magazine posts

Curating Consumption: Identity Crisis February 2nd, 2012

Yet another collection of random musings from the perspective of a consumer/researcher.

 

This is awkward on so many levels. Of course there is the bizarre act of turning a fine cut of meat into a hot dog. Most troubling for the polyglot in me is the collision of cultures and languages: Kobe Beef is a Japanese culinary delicacy, it’s offered American Style, it’s touted as the Ultimate Haute Dog bringing French into the conversation and, wait a minute, it’s also a Gourmet Frankfurter so willkommen Germany! I’m sitting here wondering if I am supposed to consume this dog raw or put it on a bun and add ketchup, dijon, or sauerkraut.¬† Mon dieu!

 

It might appear, on first glance, that this homeowner wants to sell you some fresh eggs. On second glance you might notice that spray-painted notice on the gate that you are absolutely not welcome. Missing from the image is the front porch, apparently a welcoming halfway house for transient felines. If ever I wanted to buy some fresh eggs (hen’s) here, I wouldn’t even know where to begin my purchase journey. I am considering offering some customer service design advice but seriously doubt it would be welcome.

 

Dear Fresh & Easy, I trust that you have access to some stellar check-out technology. You must; you have all but eliminated the need for any employees at the check-out and empowered me, the consumer, with this task! I typically don’t mind this activity (or I outsource it to my son, who loves to do it)¬† except when it ain’t easy. Allow me to clarify: When the scanner won’t read a UPC code because the sticker has been wrapped unreadably around a package and I have to enter that code and that code is 24-characters long, that is not easy. Also, when I have two of these poorly stickered items and you don’t offer me the chance to enter a quantity so I have to enter the 24-character code twice, that is so not easy I start referring to you as Fresh & Fiercely Annoying.

 

 

