Posts tagged “amazon”

Reading Ahead: Analysis and Synthesis

Reading ahead logo with space above

Synthesizing field data into well-articulated, data-driven patterns, themes, and opportunities is a big part of our work, but it’s an aspect that generally has less visibility than the fieldwork.

An essential early step in the synthesis process involves going back over the fieldwork sessions. An hour or two-hour interview creates an incredible amount of information. By going back into a record of the interview, we make sure not to leave anything significant behind.

We go through and make notes on interview transcripts (done by an outside service), watch videos of the sessions, and look over photographs, sketches, maps, and participatory design pieces.

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Annotated interview transcript

We made a bulletin board of the people we met, so they’re ever-present while we’re working.

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Yesterday we came together to share the points we’d each pulled out. We present each interview, like a case study, to the team. Sometimes it’s just us, and sometimes our clients join us for part of this process.

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While one of us presented, the other captured the essence onto Post-its. We had a lot of discussion and debate while we did this, pulling together multiple viewpoints.

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When we were done presenting the interviews, the board looked like this:

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Our next step is to take these notes and start grouping them. We’ll look at different ways the information can be organized, and from there, will start refining our work and writing it up clearly and succinctly into a report.

Reading Ahead: Topline Summary

Reading ahead logo with space above

As soon as possible after concluding fieldwork, we write a Topline Summary, in which we capture our first impressions and the ideas that are top-of-mind from being in the field.

We’re always careful to be clear about what the Topline is and isn’t. There’s synthesis that happens from the fieldwork experience itself (which the Topline captures), and synthesis that happens from working with the data (which we haven’t done yet).

In the Topline we go a step further than the field highlights and start to articulate some of the patterns we think are emerging, but these ideas may change once we do a detailed analysis and synthesis of the data we’ve gathered.

In a client project, we’ll have a discussion with the client team around the Topline Summary. We encourage members of the client team to come out in the field with us, and the Topline discussion is a great opportunity for everyone who did so to share their experiences and tell stories. The Topline discussion is also a good time for our clients to let us know if there are any specific directions they want us to pursue as we analyze and synthesize the data we’ve gathered.

We’ve now finished our fieldwork for Reading Ahead. We conducted six in-depth interviews, with photo diary and participatory design activities (more in our next few posts about these methods).

Here’s our Topline Summary:



Portigal Consulting: Reading Ahead Topline Summary

  1. Reading is not just a solo activity; there are significant social/interpersonal aspects for many people
  • Recommendations, book clubs, lending

  • Books facilitate the interpersonal aspects of reading

  • Can be easily lent or given away
  • Given as gifts
  • People can use a book together: parents and kids, showing someone a passage or illustrations, etc.

  • Reading can be a big part of family life

  • Childhood memories, passing books between generations, reading with one’s own children.

  • Connection between home life and outside world (school)

  1. Reading and Books are not always one and the same
  • Erica buys some books because she likes them as objects. She knows she may not read all of them. “I love books. I almost like books more than reading.”

  • Jeff says if you love to read, you’d like the Kindle. If you love books, you should try it out before you buy one

  • The Kindle facilitates types of reading beyond books: blogs, articles, periodicals

  1. Books do more than carry content
  • Books engage the senses: they are tactile, visual objects, with specific characteristics like smell and weight

  • Become carriers of specific memories

  • Develop a patina that carries meaning
  • An inscribed book becomes a record of an event, interaction, relationship

  • There is an art/collector aspect to books (which is absent in the Kindle)
  • First editions
  • Signed copies
  • Galley proofs
  • Typography
  • Pictures and illustrations
  • Quality of paper, printing, etc.
  • Books say something about a person
  • Others can see what you’re reading; like clothes, etc., this carries meaning
  • “Looking at someone’s bookshelves when you go to their house” (Jeff)
  • When people give books as gifts they are deliberately communicating something about the relationship, the event, themselves, and the recipient

  • Books can create a physical record of someone’s reading activity
  • Chris used to line up all the books he had read to get a sense of accomplishment
  • Annotations, bookmarks, tags all convey the reader’s personal history with that book

  1. Books are easily shared
  • Pass them along to others

  • Donate to library

  • Sell or buy at used book store

  • Borrow from the library rather than purchasing

  1. How books are stored and organized carries meaning
  • Emotion, sense of pride, expression of personality, record of engagement

  • Erica organizes her books by how the content/type of book feels to her: “dusty” classics, modern classics, etc.

