Posts tagged “facebook”

ChittahChattah Quickies

It’s been a while since I posted short snippets around links I’ve found fascinating, and while that means these stories don’t come out of this week’s news, I think they are all are provocative and worth being aware of.

Marketers change pronunciation in ads to attract shoppers [CBC] – The value of the Z as a cultural indicator when selling products in Canada. Canadian companies remind of their status by highlighting the “zed” while some American companies will create a Canadian-specific ad, replacing “zee: with “zed” (depending on the product and it’s meaning – and cost)

Because cars are so closely tied to image and identity, it’s very important to get that identity correct when speaking to Canadian car buyers. But in the end, it all comes down to dollars and cents. If the product is low-end and utilitarian, marketers will go cheap and run the U.S. product name, commercial and pronunciation in both countries.

But when there’s a risk of offending the identity of Canadian buyers of big ticket items, marketers will spend the extra loonies to do a custom version for Canada.

Threat of Death Makes People Go Shopping [Inkfish] – Here’s a finding that we really don’t want to see in the wrong hands!

Nothing says “Let’s hit the outlet mall” like nearly being wiped out by a rocket. A study of both Americans and terrorized Israelis suggests that certain people respond to the threat of death by going shopping. Because if it’s your time to go, you may as well be wearing the latest from Forever 21 Michigan State University marketing professor Ayalla Ruvio and her colleagues performed two studies of potential shoppers. The first took place in Israel. Questionnaires were handed out at a community center in a town just one kilometer from the Gaza Strip, during six months of daily rocket attacks there in 2007. The same surveys were distributed in a second town farther from the fighting, where residents were aware of the violence but not in direct danger. The questionnaires were meant to ferret out a few different answers about people. Did they experience post-traumatic symptoms such as nightmares or memory loss? Did they cope with negative feelings by buying things? How often did they return from a shopping trip with items they hadn’t meant to purchase? Other questions assessed how materialistic the subjects were-did they place a lot of value on owning nice things? Israelis who were experiencing daily rocket attacks, unsurprisingly, reported more post-traumatic stress. People who felt more stress admitted to more compulsive or impulsive shopping behaviors. And both these effects (feeling stress and going shopping) were stronger in more materialistic people. For their second study, the researchers used a group of 855 American subjects, meant to be demographically representative of the U.S. population overall. Subjects filled out an online survey that measured their materialism, shopping habits, and how much they thought about their own death, as well as other factors. Once again, for people who were more materialistic, there was a relationship between fear of death and impulse buying.

Because the more materialistic Israelis experienced more stress, the researchers think “materialism makes bad events even worse.” And when materialistic people feel threatened, they buy things they don’t really want (or maybe can’t afford). The findings don’t only apply to people living in the Middle East. Events that make people fear for their lives can include car accidents, assaults, and natural disasters. Yet Ruvio puts a positive spin on the ubiquity of trauma. “This presents an opportunity for both manufacturers of impulse items and the retailers that sell these products,” she writes. When a severe storm or a military crisis is brewing, she suggests stores put their high-profit-margin items up front where impulse shoppers will see them.

While retailers may be able to benefit from people’s crises, shoppers themselves won’t. Previous research, Ruvio writes, shows that “most materialistic individuals derive little satisfaction from their consumption activities.” So much for retail therapy.

Weird T-Shirts Designed To Confuse Facebook’s Auto-Tagging [Wired Design] – The space where conceptual art meets technology can be interesting, where working solutions can be produced to comment on the problem without fully solving it, and yet point the way to a possible future where those problems are addressed this way.

How to fight back? Just buy one of Simone C. Niquille’s “REALFACE Glamoflage” T-shirts, a series of bizarre, visage-covered garments designed specifically to give Facebook’s facial recognition software the runaround.

Niquille dreamed up the shirts as part of her master’s thesis in graphic design at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. FaceValue, as the thesis is titled, imagines new design solutions for the near-future, mining the ripe intersection of privacy, pattern recognition and biometrics. The shirts, custom-printed for around $65, are one of three such imaginings–a tongue-halfway-in-cheek tool for pushing back against the emerging trends of ubiquitous, computer-aided recognition. Covered in distorted faces of celebrity impersonators, they’re designed to keep Facebook’s algorithms guessing about what–or more accurately who–they’re looking at.

