Posts tagged “data”

Contextual research from a bygone era

While listening to This American Life I learned about Roger Barker, a psych professor who turned the small Kansas town of Oskaloosa into a laboratory in the late 1940s.

Barker was one of the most extraordinary — and least known — figures in the history of psychology. Shortly after he became chair of the KU psychology department in the late 1940s, he relocated his family to Oskaloosa to observe and gather data about the residents who lived in the town, population 725.

At that time, psychological research was primarily done in laboratories. “It was the era of running rats through mazes to understand human behavior,” he said. “Barker said you won’t learn about any real human behavior in a laboratory. If psychologists want to understand human behavior in the real world, they must enter the real world.”

More from this article

Among Barker’s more unusual efforts was a 1951 paper he co-wrote under the title “One Boy’s Day.”

It chronicled 14 hours in the life of a local boy with the pseudonym Raymond Birch . He was 7 when Raymond’s parents allowed the Midwest Psychological Field Station to record his every movement, according to Sabar’s book:

7:00. Mrs. Birch said with pleasant casualness, ‘Raymond, wake up. …’
7:01. Raymond picked up a sock and began tugging and pulling it on his left foot. …
7:07. Raymond turned to his dresser and rummaged around among the things on it until he obtained a candy Easter egg for his dog.

The notations, archived at KU, track Raymond on his walk to school. He finds a baseball bat in the grass and swings it, accidentally striking a flagpole.

“This made a wonderful, hollow noise,” researchers wrote, “so he proceeded to hit the flagpole again.”

Barker eschewed academic prose and wanted his charges to record any telling, prosaic detail.

Through the 1950s, Oskaloosans grew accustomed to the sight of a child being shadowed by a note-scribbling adult. In published papers, this was the town of “Midwest,” in keeping with the scientific practice of shielding the identity of the subjects being examined.

Barker’s work differed from other scholarly studies of places such as Muncie, Ind., (Middletown) and Candor, N.Y., (Springdale) in at least two ways.

First, it focused less on class and politics and more on the relationships that made kids feel comfortable.

Second, Barker’s family settled into Oskaloosa as a permanent home. Roger and Louise continued to live there until their deaths, Roger’s in 1990 at age 87 and Louise’s in 2009 at 102.

While Barker used many methods, the part that struck me was his belief that simply documenting in exhaustive detail the ordinary activities throughout the day would somehow provide some additional insight. What would Barker have made of today’s era of personal analytics, data smog, quantified self and beyond?

Cut the bowling scene if you want to make it big

In the 90s, conceptual artists Komar and Melamid used focus groups and opinion-polls (then-current tools used in politics) to identify the best attributes of a painting, then created works that matched those criteria.
perfect

So why not apply something similar to film? The New York Times tells us all about it (although this is more about correlating with sales data than opinion data, it pursues the same conclusion – without irony here – that a combination of the right elements assembled together will create a successful whole).

A chain-smoking former statistics professor named Vinny Bruzzese has started to aggressively pitch a service he calls script evaluation. For as much as $20,000 per script, Mr. Bruzzese and a team of analysts compare the story structure and genre of a draft script with those of released movies, looking for clues to box-office success. His company, Worldwide Motion Picture Group, also digs into an extensive database of focus group results for similar films and surveys 1,500 potential moviegoers.

“Demons in horror movies can target people or be summoned,” Mr. Bruzzese said in a gravelly voice, by way of example. “If it’s a targeting demon, you are likely to have much higher opening-weekend sales than if it’s summoned. So get rid of that Ouija Board scene.”

Bowling scenes tend to pop up in films that fizzle, Mr. Bruzzese, 39, continued. Therefore it is statistically unwise to include one in your script. “A cursed superhero never sells as well as a guardian superhero,” one like Superman who acts as a protector, he added.

What Data Can’t Do

heads
Heads, Oakland’s First Friday, June 2013

I do love this NYT Op-Ed (What Data Can’t Do) from David Brooks, especially

Data struggles with context. Human decisions are not discrete events. They are embedded in sequences and contexts. The human brain has evolved to account for this reality. People are really good at telling stories that weave together multiple causes and multiple contexts. Data analysis is pretty bad at narrative and emergent thinking, and it cannot match the explanatory suppleness of even a mediocre novel.

Of course, the qualitative narrative data is still data. It’s mostly the kind of information I work with. Perhaps it’s easy to conflate data with Big Data and succumb to the notion that if the approach to Big Data is limiting, then the approach to data in general must be limiting. But data is data – it’s what we use, in whatever forms, to inform and inspire and drive decisions.

The ethnographic research community is looking at the increasing reliance on quantitative data in business and questioning their role. Rich Radka proposes a “Yes, and…” mindset in this posting, no doubt one of many we’ll be seeing, as our business culture (and culture overall) evolves.