  • Julie’s extensive shelves are organized alphabetically to reinforce the idea of library

  1. Libraries and bookstores provide specific experiences
  • As a little girl, Erica visited different libraries with her Mom. This was their daily activity, and Erica retains strong and specific memories

  • Julie and her housemate recreated a library atmosphere in their home

  • A quiet, comfortable space
  • Good lighting
  • Alphabetized bookshelves
  • A unified décor

  • For Jeff and others, spending time browsing in a bookstore represents having leisure time

  1. The Kindle
  • For people whose love of reading is bound up in their love of books, the Kindle loses much of the reading experience; it is only a content carrier

  • Julie has a history of wanting to read on electronic devices as well as from printed books, so to her, the Kindle is a big evolutionary step from her old Palm, the iPhone, etc.

  • For Erica, the Kindle signifies “computer,” so it does not let her “unplug” from the fast-paced connected lifestyle that books provide a refuge from

  • Several people described the kinetics of page-turning as an important aspect of reading books that is absent in the Kindle

  • Books afford ways of navigating content that the Kindle does not: flipping, comparing non-sequential pages, looking at the recipes at the end of each chapter, etc.

  • Peter finds it frustrating that when he buys a Kindle book from Amazon, he can’t share it. When he started working in an environment where people were passing books around, he went back to reading printed books

  1. Participant ideation about the “book of the future” and “reading device of the future”
  • NOTE: The first thing a number of the participants said when asked about what the “book of the future” could be and do was that it’s pretty hard to improve on the book-it works very well the way it is. In addition to all the qualities already mentioned, books are

  • Instant on-off
  • Durable

  • But people did have ideas. Here are some of them:

  • Interactive
  • Put yourself in the story
  • Leave the story for more information
  • Choose from alternate endings, versions

  • Size-shifting

  • Able to morph from bigger size for reading to smaller for transporting
  • Retain the book form while adding functionality

  • Book form with replaceable content: a merging of book and device, with a cover, and page-turning but content is not fixed-it can be many different books
  • Books that contain hyperlinks, electronic annotations, multimedia, etc.
  • Privacy

  • Hide what you’re reading from others, hide annotations, hide your personal book list and lend your device to someone (with content for them)
  • Projecting

  • A device that projects words that float above it, so that the reader doesn’t have to hold the device in their hands

Reading Ahead: Fieldwork highlights – Julie

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During the fieldwork cycle, we write quick summaries of each interview session and send these immediately to our clients so they can start to circulate stories. At this point in the process we strive to stay descriptive; our goal is just to get stories about the people we’re meeting out to the extended team (us, our direct clients, and their stakeholders).


Our interview with Julie (not her real name) was the last session in the fieldwork for this project.

Julie and her housemate have an amazing library in their San Leandro home, with three walls of alphabetized floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. With the bookshelves and quiet ambiance of the space, being in this part of their home feels just like being a library.

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The whole downstairs of their house has been optimized for reading; they have great lighting, and comfortable sofas big enough for two people to stretch out on simultaneously.

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Of the six people we met, Julie was the person who most seemed to have integrated printed book and Kindle reading. For Julie, reading a book and reading on the Kindle are both equally positive experiences; in fact, she will sometimes go back and forth between a printed book and the Kindle version of the same book, depending on whether she is at home, traveling, etc.

While some of the people we met described the Kindle as less-than-satisfying compared to a printed book, Julie has a long history of reading on electronic devices, and finds the Kindle a big step forward.

In the following clip, Julie talks about how her electronic reading has evolved, from her first Palm Pilot up to her current Kindle 2:

Reading Ahead: Fieldwork highlights – Jeff

Reading ahead logo with space above

During the fieldwork cycle, we write quick summaries of each interview session and send these immediately to our clients so they can start to circulate stories. At this point in the process we strive to stay descriptive; our goal is just to get stories about the people we’re meeting out to the extended team (us, our direct clients, and their stakeholders).


Jeff (not his real name) is in the midst of a big remodeling project at home so we met with him in his Silicon Valley office. He was the second Kindle user we saw in our fieldwork, and had a lot of positive things to say about reading on the device.

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Jeff says that he’s not a “flipper” but does tend to be reading 3-4 books at a time, as well as newspapers and blogs. These various pieces of content require differing levels of attention and serve different moods, and Jeff likes that on the Kindle he can have all of this material at his fingertips, especially when he’s doing a lot of traveling.

Jeff uses his Kindle for not only for personal reading but for work as well, and sometimes publishes documents he needs to read to the Kindle. He and his team have also experimented with using the Kindle as a platform for delivering presentations.