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ChittahChattah Quickies July 28th, 2010
  • [from steve_portigal] newWitch Magazine – Cutting Edge Paganism – [Seen in a "magic" shop today during a post-fieldwork ramble] newWitch is a magazine dedicated to, featuring, and partially written by young or beginning Witches, Wiccans, Neo-Pagans, and other earth-based, ethnic, pre-Christian, shamanic, and magical practitioners. Everyone from Traditional Wiccans to potion-makers to Asatruar to eco-Pagans can find something in these pages. The one thing we all have in common is a willingness to look at the world, our magical and spiritual paths, and ourselves in new ways. We hope to reach not only those already involved in what we cover, but the curious and completely new as well.
  • [from steve_portigal] Can the Kindle and Its Ilk Ease Textbook Inflation? [Village Voice] – [Thanks @dastillman] Pace offered the Kindle to students with course materials already preloaded on the device. Students had the option to buy the Kindle (at a discounted price) at the end of the course. Student complaints ranged from difficulties in taking notes to clumsy navigation controls. The electronic annotation feature was especially “slow and cumbersome,” requiring students to manipulate a tiny button to underline passages and type notes on the Kindle’s ergonomically unfriendly keyboard. The photos, pictures, and diagrams in the e-textbook were all black and white and image quality was not quite as sharp as in print….Soares found time eaten away by technical issues. Kindle books have no page numbers, so it was a challenge to get all the students on the same page. “It’s one thing to read a mystery or novel on the Kindle, but the way you read a textbook is different. You are flipping back and forth while reading, and navigation was cumbersome, even with bookmarks.”
  • [from steve_portigal] Doomsday shelters making a comeback [USATODAY.com] – The Vivos network, which offers partial ownerships similar to a timeshare in underground shelter communities, is one of several ventures touting escape from a surface-level calamity. Vicino, who launched the Vivos project last December, says he seeks buyers willing to pay $50,000 for adults and $25,000 for children. The company is starting with a 13,000-square-foot refurbished underground shelter formerly operated by the U.S. government at an undisclosed location near Barstow, Calif., that will have room for 134 people. Vicino puts the average cost for a shelter at $10 million. Vivos plans for facilities as large as 100,000 square feet, says real estate broker Dan Hotes, who over the past four years has collaborated with Vicino on partial ownership of luxury homes and is now involved with Vivos. Catastrophe shelters today may appeal to those who seek to bring order to a world full of risk and uncertainty, says Alexander Riley, an associate professor of sociology at Bucknell University.
  • [from steve_portigal] Market researchers get new tool in iPad [USATODAY.com] – [No doubt getting people to participate in surveys is an exercise in persuasion or seduction, but if there's a cool factor, something seems wrong to me] The gadget is luring curious consumers who've never seen one to participate in research projects conducted at shopping malls, primarily because they just want to see how it works. At many of the centers response was so good that survey takers collected the required information in about three weeks instead of the four they'd anticipated. The iPad presented its own set of research challenges. Some overheated in direct sunlight and shut down. In one case, a consumer at a mall in Rhode Island was so enamored with the iPad, he grabbed it from the interviewer and ran off.
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ChittahChattah Quickies July 19th, 2010
  • [from Dan_Soltzberg] The Media Equation – The Antenna Uproar – No Hair Shirt for Jobs [NYTimes.com] – [In the case of the missing iPhone signal, traditional publication Consumer Reports had more impact than younger, leading-edge media sources] How did Consumer Reports make Apple blink? In large measure, the article in Consumer Reports was devastating precisely because the magazine (and its Web site) are not part of the hotheaded digital press. Although Gizmodo and other techie blogs had reached the same conclusions earlier, Consumer Reports made a noise that was heard beyond the Valley because it has a widely respected protocol of testing and old-world credibility.
  • [from Dan_Soltzberg] Pop-Up Magazine [website] – [The return of the variety show? Media channel-bending experiment marries a magazine-esque approach to content with the ephemeral nature of live performance.]
  • [from steve_portigal] Concern for Those Who Screen the Web for Barbarity [NYTimes.com] – [Mind you, these consequences serve to reinforce the value of the service] With the rise of Web sites built around material submitted by users, the surge in Internet screening services has brought a growing awareness that the jobs can have mental health consequences for the reviewers. One major outsourcing firm hired a local psychologist to assess how it was affecting its 500 content moderators. The psychologist developed a screening test so the company could evaluate potential employees, and helped its supervisors identify signals that the work was taking a toll on employees. Ms. Laperal also reached some unsettling conclusions in her interviews with content moderators. She said they were likely to become depressed or angry, have trouble forming relationships and suffer from decreased sexual appetites. Small percentages said they had reacted to unpleasant images by vomiting or crying. “The images interfere with their thinking processes. It messes up the way you react to your partner.
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ChittahChattah Quickies March 29th, 2010
  • Inc. Magazine Staffers Works Remotely To Make April Issue – [NYTimes.com] – Away from the office, some staff members struggled to adjust, as minor technical hiccups arose and parents working at home had to find ways to separate their work from their children. But in the end, most employees discovered that they could and should work out of the office more often — though they did not want to eliminate the office entirely. Mr. Chafkin found himself working more hours than usual in February and pining for the company of his colleagues. “I was way more productive, but way less happy,” he said. “I think one of the reasons people get into magazines is that it’s collaborative.” The collaboration that did happen needed to be arranged in advance, like setting a time for a conference call, rather than relying on an encounter in a hallway or chatting at a desk. Only once during the month did the entire staff gather, at Ms. Berentson’s home on the Upper West Side. When everyone got together, she said, it was “exactly like seeing old friends.”
  • OgilvyOne Uses Contest to Promote Salesmanship [NYTimes.com] – A contest from OgilvyOne asks participants to market a brick so their sales techniques can be judged. The prize is a job at the agency for three months. Participants submit their ads for the red brick via YouTube. The ad agency's contest is a nod to David Ogilvy, who offered straightforward opinions on the high importance of good salesmanship.
  • The Medium – Trust Busting [NYTimes.com] – A company shows anxiety on its face — that is, on its Web site, which has become the face of the modern corporation. Visit sites for recently troubled or confused enterprises, including Maclaren, Toyota, Playtex, Tylenol and, yes, John Edwards, and you’ll find a range of digital ways of dealing with distress.
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ChittahChattah Quickies February 20th, 2010
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ChittahChattah Quickies January 12th, 2010
  • The Beaver gets a new name [CBC News] – An iconic Canadian history magazine is changing its name to avoid a variety of misunderstandings. The current issue of the 90-year-old Winnipeg bi-monthly, The Beaver: Canada's History Magazine, is the final one to have that name on the cover. In April, the magazine will be known as Canada's History.

