hygiene, home office,motor vehicle, maintenance. The images were coded then. They allowed an illustration of quantitative findings and data.

"the photograph in anthropology is as much a means of discovering information as it is of presenting that which has been founf ... a locus of dialoguing rather than as a source of information in itself." The value of the image in ethnographic fieldwork is here precisely in its intermediary

The value wasn't just in illustrating quantitative findings, but to reveal new things and throw up new hypotheses. The primacy of the visual data perhaps was different than what would have been achieved through narrative articulation of participants.

Risks - it can pull people out of their more social contexts, falling into the trap of physical spaces and material objects becoming the defining the individual.

Questions : does what you do become archaeology instead of ethnography? At what point in the process does this distinction happen? A - The method does have similarity with archaeology, and what we attempted to do is work with the virtues of that reality - that we don't have representations of narratives and experiences. We probably have a lot to learn from looking at archaelogical practices.

Q - what do you personally find most challenging working with data sets like this ? A - its a real challenge to abandon one's normal facility with manipulating narrative data sets. Recognise there are skills and knowledge sets in analysing visual data.

Q - mystified by what you did - there seemed to be a lot of information there that wasn't in the photographs - how did you get the detailing around the pictures? A - researcher notes.



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Jo Pierson, Bram Lievens & Pieter Ballon, Studies on Media, Information and Telecommunication (SMIT) Interdisciplinary institute for BroadBand Technology (IBBT) Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)

Talking of e-paper project -- which is a handheld reading device, using e-Ink technology. How can a living lab setting based on ethnogrpahic principles be used in Sociality. A living lab - is TEP - test and experiment platform. Early in innovation process, and facilitates design. Characterisitics - the use of natural user envt, multi-methodological approaches and ethnographic methods.

Phases of living lab -
1.Contextualisation - desk research with broad focus, technogical and socio-economic scanning. Hoovering, picking or selection criteria that solves the lack of clarity between the 'who' and the 'what'
2. Concretisation - initial measurement - fixed components like demographics and ICT adoption and usage, and variable components - reading profile and news consumption. Then simultaneous and phased introduction.
3. Implementation - Spotting and Digging - Direct analysis - more technical analyses and now ethnographic methods being incorporated too. And Indirect analysis - focus groups, in depth interviews, self-reporting techniques
4. Feedback - Matching phase - ex-post measurement - survey methods, identifying changes in user behaviour, and to look at changes in the level of social structure and motivations, so recommendations can be made in an iterative process.

The value of this approach :

Individual company -- helps to structure 'fuzzy front-end', multimethodological approach, sociality and unpredictable uses thrown up, and how this all affects home, work and on the road life. At another level, when looking at a cluster of companies, you can assess pre-competitive setting and work better to systematic innovation.

Question - What pitfalls in the project ? A - how to define a living lab, and how to select cases were challenges. Also how to combine and link together quantitative and ethnographic methods.




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Brinda Dalal & Pat Swenton-Wall, PARC Inc. & Xerox Corporation.

Spirit of Gift in Business - how does it emerge in business settings, and what rewards as a result. They speak of ethnography in Service Encounters. How it transforms the scope and definition of our work. Evolution of Methods and Tools - visual representations connect better. Portfolio consists of a library of icons in a graphics toolkit. They are even being used in ways the developers hadn't envisioned.

Conclusions ... representations help put people back into the forefront. They embody a common referent that be shared by the customer and employers. They provde more than expected on behalf of both the customer and the companies we work for.

Update: I met Brinda in the hallways ... and she asked me weren't we together in Sociology class at St. Xavier's in Mumbai, and I must say I didn't initially recognise her, and then suddenly I had this vision of this beautiful girl with long flowing hair, always in loose kurtas, interesting earrings, and a wonderful smile.  And she was right here, shorter hair, and more 'corporate' looking, but still the same eyes and smile :). It is such a small world !


12:35:34 AM    comment []  trackback []

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Fieldwork and Ethnography in Design - The state of play from the CSCW Perspective

Dave Randall, Department of Sociology, Manchester Metropolitan University, Mark Rouncefield, Department of Sociology, Cartmel College, Lancaster University & Richard Harper, Microsoft Research Cambridge

We are rushing in all sorts of ways in our lives. We are confronted with a world that disagrees with us.  Other ethnographers work differently than us - and it is their right.  Different people do different types of work.  Some positions :

- Anthropologists have no monopoly on ethnography

- The body-politic of ethnography - some are disciplinary, some are nascent

- The kind of chaos and possibilities it throws up

We need to grow up and face the fact that if corporate life has funded ethnography for the last 20 years, we have to recognise that ethnography has become a hybrid - some may agree with some methods, others maynot.