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Demonstrating a business presentation on the Kindle

Jeff says one of the things he feels Amazon has done really well is to develop the “device ecosystem.” Between his job, the remodel, and a household that includes 4 kids and several dogs, cats, and chickens, Jeff is extremely busy, and he likes the ease and efficiency of the book-buying experience the Kindle supports.

In the following clip, Jeff tells some quick stories about using his Kindle to buy reading materials:

Reading Ahead: Fieldwork highlights – Peter

Reading ahead logo with space above

During the fieldwork cycle, we write quick summaries of each interview session and send these immediately to our clients so they can start to circulate stories. At this point in the process we strive to stay descriptive; our goal is just to get stories about the people we’re meeting out to the extended team (us, our direct clients, and their stakeholders).


Peter (not his real name), the first Kindle user we’ve interviewed, works in web production. When describing himself, he says,”I like gadgets.”

Reading-Ahead_Peter1

We met with him at his home in Vallejo. He describes doing several types of reading: instructional reading to expand his knowledge about topics of interest like photography, fiction as a “form of engagement with a piece of art,” and non-fiction as a way to vicariously experience other places and lifestyles.

Peter’s had his Kindle for a couple of years. He says when he first got it (as a gift from his partner), it “got him” buying books right away, and he used it almost exclusively for around a year.

He says serious limitations of the Kindle are that you can’t have two books open at once (if you’re using a reference book, etc.), that it is unable to “capture” the act of flipping through a book looking for a passage, and that it still doesn’t create the same quality of experience as “the whiteness of paper” and crisp black text.

When I ask Peter if he has any emotions about his Kindle, he calls it “neutral.”

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The biggest frustration for Peter is that he can’t share Kindle books.

In the clip below, Peter tells the story of how this desire to share led him back to printed books:

Reading Ahead: Secondary Research (part 1)

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Starting any project means we inevitably come across any number of articles that pertain to the topic or the themes that emerge from the research and synthesis.

Sometimes we’ll dedicate some time at the beginning to collect articles and summarize ’em, but more often we’ll just do a quick scan and opportunistically look for issues to inform our recruiting and planning for fieldwork.

Here’s what we’re reading now (and we’ll do a part 2 if and when we find more articles of interest):

Reading Ahead: Figuring out who to talk to

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People always ask us, “how do you find the people for your projects?”

Figuring out how to identify appropriate people to interview for a project is all-important. For Reading Ahead, we know we need people who are active readers. What constitutes an “active reader?” We’re defining it as people who read books at least three times a week, in multiple locations. We want people who are engaged in the behavior at a level where they will have lots of experiences from which to draw. We also know that we want to look at how people’s behavior changes/doesn’t change/is supported by/is influenced when reading books in print vs. reading eBooks using a device.

When we have established the criteria for participating in the research, we typically use a specialized recruiting company to find people. We write a screener, which has a series of specific questions to identify people who meet our criteria.

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Screener excerpt, Reading Ahead project, 2009

Finding the right people can be quite complex, and for some projects, we’ve written screeners that are more than 10 pages long. If we’re looking for people who do activities X and Y, in locations 1, 2, and 3, but have never done activity Z-well, you get the idea!

In this project, the criteria are simpler, and we’ll be doing our own recruiting. In fact, if you’re in the Bay Area and an avid reader or Kindle user, let us know and maybe we can talk with you!

Update: We put together a representative screener that is formal enough to be given to a recruiting firm, even though we aren’t doing that for Reading Ahead. You can download it here.

Reading Ahead: Project Launch

Reading ahead logo with space above

We’re very excited here at Portigal Consulting to announce the start of a new self-funded project–Reading Ahead.

In Reading Ahead, we’ll be exploring the evolution of reading and books from a consumer perspective–what it means to be a reader, how artifacts from traditional books to devices like Amazon’s Kindle affect the experience, and what the future might hold for readers, product developers, and beyond.

Over the course of the project, we’ll be blogging both about how we work and what we see and learn.

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Steve Portigal (left) and Dan Soltzberg, project kickoff, July 27, 2009

Understanding our client
One of the first steps in any project is figuring out what the project is really about. So the first piece of research we do is often focused on our client.

As we work with our clients to establish the scope and approach of a project, we also interview key stakeholders in their organization to better understand what they know and what they need to know. (This doesn’t always map to what they think they know and what they think they need to know, and it’s important to suss out the differences.) These interviews help us understand the dynamics of the team and the organizational culture.

In this case, we’re our own client, so we sat down and asked each other some fundamental questions

  • What is it we want to know that we don’t know now?
  • What are we going to do with what we learn?
  • What are the people, places, things, behaviors, etc. that we think we want to focus on.
  • How broadly or tightly do we want to draw the scope of the exploration (at least at the outset-this can change as the project moves forward). In this case, to what extent might we want to be looking at bigger categories like content, entertainment, free time?