    "Use of the word 'beaver' on the internet has taken on an identity that nobody could have perceived in 1920," said Deborah Morrison, president of Canada's National Historical Society. "And increasingly, if we put 'The Beaver' in a heading, we would be spam-filtered out."

    The society also conducted market research last year with readers, and the conclusion was that the current name was just not working as an appropriate title, she said.

    "Canadians were twice as likely not to subscribe because of the title of the magazine, even if they showed an interest in Canadian history," Morrison said, adding there were also a lot of people who thought the magazine was a nature publication.

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ChittahChattah Quickies June 13th, 2009
  • New Yorker profile of Fred Franzia, the rather unpleasant character behind Charles Shaw wine (akaTwo Buck Chuck) – "You tell me why someone's bottle is worth eight dollars and mine's worth two dollars," he says. "Do you get forty times the pleasure from it?" With Two Buck Chuck, Franzia invented a category known as “super-value” wine. Cheap wine – so-called skid-row wine – is noting new; Franzia's idea was to make cheap wine that yuppies would feel comfortable drinking. He put Charles Shaw in a seven-hundred-and-fifty millilitre glass bottle, with a real cork, and used varietal grapes.
  • Offline, accurate quantitative usage data can be tough to capture – Advertisers rely on M.R.I.’s research. It measures how many readers a magazine has, including people who did not buy it but read a friend’s copy or flipped through it at the doctor’s office. It also profiles the readers of all the magazines, including their income levels, attitudes and toothpaste-buying habits.

    M.R.I. divides the country into representative neighborhoods and sends researchers to the zones to conduct a 45-minute interview, with 26,000 people a year, asking them to remember which magazines they have read in the last six months.

    The researchers leave behind a 104-page survey about what sort of television shows people watch, what kind of products they use, and what social or behavioral traits describe them. M.R.I. then tries to adjust its results so they represent the country.

    [But there are accuracy issues] While M.R.I. said Tennis magazine’s readership dropped almost by a third, its subscriptions and newsstand sales rose slightly.

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Get our latest article, Interacting With Advertising March 2nd, 2009

ipodad

My latest interactions column, Interacting With Advertising has just been published.

There’s a famous saying (attributed to John Wanamaker, the retailing pioneer): “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” And while that’s still true, we propose this corollary: Half our encounters with advertising are dripping with evil; the trouble is, we don’t know which half.

Get a PDF of the article here. To receive a copy of the article, send an email to steve AT portigal DOT com and (if you haven’t given us this info before) tell us your name, organization, and title. We’ll send you a PDF.

Related: Forced Engagement

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ChittahChattah Quickies February 21st, 2009
  • Report: Real-world police forensics don't resemble 'CSI' – Even before the popularity of shows like CSI, there was presumably a cultural belief in the "science" behind these techniques. But the report finds that:
    – Fingerprint science "does not guarantee that two analysts following it will obtain the same results."
    – Shoeprint and tire-print matching methods lack statistical backing, making it "impossible to assess."
    – Hair analyses show "no scientific support for the use of hair comparisons for individualization in the absence of (DNA)."
    – Bullet match reviews show "scientific knowledge base for tool mark and firearms analysis is fairly limited."
    – Bite-mark matches display "no scientific studies to support (their) assessment, and no large population studies have been conducted."
  • NJOY electronic cigarette – Looks like a real cigarette, complete with glowing tip on inhale, and exhaled vapor that resembles smoke. Gives an inhaled nicotine experience, while messaging to the rest of the world that you are really smoking a real lit cigarette. Paging Erving Goffman?