Pattern-recognition is crucial for sense-making

interviewing-users

Interviewing Users is now available. Get your copy here!




theartofscientificinvestigation


Excerpting from a great post…The Art of Observation and How to Master the Crucial Difference Between Observation and Intuition [Brain Pickings] – Highlights from a 1957 book by Cambridge University professor W. I. B. Beveridge come from the era of the scientific method but are broadly applicable to creative, innovative, design-thinking approaches to problem solving.

Ultimately, Beveridge argues that the art of observation depends on developing the capacity for pattern-recognition, which in turn relies on a broad pool of networked knowledge that allows you to spot the piece that doesn’t fit: “In carrying out any observation you look deliberately for each characteristic you know may be there, for any unusual feature, and especially for any suggestive associations or relationships among the things you see, or between them and what you know. – Most of the relationships observed are due to chance and have no significance, but occasionally one will lead to a fruitful idea.”

Big Content/Big Data Quickies

My interactions article Content, The Once And Future King has just come out. Here are some other examples, articles, resources, and so on that build on the topics of Big Content and Big Data that I explored.

99 Problems (Explicit Political Remix) [YouTube] – Jay-Z’s 99 Problems “covered” by Barack Obama. Astonishing.

Look to the skies. The flying saucers will always be there [MetaFilter] – Overview of Dickie Goodman and break-in records.

After Buchanan and Goodman got sued for copyright violations, they exploited the situation for more publicity, by releasing Buchanan and Goodman on Trial, in which the district attorney was portrayed by Little Richard. Their actual trial turned out even better, establishing a precedent for parodic fair use quotations of hit records, as long as copyright holders were compensated. Goodman would then spend several decades making more “break-in” records, where snippets from Top 40 hits were used to “break in” with commentary on the action. Because the records exploited contemporary news events and pop cultural trends, Goodman’s break-in records sound like little time capsules, inspired by topics as varied 50s folk music (The Banana Boat Story), Sputnik (Santa and the Satellite), Westerns (The Flying Saucer Goes West), monster movies (Frankenstein ’59/Frankenstein Returns), the Cold War (Russian Bandstand), TV cop shows (the Touchables in Brooklyn), the Berlin Wall (Berlin Top Ten), the 1968 Democratic convention (On Campus), the Apollo moon landing (Luna Trip), blaxploitation (Superfly Meets Shaft), Richard Nixon (Watergrate), and gas shortages (Energy Crisis ’74)

Raiders of the Lost Archives [YouTube] – “Shot-by-shot comparison of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ vs. scenes from 30 different adventure films made between 1919-1973.

Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity [McKinsey] – Definitive report on Big Data, with downloadable reports, podcasts, and more.

The amount of data in our world has been exploding, and analyzing large data sets-so-called big data-will become a key basis of competition, underpinning new waves of productivity growth, innovation, and consumer surplus, according to research by MGI and McKinsey’s Business Technology Office. Leaders in every sector will have to grapple with the implications of big data, not just a few data-oriented managers. The increasing volume and detail of information captured by enterprises, the rise of multimedia, social media, and the Internet of Things will fuel exponential growth in data for the foreseeable future

How Big Data Became So Big [NYT] – A brief cultural history of the concept of Big Data and how it’s tipped into the mainstream this past year.

Rising piles of data have long been a challenge. In the late 19th century, census takers struggled with how to count and categorize the rapidly growing United States population. An innovative breakthrough came in time for the 1890 census, when the population reached 63 million. The data-taming tool proved to be machine-readable punched cards, invented by Herman Hollerith; these cards were the bedrock technology of the company that became I.B.M.

The Ethnographer’s Complete Guide to Big Data: Small Data People in a Big Data World [Ethnography Matters] – Jenna Burrell has a three-part series of posts looks at qualitative cultural work and both traditional and emerging approaches to larger and larger data sets.

Being an ethnographer makes me more of a “small data” person. It seems counter-intuitive at first, but I find there are good, sound reasons to sometimes forgo the opportunity to collect more data. This gets to ever present questions about how much is sufficient when doing qualitative or, more specifically, ethnographic research (i.e. how many people to interview? how many months to spend in the field? etc). I find memory limits are an important bounding factor. Can I remember key points from each interview, distinctive elements of that individual’s story? Can I recall the setting and some of the things I observed there? Reading a transcript or my field notes, can I put myself back in that time and place? To have good recall and mastery of your data helps you to move through it with agility and to draw the kinds of surprising thematic connections across data that make ethnographic work, at times, profound.

Designing for Big Data [Jeffrey Veen] – A 20-minute talk from Web2.0 Expo in San Francisco. Veen describes how “technology has enabled massive amounts of data to be recorded, stored, and analyzed. Putting those things together has resulted in some fascinating innovations that echo data visualization work that’s been happening for centuries.”