The way we answer these project definition questions will have a huge affect on how the work unfolds. As in most projects, we’ll be looking for the sweet spot that is constrained enough to give the project a clear focus but open enough to leave room for the unexpected.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • The Ruins of Fordlândia – Henry Ford's miniature America in the jungle attracted a slew of workers. Local laborers were offered a wage of thirty-seven cents a day to work on the fields of Fordlândia, which was about double the normal rate for that line of work. But Ford's effort to transplant America– what he called "the healthy lifestyle"– was not limited to American buildings, but also included mandatory "American" lifestyle and values. The plantation's cafeterias were self-serve, which was not the local custom, and they provided only American fare such as hamburgers. Workers had to live in American-style houses, and they were each assigned a number which they had to wear on a badge– the cost of which was deducted from their first paycheck. Brazilian laborers were also required to attend squeaky-clean American festivities on weekends, such as poetry readings, square-dancing, and English-language sing-alongs.
  • Fordlandia: The Failure Of Ford's Jungle Utopia – Henry Ford tries to build a Midwestern American company town in Amazonian Brazil – for the rubber, even though you can't grow plantation rubber in the Amazon. Absolute epic failure results: they were unprepared both industrially and culturally. "But the more it failed, the more Ford justified the project in idealistic terms. "It increasingly was justified as a work of civilization, or as a sociological experiment," Grandin says. One newspaper article even reported that Ford's intent wasn't just to cultivate rubber, but to cultivate workers and human beings."
  • Report Non-Humans – Marketing for upcoming sci-fi flick District 9. See my interactions column "Interacting with Advertising" for more discussion on the "tricks" of hiding advertising in the aesthetics of real informational signage. Is it okay here because we're in on the joke?

Box Experiences

I recently ordered a few curtain rod brackets from Amazon. I was just shy of $25, the magic number for free shipping, so I made use of Amazon Filler, a site that finds items, in ascending order of price, to get you to that needed total for free shipping.

For me, it was dental floss.

A few days later, Amazon tells me that they are going to ship the items separately to speed up service! I guess this makes sense in terms of their infrastructure – wherever the floss is kept, it’s probably far enough from curtain brackets that if they were to get the two items together and then ship to me it would be costlier or more time-consuming that simply sending the items directly to me from each of their origins.

But still – it leads to this strange out of the box experience:

The Box
The boxes arrived on the same day; one was sent earlier, but they both got here at the same time. It doesn’t appear to the recipient that it made any difference!

The Open Box
Here’s the two boxes opened, with their various packagings.

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And unpacked, all the crapola strewn about.

Our purcase
Our actual items in one box.

Surprise
And our dental floss tiny in its massive box. So I saved some money on shipping, but cost Amazon (and the environment) another box and inner packaging and all that shipping effort and fuel. Was this a good outcome for me? For Amazon? For all of us? Many factors to balance and I’m uncertain.

Amazon FAKE MUSTACHE

It’s not a new phenomenon by any means, but the fake Amazon product reviews are hilarious and surreal. Is this subverting Amazon’s attempt at community building/crowdsourcing/whatever? How does Amazon decide when reviews are too far out or should they even?

Check out FAKE MUSTACHE – 6 WAY

Having spent 20 years in the Far East I returned to Blitey with a greying head of hair. This unforseen aging process also affected my tash. Now, a tash is the signature of a Far East Expat, everyone knows that. So, yes hullo, I had to try and salvage what dignity I had.

I first of all tried to dye my tash. This resulted in me going to A&E for severe burns to the upper lip and they had to shave my white tickler off. I was distraught. I had an important meeting with some government ministers the following week and I would never grow my pride and joy back in time.

Hense my intro to FAKE MUSTACHE – 6 WAY. I was saved, and I had 5 spares incase number 1 fell into my beer.

My meeting with the governement ministers went very well indeed and everyone commented on how good I looked and how my tash had grown to a quality expat thickness.

I now no longer grow my natural tash as ‘6 WAY’ is more versatile and I can put it to bed at night (I have a little action man bunkbed for him) meaning I dont have a shabby tash in the morning.

Hurrray for 6 WAY.

Yes hullo…

and

Is there a man, woman, or child who would not benefit from ownership of a FAKE MUSTACHE – 6 WAY? I think not. Once the crucial element of Rosalind’s transformation in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, now the centerpiece of my casual Friday wear, the FAKE MUSTACHE – 6 WAY is as timeless as hair itself.