    Someone was using one a party last week; someone else got out their simulated Zippo lighter (an iPhone app) and lit it for them.

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Get our latest article: Poets, Priests, and Politicians January 5th, 2009

innovation

My latest interactions column, Poets, Priests, and Politicians has just been published.

[W]e’re increasingly exposed to rhetoric in the arenas of marketing and politics. It’s easy to be cynical and dismissive of relabeling. “It’s a feature, not a bug,” has long been a cliche in software and technology development, and we are perhaps less likely to examine the possibilities that lie along that tension: the power of words in the process of understanding people and creating new things for them.

Get a PDF of the article here. To receive a copy of the article, send an email to steve AT portigal DOT com and (if you haven’t given us this info before) tell us your name, organization, and title. We’ll send you a PDF.

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This Space Available September 5th, 2008

We’ve seen coffee cup sleeves used to carry advertisements:

coffee-sleeve.jpg

Last month, there was a sleeve around my copy of Metropolis magazine. Is advertising in the magazine no longer effective?

magazine-band.jpg

What’s next?

banded-bird.jpg
Banded bird, © Dan Soltzberg 2008

Previously: Forced Engagement

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Get our latest article: Hold Your Horses June 30th, 2008

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My fourth interactions column, Hold Your Horses, has just been published. I talk about the creative process of uncovering insights and the need for gestation and reflection time.

Get a PDF of the article here. As the interactions website only has a teaser, we’d like to offer a copy of the article. Send an email to steve AT portigal DOT com and (if you haven’t given us this info before) tell us your name, organization, and title. We’ll send you a PDF.
Other articles

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Loss of context April 18th, 2008

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From What I’ve Learned: Vint Cerf (“creator of the Internet”) in the latest Esquire magazine (italics mine)

There was a first “Oh, no!” moment. That was the first time I saw spam pop up. It could have been as early as ’79. A digital-equipment corporation sent a note around announcing a job opening, and we all blew up, saying, This is not for advertising! This is for serious work!

(Update: link to article here)

It’s not A digital-equipment corporation (and really, who speaks like that?) It’s Digital Equipment Corporation, aka DEC, aka Digital.

One letter changes the details of the story somewhat (I suppose it’s not crucial to know who sent this first spam), enough to make it clear that the copy editor had no context about the era in technology and business that Cerf was talking about.

I’m reminded of the challenges with interviews transcribed using an overseas service:

Male: It keeps searching and then it is–

Female: So what did it come up with?

Male: Well, I did come up with tickets.

Female: Get out, you are kidding me. I should go, where is this at? In Denver?

Male: Denver, yeah. In the Betsey Center.

Female: Okay, well try and find me some tickets in Tampa.

I’m pretty sure the Betsey Center is actually The Pepsi Center.

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Design an “Experience” for Users – Profiled in a Japanese technology magazine March 13th, 2008

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Portigal Consulting is covered in a recent cover article (Design an “Experience” for Users) in NIKKEI ELECTRONICS, January 28, 2008 vol. 970.

A large number of companies are seeking detailed information from end users that will hold clues for products offering a brand new experience. But for an idea to become reality, companies will have to discard any basic assumptions they already hold.

The magazine is print-only, and is in Japanese (link above is only to the article summary). If you’ve got a copy of the article and want to share, please let me know. We’d love to see the piece and someday even find a translation.

Update: scans are posted here. Thanks, David!

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Steve Portigal’s upcoming column in Interactions Magazine December 11th, 2007

I’ll be contributing a regular column to Interactions Magazine in 2008. I can’t wait til the issues ship and their website goes live!

We see a world rich with culture, emotion and human connections. The human-built world has afforded a sense of beauty, sublimity and resonance, and through our advancements in technology can come advances in society. At the heart of these advances are interactions: conversations and dialogues. Interactions exists to tie together experiences, people and technology, and to provide an international venue for dialogue and the forging of relationships.

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