Our latest article: Content, the Once and Future King


Our latest interactions column Content, the Once and Future King has just been published.

Christian Marclay’s The Clock is a 24-hour film, in which each minute of the 24 hours is depicted by images of clocks (or other depictions of the time) from other movies. Creating The Clock was an intensive, meticulous process. For at least several months, as many as six people spent their days watching DVDs and ripping potential clips; Marclay spent three years working at his computer for 10 to 12 hours a day. With at least 90 years of cinematic history to work with, and perhaps 90,000 movies available, there is a substantial corpus of moving images to draw from. Let’s call this Big Content.

Get the PDF here.

Previous articles also available:

Just a song that I used to know

Back in 2005, I wrote The More The Merrier for Core77, exploring how consumer and producer continued to blur. Of course, that trend has continued, and even accelerated.

Meanwhile, for my next interactions article (coming out in November) I’m thinking about the creativity that can emerge from the massive libraries of data we now can access.

So here’s something astonishing that builds on both of those themes. Gotye, the musician behind this summer’s omnipresent song Somebody That I Used to Know digs into all the covers (and parodies and so on) of this tune on YouTube, and remixes them into a new cover. Of his own song.

Reluctant as I am to add to the mountain of interpretations of Somebody That I Used To Know seemingly taking over their own area of the internet, I couldn’t resist the massive remixability that such a large, varied yet connected bundle of source material offered.

Check it out, it’s pretty great example of something very much of our moment.

Notes: Gotye acknowledges this video for inspiring his remix; he has blogged a complete catalog of his sources; and I was pleased to see he included this parody video which addresses the song’s ubiquity in a funny and relate-able way.

Video now available from Steve’s talk at Mozilla

Last week I visited Mozilla’s beautiful, dog-friendly offices to talk with their user researchers and designers. They’ve just posted the video from my presentation of We’ve done all this research, now what?. Note that the start is cut off, and it kicks in at 11:47.

Note: the slides are included in the video but for easier viewing check out a similar presentation here.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Robots Ate My Job [Marketplace] – “Robot” is a bit of a red herring…the series is really an investigation of automation, when we interact with other devices instead of a human. Not sure there are too many surprises here but it’s still great to have this topic receive some focused attention.

Special Correspondent David Brancaccio takes us on a week-long series on air, online and on social media, called “Robos Ate My Job” to explore how technology is impacting the future of jobs in America. Find out who’s winning and who’s losing at the hands of the robots.

The Strange Art of Picking a TV Title [The Hollywood Reporter] – I’d be interested in knowing if the TV people design for nicknaming. Battlestar Galactica comes BSG among the cognoscenti. Does that little hook let people take ownership as the narrative pulls them in? Around my house we call “The Simpsons” by its shorter form “Simpsons.”

Would Friends have been the same hit had NBC executives approved its original title, Six of One? Would Lost have lasted six seasons with its earlier name, Nowhere? And would Grey’s Anatomy be able to charm nearly 12 million weekly viewers had it remained Surgeons? These are the questions now haunting studio and network executives as they look to attach the perfect title — catchy, but not cheesy; clever, but not confusing; inclusive, but not vague; provocative, but not inappropriate — to their crop of pilots in contention for the fall schedule. Producers and executives agree that getting a title right is more important than ever given the increasingly crowded and fragmented television landscape, where standing out is as important as telegraphing what a show is about. And while a great title can’t carry a poor show, it can get an audience to show up, which is why networks and studios have been known to rely heavily on focus groups and the occasional consulting firm.

Alphabet Soup [More Intelligent Life] – More on the ‘how does stuff get named?’ theme. Ever dine at QV? Me neither.

Some names come out of the blue. While seeking inspiration for his new London venture in 1926, an Italian restaurateur called Pepino Leoni saw a poster for the 1925 film “Quo Vadis”. The restaurant that bears its name can still be found in Soho. In 2002, about to open a place specialising in French food, the British chef Henry Harris was forced into creative thinking by his signmaker. “He said if we didn’t come up with a name right then, we wouldn’t have a sign in time. So I put together a long list of French words, including a few writers as fillers: Beaumarchais, Moli?®re, Racine-Going through them, we went, ‘Crap, crap, crap’ until we reached Racine and someone said, ‘Racine, of course, French for root. Absolutely brilliant.’ So there it is. Both interpretations are true.” The restaurateur Will Smith explains the origin of Arbutus, in central London, thus: “We discovered there used to be an arbutus, or strawberry tree, around the corner in Soho Square. The name felt good and sounded great. It was a bit like naming a child. At first, people went, ‘Eh?’ but soon said ‘That’s interesting’ and accepted it. Also, arbutus fruit have a culinary application in Portugal, where it is made into a spirit.” So does Arbutus sell arbutus spirit? “No.”