With this powerful introduction, the speaker took us through CSCW .

He shares case studies that reflect that we cannot define fieldwork because we dont have a particular analytical tool anymore.  They are emergent tropes, they are interdisciplinary.

The foci in CSCW is design but in a broad encompassing way.   Let it emerge.  I AGREE :).  Its a good message for all practitioners.


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Nina Wakeford sets off the session on Methodology with a discussion around Us vs Them - academia and workplace anthropology.  Interesting perspectives - I enjoyed her talk.

Methodology - ways of surviving experience models.  Methods are just not for others - but resources we can draw on ourselves.  We can begin to engage in different ways.  She talks of subjective realities and false objectivity.

"The term traditional ethnography makes me shudder, as much as the term family tradition does" - got a big laugh from the audience.




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Jeannette Blomberg in her summation of the workshops yesterday talks of the notion of hybrids  - Hybrids are here now.  "In so far as we know ourselves in both formal discourse and in daily practice we find outselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras" - Donna Haraway

She ends her summaries with a call to recognize our hybrid subjects and hybrid identities - and celebrate our commitment to the ephemeral, situated orderliness of everyday practice.

One-minute summaries of the workshops from convenors :
 - Business Ethnography for BoPs (details here)
- Working the Process - Anthropological Approaches to designing and evaluating organisational work processes - focussing on the relationship between work practices and sociality in the context of global workplaces.  Unpacked the process of work process. Many issues related to crossing boundaries and many stakeholders involved.  Conclusion - study of work process needs to be trans-disciplinary and there needs to be language developed for sharing work and results.
- Object Sociality - Researching Living things - How we could conceptualise objects in terms of being social with them.  Looked at some Marxist traditions and theories that address this.  Shared personal stories and observations around this.
- Collaborating across social, organisational and disciplinary distances - The focus was to address how can we do better collaborations, and what challenges.  Design game using video clips were reviewed and make sens of the work, and pulling themes  out.  Then drew maps.
- Holy Hanging out - exploring spirituality and religion in an organisation. The boundaries between culture and religion aren't to broad - we need to study them and communicate them.  Have public conversations about them. Is a huge business opportunity.
- Distributed Sociality - doing online and offline work --- started by preliminary remarks on background, distributed people on three tables and asked them to get to know each other. Issues -- how to get informed consent from an avatar, whats happening to participant observation as we move from offline research as we move to cyberspace. 
- The Sociliaty of Fieldwork - a conversation that spiralled and scaled to a lot of things --- what happens when you see people cry - start off by listening then counselling, how do ou explain truth in different contexts, recruiting people like dressing up like a hedgehog, how do you explain
- Defining the Impact of physical spaces on social interactions - there was diversity in the group, and how we could still think together.
- Framing ethnographic Praxis for Innovation - co-developed ideas around the Innovation space.  Theories of innovation, how is it constructed, how do people participate, how do we engage in it. Co-developed a visual model to begin to map out the space.




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Nirmal Sethia starts by framing the agenda, with a Peter Drucker comment - "Business is a social organ". And then attributes the genesis of thinking around BoP to C.K. Prahlad. He shares his ideas on Business Ethnography - there is much excitement but little experience - three sorts of traps --- greed, ignorance and glamour.

How can Business Ethnography help .... to help businesses steer clear of the traps. Slave of greed - engine of growth, victim of ignorance to vehicle of innovation, captive of glamour to agent of good. An important partner in all this is Design.

We need to be sensitive to improving the lives of the poorest populations with our products and services.

The ultimate user-researcher is Gandhi ! "He understood the masses and the masses felt understood by him" Kamla Chowdhry. Having more versus being more.

Goals for today .... to start a conversation on the Role, Value and Strategy for Business Ethnography for the Bottom of the Pyramid.

Jeff Smith - who has spent 28 years in product design and development takes the discussion further. Talks of ethnography adding a dimension of "conscience-ness" to business strategies and decisions.