The product ships with an extensive manual describing the different curves the moustache can take, but neglects to list the six accepted ways of wearing the hairpiece:

1) Below the nose, above the lip: the classic; highly recommended.

2) Atop a bald head, in lieu of a toupee: be careful when removing your bowler.

3) On one’s right-hand index finger: briefly popular during the Victorian era; long out of favor in polite society.

4) On one’s bait and tackle: a delightful surprise. Ladies love this, as will your fellow fishermen.

5) Atop one’s feet: requires two moustaches. One bare foot looks ridiculous.

6) On the cheek: a jaunty variant of the classic upper palate.

It saddens me that I need to say this, but I have seen too many neglected moustaches to remain silent: please, gentlemen, take care of your moustache! I heartily recommend Colonel Ichabod Conk’s Moustache Wax. If you can withstand the Colonel’s grim visage staring at you from beyond the grave (and the side of the jar), your FAKE MUSTACHE – 6 WAY will thank you for the much-needed wax job.

Your Inventory Will Soon Expire

We are sending you this email to confirm that you currently have inventory listed on Half.com. Our records show you have not been to the Half.com site for approximately 75 days
In order to ensure your continued success as a seller, we encourage you to make sure your prices, conditions, and descriptions are up to date and correct. We have found that sellers who re-price and refresh their inventory on a regular basis experience higher sales volumes than those who do not. Additionally, it is important for us at Half.com to ensure that our buyers are purchasing from active and attentive sellers.
If you do not visit your Half.com account by 04-16-2006, your inventory will be suspended. Please take some time to review the items you have for sale and make any modifications you think might be necessary

This is funny timing; I was “interviewing myself” during a recent dog walk (like showering and falling asleep, good times for an interior monologue) about why I had been loyal to Half.com for so long and now almost exclusively buy and sell on Amazon. At one point I was given a number of Amazon gift certificates as thanks for some speaking I had done, so I was regularly going back to Amazon to spend them. I also found Half didn’t have the inventory compared to Amazon. Half.com also went through a protracted integration with eBay and put us (as sellers) through all sorts of various bullshit, with warnings of changes coming, planning to do away with the service entirely, then changing their minds. It didn’t seem stable, it didn’t seem comfortable. There was at least one more point at which they were eliminating some categories and sent me a notice that some of my inventory would not longer be offered (if I recall, they had initially let you create your own categories for things that they didn’t have ISBN or part numbers etc. for, but did away with that during some revision of their system) past a certain date.

In other words, they were not easy to do business with.

As a customer of Amazon, I’ve had no shortage of hassles with them, but as a seller, it’s been pretty darn painless. I don’t move a lot of stuff, I just have thrown some old books up there and sometimes one of them will sell. Rarely. I guess they make me renew all my listings every sixty days, but that’s a bunch of clicking and not a lot of thinking. Half has always hassled me, and I’ve slowly abandoned them.

But this takes the cake. As I’ve written here before I don’t feel great about being threatened with removal (at least Half is warning me, unlike Starwood in the previous link). Not to mention that their email is incredibly inept since 4/16 was nearly 2 months ago.

Half doesn’t want me? I don’t need them. A customer has been lost.

More Reasons to Hate Amazon

I am pretty fed up with how Amazon conceals information in order to eliminate or reduce customer service complaints. Not to solve problems, but to disempower the customer to actually do anything about it.

I ordered a used book (i.e., Amazon Marketplace). It came with some bent corners. Now, when I ordered it 2 weeks ago, did I pay the least amount for an “Acceptable” condition book? Or did I pay more and get a “New” book? I can’t tell from the book itself, so I go to the web. I look at my account info, I look at the confirmation email they sent me, I look at the detailed order page.

Nowhere is the promised condition indicated. I looked and tried and clicked. One of the links in the confirmation email even went to a dead page.

I guess it could be somewhere incredibly buried and I’m too much of a stupid user to find it, but I suspect rather that they don’t want to deal with this class of problem, so once you make the purchase, they delist the item and that info is gone-gone-gone.

I’ve written them to ask, but I don’t expect much from Amazon’s help, given past experiences.

Not a good day for e-commerce here at any rate – an eBay seller sent me the wrong item, so now I get to go through that whole hassle in resolving that. Sigh!

Update: Amazon wrote me back and in fact this info is available. Instead of looking at the recent orders in your account, you have to do the following from the main account page
Click “Your Auctions & zShops account” in the right-hand margin.
Click on “Amazon Payments: View all recent purchases.”
Ater logging in, enter the appropriate search dates to find the order you want.

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