The Personal Analytics of My Life [Stephen Wolfram Blog] – I was pretty surprised to see this was just about his email. Email is one lens into someone’s life, but it doesn’t provide much detail into what you are doing when you aren’t using email. I was hoping for something along the lines of the good ol’ Americans Use of Time Project that took a broader look. The title is definitely an overreach.

What is the future for personal analytics? There is so much that can be done. Some of it will focus on large-scale trends, some of it on identifying specific events or anomalies, and some of it on extracting “stories” from personal data.
And in time I’m looking forward to being able to ask Wolfram|Alpha all sorts of things about my life and times-and have it immediately generate reports about them. Not only being able to act as an adjunct to my personal memory, but also to be able to do automatic computational history-explaining how and why things happened-and then making projections and predictions. As personal analytics develops, it’s going to give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives. At first it all may seem quite nerdy (and certainly as I glance back at this blog post there’s a risk of that). But it won’t be long before it’s clear how incredibly useful it all is-and everyone will be doing it, and wondering how they could have ever gotten by before. And wishing they had started sooner, and hadn’t “lost” their earlier years.

This Week @ Portigal

You can tell just how busy things are by the dearth of non-This Week postings here.

  • We’ve synthesized, organized, and otherwise pummeled our data into a story. Now comes telling that story!
  • For one client, we’re creating the final presentation, honing ideas, getting feedback, finessing the wording.
  • With another client, we’re nailing down the core of the story and thinking ahead to editing video.
  • I’ll be sharing some stories and pictures from a wonderful trip to Austin.
  • What we’re consuming: Waco Brothers, Cosentino Winery Cigarzin.

This Week @ Portigal

This week we continue to swim through an ocean of data from two concurrent projects.

  • Tamara and Julie are still poring over transcripts from New York and LA. We are looking forward to hosting our clients for another co-analysis session this week..
  • We are making sense of the transcripts and spreadsheets of data from our second project. Next up- outlining the key findings and drafting the presentation!
  • Steve is down in Austin for SXSW Interactive and a little vacation time. We look forward to getting the rundown when he returns.
  • What we’re consuming: Global Home, dim sum, homemade fortune cookies

This Week @ Portigal

This week is all about data, and making sense of it

  • We’re poring over transcripts from New York and LA. We’ve killed a lot of trees with our printouts; everyone is heads down reading through interviews and making notes. Our clients are coming over for a no-doubt lively session of storytelling, analysis, debate, sticky-note madness, and pattern matching.
  • We’ve put a stake in the ground over last week’s multi-method mayhem; sharing a topline summary with those clients (now safely back at home overseas) and staging the next round of transcripts and analysis.
  • I’m off to Austin later this week for SXSW Interactive and then hanging around for some vacation time at the film festival, with some live music, tacos, and BBQ thrown in for good measure.
  • What we’re consuming: Laser Quest, The Ice Cream Bar.

Steve Portigal teaching “Immersive Field Research Techniques” at UI16

Join me for Immersive Field Research Techniques coming up November 7 in Boston at User Interface 16.

My session will be pretty similar to the recent Rosenfeld Media workshop in Seattle, which was pretty well received 🙂






If you haven’t registered yet, you can use the code STEVEP for $300 off the whole conference, or $50 of a single day.

I hope to see you there!

Steve to lead “Interviewing Users” workshop 9/28 in Seattle

As part of the Rosenfeld Media UX Workshops Fall 2011 Tour, I’ll be leading a full-day workshop – Interviewing Users: Spinning Data into Gold.

You can choose up to 3 workshops, including ones from Lou Rosenfeld and Steve Krug. Early registration (with a decent discount) ends September 9.

Bonus: the event will held at the amazing Seattle Central Library!

I hope to see you there!

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Invasion of the body hackers [FT.com / FT Magazine] – [Opportunities for data visualization abound! I find these trends simultaneously compelling and terrifying.] Over the last weekend of May, in the heart of Silicon Valley, 400 “Quantified-Selfers” from around the globe have gathered to show off their Excel sheets, databases and gadgets. Participants are mostly middle to upper class, mostly white. Europe is well represented. There are plenty of nerdy young men, nerdy older men and extremely fit men and women with defined muscles and glowing skin. There is also a robust contingent of young urban hipsters in military boots, hoodies and elaborate tattoos. A quiet middle-aged man walks around with a pulse monitor clipped to his earlobe, a blood pressure cuff on his arm and a heart rate monitor strapped around his chest, all feeding a stream of data to his walkie-talkie-like computer. Someone from the UK unrolls a 12ft line graph charting the fluctuations in his mood over the previous year.

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