Darrel Rhea CEO of Cheskin - Innovation through Research in Underserved Markets. Business ethnography facilitates design processes, and design is about creating value for human beings. BE - therefore is the search for value. Value lives in the experience of users. So the question is what are the most highly valued experiences? They are those that are meaningful - in the sense that it helps provide a sense of value for you as a human being. Levels of value differ .... economic, functional, emotional, status and identity and at a deepest level, provide us with a sense of meaning. Stickiness is higher at the level of meaning.

Traditional market research methods work well for commodities,goods and services, but are weak for experiences. That requires a sense of cultural context. So what is meaning ... we require an explanation of the world to help us decide to act. Meaning provide's a contruction of reality. Which provides us a view of the world or framework for understanding what we value, believe, condone, desire. Its the sense we make of reality. How we tell the story of our lives ... we live for them and sometimes die for them. We need to listen to people's stories.

Historically, the constructions of meaning have been shared through religion, govts, family, mass movements for instance. In the modern world however, the construction of meaning is becoming more personal - the value of govts or religion are being broken down for eg.Markets are devolving into niches as well.

Case study - Patrimonio Hoy - very interesting case of how the cultural practice of the 'tanda' (rotating credit association) was used as the platform for Cemex.  Reminded me so much of the ITC e-choupal project which is resulting in a sustainable improvement - economic and socio-cultural - in the lives of farmers in India.

Erica Seidel, Pitney Bowes talks of the ethnographies we conducted in India, and shared lessons from building a BOP Business for Pitney Bowes and the India Post. And the challenges having started the project very broad and unfocussed, to the challenge of making a business case for value propositions, to getting favourable responses from the senior decision-makers at India Post.

Great Question --- What lessons can you bring back to the top of the pyramid from your experiences at the bottom of the pyramid.

We then had a short break and split up into two groups, to discuss Role, Value and Strategy for business ethnography for B2C and B2B organizations.

Some of the issues thrown up at these sessions that reflect role, values and strategy :
- can a framework be developed within the bottom of the pyramid markets rather than imposed from the outside
- do we need to look at B to C (business to collectives rather than customers) and B to G (business to government)
- the need to look at formal and informal structures
- not much research available on these markets through traditional market research - the need for ethnography
- business considerations - palatability by using the right terminology when selling it within your organisation, applicability across markets, translating it into a business model, how do you get buy-in from your organisation
- distributing vs generating wealth, listening, learning, serving
- entrepreneurial traits, creativity and flexibility - to be able to assert solutions on the fly
- what's the starting point, and the need to engage local thought leaders early in the process





3:30:19 AM    comment []  trackback []

I hear you Nancy ! I'm a practitioner, and there maybe some great stuff here .. but it's all lost on me, as I am not engaged to listen.





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Grass roots campaigning as Elective Sociality (or Maffesoli meets ësocial softwareí): Lessons from the BBC iCan project - Stokes Jones, Lodestar

Am excited to be listening to this paper ... Lee Bryant had spoken of how he used social tagging for the BBC at Reboot7. .

Pre-history of the project :
- record low turnout in 2001 British elections
- quantitative research showed - apathy among voters widespread

The original brief : develop a unique interactive community in which people can make a difference in civic life. To participate in democracy.
Focus : Biased towards the local, and biased towards action.
Why research : belief that the site's success would depend on how well it met campaigner's needs.
Research focus : defining iCan's space - grassroots campaigners.
Methodology : indepth incontext interviews and capaign office tours, gathering oral histories of specific campaigns, etc
Deliverables : results expressed processes, priorities and needs of campaigners.

The Questions for the iCan system conceptual model : what is the journey between being a passive user and an active user ? A : iCan is the journey - using online journals and blogs among other things.

Conflicts : need for concept testing - unsung moments needed to be supported on the site - needed communications tools, a campaign blogging tool. Designed a prototype to be tested among target audience - 5 campaigners and 5 sympathisers - asked them a battery of questions and user journeys. Result - its too ambitious, it looks more difficult than campagining actually is. Only one thought the website would encourage them to start a campaign. The bias towards 'comprehensiveness' needed to be re-thought.One of the big learnings was that what they ended up with was a one-stop shop -- and that was overwhelming.