“I was interested in the T-shirt as a mundane commodity,” Niquille explains. “An article of clothing that in most cases does not need much consideration in the morning in front of the closet…I was interested in creating a tool for privacy protection that wouldn’t require much time to think in the morning, an accessory that would seamlessly fit in your existing everyday. No adaption period needed.”

Promoting Health With Enticing Photos of Fruits and Vegetables [NYT] – Bolthouse Farms created a fanciful website that visualizes food-related social media content.

“It’s not that I don’t have an Oreo every once in a while,” Mr. Putman said. “We just want folks to understand that beautiful carrots have badge value the same way peanut butter, chocolate pie does.” Having badge value means something is interesting enough to deserve a hashtag.

Bitcoin Beauties promotes use of currency by women [SFGate] – If this provides empowerment to someone, then that’s great. But I don’t understand this at all. It seems like Trending Topic + Nekkid Ladies = something.

The company’s slogan is “Beauty, Brains, Bitcoin.” Its logo is a sketch of two voluptuous, nude women, posing pin-up style beside the stylized bitcoin “B.” The company website, yet to be completed, is now a photo collage of women, some topless, silhouetted against a beach sunset. Blincoe refers to members as “our beauties.” For Blincoe, there is urgency in staking a claim for women in the highly lucrative world of bitcoin, a crypto currency that by many accounts has the potential to shape the future of how transactions take place and currency flows online. For now, the main function of Bitcoin Beauties is hosting a small-but-growing weekly gathering where women talk bitcoin.

The Anti-Digit Dialing League [Orange Crate Art] – A mostly-forgotten (and mostly unsuccessful) rebellion against a technological advance. Also see the followup here.

The Anti-Digit Dialing League was a short-lived movement that arose in 1962 and faded, it would seem, in 1964. Founded in San Francisco, the ADDL opposed “creeping numeralism” and fought a losing battle to preserve the use of telephone exchange names.

Computers are stupid

Two recent but fairly typical interactions lately serve to remind me just how stupid computers really still are.


Every time I upload pictures to Facebook, it can’t tell the difference between a photograph of a person that I know and an image from advertising, artwork, street art, or otherwise, and asks me to indicate which of my friends are in these pictures. Face recognition is gee-whiz and has some utility in this context, but if they can’t make it work properly (e.g,. no false positives) why is it being used? Why is it okay that I have to work around the computer’s mistakes?


LinkedIn runs over with suggestions for other people I might to connect to. Yesterday it encouraged me to connect with someone who recently passed away (and whose passing was widely noted). As with the previous example, our immediate reaction is “Well, how should the computer know that?” And that’s my point: we’ve become so used to working within the constraints of technology that we just shrug off this annoying, potentially offensive interactions.

I’m interested both in the limits of the technologies we use and in our enabling of those limits.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Patton Oswalt’s Letters to Both Sides: His keynote address at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 2012 [The Comic’s Comic] – We’re regularly exposed to wicked-problem discussions about complete upheaval in many industries: manufacturing, newspapers, music, books. Patton Oswalt addresses the upheaval in comedy, how he struggles with it, and how he thinks performers and producers can address it. Inspiring stuff.

You guys need to stop thinking like gatekeepers. You need to do it for the sake of your own survival…Our careers don’t hinge on somebody in a plush office deciding to aim a little luck in our direction. There are no gates. They’re gone…Comedians are getting more and more comfortable with the idea that if we’re not successful, it’s not because we haven’t gotten our foot in the door, or nobody’s given us a hand up. We can do that ourselves now. Every single day we can do more and more without you and depend on you less and less…I want you, all of the gatekeepers, to become fans. I want you to become true enthusiasts like me. I want you to become thrill-seekers. I want you to be as excited as I was when I first saw Maria Bamford’s stand-up, or attended The Paul F. Tompkins show, or listened to Sklarbro Country.

For More Pianos, Last Note Is Thud in the Dump [NYT] – Another example of the old slowly, gradually, and then finally being replaced by the new.