The problem - research had perhaps ignored this - "experiencing the other is the basis of community" Michel Maffesoli. Campaigners were getting something out of the community, far beyond the primary objective of campaigning. They threw back to elective sociality - unite and divide based on community affinities, which is voluntary, affect-based, about strong ties and based on local ties.iCan protocols then supported this model.

What a story !


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Monday, November 14, 2005

Kris R. Cohen, from the University of Surrey (UK). Yayyy he's a blogger. And does some photoblogging too! But that's not what he is talking of. Design research is what he's talking of and the concept of the user. And forces that suture a 'who' to a 'what'. Landscapes of possibilities.

Am not sure what's new about this basic call to look at the landscape of possibilities and not narrow-focus on users. When I started working as a qualitative researcher over 17 years ago, I quickly learnt that your research is as good as your subject. So we looked at users in a broad context - users, non-users, users of competitive brands and services, lapsed users, heavy and light users, old and recent users. Maybe ethnographers and anthropologists need some grounding in market research:):):)???

He leaves us with an interesting thought that researchers can create 'publics' - public spaces and action. Products enter spaces and get transformed. Public action is unpredictable. Ethnographic methods try and suture the who to the what. Design research not only describes but also can predict 'publics'.

Great Question --- how can we get clients to pay us to landscape the possibilities? No real answer.


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EPIC starts with an introduction from Rick Robinson of GfK-NOP - his talk is called "Let's Talk - Introductory remarks for thoery section". He makes us smile when he says "I've never been in a room full of people who's mothers don't know what they do!"

1. Where's "here" ?
2. Who else is in this conversation?
3. Why theory matters .... quotes Richard Buchanan's diagram - from his paper, Design as Inquiry. He says case studies cannot be the only fodder for conversation, there must be active engagement - not just observe and collect artifacts, but work to the future. We act at this intersection of theory and praxis. We have considerable influence on the future, as a result.

He quotes as his conclusion -"I dont fuck much with the past, but i fuck plenty with the future" --- Patti Smith, Easter/Babelogue, 1978.

There's a live conference blog too. But no Flick'r photo feed (ethnographers and anthropologists should be using Flick'r - maybe I'll start a tag that says EPIC2005!), no IRC or back channel!


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We had a great session today at the Social Solutions Global Consortium Summit in Seattle, USA. Pat Sachs led us through an engaging conversation on how we participate in this new world, how do we work together and take this forward.

Here's the gang :

A picture named the group.JPG

We started off the day introducing ourselves, our backgrounds, areas of expertise and what we expected from being a part of this Consortium. That was really interesting, as it threw up so many commonalities between us, and yet threw up diverse skills and experiences that are relevant to our work, anywhere in the world.

We then moved into a discussion of how we should position this group - while I won't get into details on our discussions, the key concepts we were playing with were around presenting ourselves as the bridge, or the rub connecting customer insight with company innovation. 'Glocal' truly describes us too.

A picture named strategy.JPG

We then discussed our expectations of how we would partner together on a sustainable, ongoing basis in such manner that everyone benefits. Ideas on infrastructure, collateral for the group and plans for multi-country projects, and how we would retain our own individual company identities while being a part of this global group were discussed.

And finally, we mapped our individual skills into sets - some of the broad groupings that emerged from this mapping were - tools/methods/techniques, project management, domain knowledge.

A picture named postits 2.JPG

A picture named postits.JPG

While the day was long and exhausting, I feel happy that I got to put faces and passions to people I had interacted with earlier online - and we did have a lot of fun too, with stories from Spain, South America, Russia and Japan adding so much colour to the day. Alexey from Russia - the self-proclaimed baby of the group made us smile through the day, with his probing questions, naughty eyes, and big big smile (and he claims that Russians aren't supposed to smile!)

What did I come away with ... I think I would benefit from being a part of this group, as it would help bridge my area of expertise - qualitative research skills and customer/stakeholder insights - with the ability to now embed sustainable company innovation. Moreover, belonging to a global consortium has it's own benefits - you have the weight of a Multinational behind you so you can market your services better, you can dip into a diverse resource of expertise and experience, you can think of conducting multi-country studies --- all leading to the feeling that you aren't in it alone, which is a certain isolation you can feel when working as an independent consultant.

And, as expected :) - I'm excited too about the possibility of adopting social tools like blogs and wikis and VOIP into our work practices and collaborative projects.

Here's a brief background on those present at this meeting :

Felipe - Spain. Action research, participatory work, PhD on Action Research - getting children back into the mainstream - Clinical Psychologist and Therapist, Human Resources, Started his own company. Also teaches at the university. PAR - participatory action research.

Alexey - Russia - St Petersburg - Cultural Anthro - Social Anthro Masters degree. No big demand in Russia for Anthropology - so working as Sociologist - working on PhD. Estd a company 9 months ago. Northern Consulting - interests in qualitative research of markets, corporate culture

Hugo - born in Italy, moved to South America. Venezuela and then to Argentina. Degree in Social History from Buenos Aires, Masters in Economic History. Research in Human History - Nashville. 12 years ago, moved to Barcelona, Spain - scholarship to do PhD on Social Anthropology. Studied a city Santa Rosa - immigrants found cities - the idea of a city - how did they name streets, etc Exploring how people put into practice ideas.notions. concepts to create organizations. Wife also an anthropologist - CLAY consulting focussing on adoption. Corporate culture - culture debate. We are not social engineers ...in Spain, anthropologists have this motto. Second PhD in Management studies - Focussing on another set of immigrants - expat managers - uses and practices of 'culture' in companies

Peter - Germany. He comes from a user-centered design background in computer science and that Xerox' researchers' work on "Using Video to Re-Present the User" inspired him to do his Ph.D. thesis work on Video-Supported Ethnography in Participatory Design. Participating in a project with Lucy Suchman's Work Practice and Technology group at Xerox PARC was the start of eight years' practice with ethnographic user research. That included giving the first course in Germany on ethnographic methods in requirements elicitation. Peter is principal of Savigny User Research and has carried out the Germany part of several international ethnographic user research projects through the Social Solutions Global Consortium. For more info see www.savigny-userresearch.de/competence.html.

Tom - Stockholm PhD - project on language and media in Paris, Chicago and Stockholm - then went into PR business and worked as a consultant - back to research. Communications consultant at Stockholm Univ - Press Secy for a Political Party - freelancer and yet like to join forces. Main interest is in intelligence and newsmaking - and using anthropological methods is a natural fit.

Mary - A Romanian, brought up in Israel, living in Japan - graduated Eng Lit. Media journalism for 10 years. She was an editor and journalist and currently an academic working in Japan, teaching at several universities and working in business consulting for both Westerna and Japanese companies and conducting ethnographic market research.

Lisa - San Francisco, USA. Different career chapters - entering a new one now. Background - Cultural Anthropology degree from Univ of Pennsylvania. Fieldwork in Papua, New Guinea in the 1970s. Research on relationships between men and women - feminist anthropology Experienced the power of doing fieldwork - spiritual and psychological impact. First job at UCLA - rather alienating experience - left and went into business - sanding floors, sewing/design company etc. Organisational devt Then joined California Institute for Intercultural Studies. Alternative Grad School in San Francisco - Anthropology Dept chair for12 yrs- trained engaged anthropologists. Environmental movement - deep ecology. Consultant full time in 1998. And then joined NASA experiment - Astrobiology institute - origins of life, future of life, life beyond. Worked to set it up as a collaborative endeavor across organizations. Technologies in place but the practices were not. Furthering work practices of collaborative science. Project in Robotics - Project Manager - doing usability research. Globally distributed teams

Pat - Arizona, USA. Doctorate in economic Anthropology - studied work in a retired community of coal miners. Relationship between technology and work. Post-doc in cognitive and developmental psychology - how adults learn at work - discontinuities between learning at school and learning at work. Activity theory. Distinctions in what constitutes training and delivery and what constitutes learning and development. Launched Social Solutions - one of the early anthropologists in practice. Expert systems lab at a telco - adoption of technology in maintenance centers. Reengineering in organizations affected business in early 2000ís. Where should we be --- sort of work rather than how better to run the railroad. Contextual Innovation. Keenly looking at emerging markets - BRIC --- Brazil, Russia, India, China.



2:16:39 PM    comment []  trackback []

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Cameron Sinclair, a Worldchanging colleague, is on talking about how to create architecture that helps the world. What can I say except that he is absolutely inspiring. Just go here and you will know why. It is great to hear from someone who isn't just talking but walking the talk, and "Design(ing) Like You Give A Damn"


9:19:48 PM    comment []  trackback []

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Testing ... i think my blog is back :).

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