The value of used pianos, especially uprights, has plummeted in recent years. So instead of selling them to a neighbor, donating them to a church or just passing them along to a relative, owners are far more likely to discard them, technicians, movers and dealers say. Piano movers are making regular runs to the dump, becoming adept at dismantling instruments, selling parts to artists, even burning them for firewood…It is strange to think of them as disposable as tissues. Yet economic and cultural forces have made many used pianos, with the exception of Steinways and a few other high-end brands, prone to being jettisoned. With thousands of moving parts, pianos are expensive to repair, requiring long hours of labor by skilled technicians whose numbers are diminishing. Excellent digital pianos and portable keyboards can cost as little as several hundred dollars. Low-end imported pianos have improved remarkably in quality and can be had for under $3,000. “Instead of spending hundreds or thousands to repair an old piano, you can buy a new one made in China that’s just as good, or you can buy a digital one that doesn’t need tuning and has all kinds of bells and whistles,” said Larry Fine, the editor and publisher of Acoustic & Digital Piano Buyer, the industry bible.

Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare as Corporate Focus Groups [NYT] – A misleading headline; social media allows high quantities of shallow consumer input. In focus groups, the numbers are much smaller but there is the chance for a discussion.

Frito-Lay is developing a new potato chip flavor, which, in the old days, would have involved a series of focus groups, research and trend analysis. Now, it uses Facebook. Visitors to the new Lay’s Facebook app are asked to suggest new flavors and click an “I’d Eat That” button to register their preferences. So far, the results show that a beer-battered onion-ring flavor is popular in California and Ohio, while a churros flavor is a hit in New York. “It’s a new way of getting consumer research,” said Ann Mukherjee, chief marketing officer of Frito-Lay North America. “We’re going to get a ton of new ideas.” When Wal-Mart wanted to know whether to stock lollipop-shaped cake makers in its stores, it studied Twitter chatter. Estée Lauder’s MAC Cosmetics brand asked social media users to vote on which discontinued shades to bring back. The stuffed-animal brand Squishable solicited Facebook feedback before settling on the final version of a new toy. And Samuel Adams asked users to vote on yeast, hops, color and other qualities to create a crowdsourced beer, an American red ale called B’Austin Ale that got rave reviews. “It tells us exactly what customers are interested in,” said Elizabeth Francis, chief marketing officer of the Gilt Groupe. Gilt asks customers to vote on which products to include in a sale, and sets up Facebook chats between engineers and customers to help refine products. “It’s amazing that we can get that kind of real feedback, as opposed to speculating,” Ms. Francis said.

Women Outdoors [Metropolis] – A review of an interesting new book Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets.

Mumbai’s public spaces belong to all of its 13 million inhabitants, but at any time of day or night the ratio of men to women is glaringly disproportionate. Men have no qualms about hanging around on street corners or at tea stalls, but women make a point of looking busy, striding with purpose, or talking on their cell phones. Thousands of women travel by trains or buses, but it’s not easy for them to find a toilet, a park bench, or any public place in which to linger. “If Mumbai is the best city for women in India,” says the sociologist Shilpa Phadke, “then the bar is set very low indeed.” Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets, coauthored by Phadke, the architect Shilpa Ranade, and the journalist Sameera Khan, takes a close look at the public spaces of a city where women are said to live more independently than anywhere else in India. But over three years of “extensive, not intensive” research through ethnographies, mapping, interviews, and workshops, the authors found that the city doesn’t quite live up to its egalitarian reputation. And while the book is specific to Mumbai, the ideas in it apply to any metropolis – are public spaces anywhere truly gender neutral?

Can Geoengineering Solve Global Warming? [The New Yorker] – A discussion of innovation in the context of a wicked problem provides some delicious quotes.

“What is fascinating for me is the way the innovation process has changed,” Eisenberger said. “In the past, somebody would make a discovery in a laboratory and say, ‘What can I do with this?’ And now we ask, ‘What do we want to design?,’ because we believe there is powerful enough knowledge to do it. That is what my partner and I did”…”There is a strong history of the system refusing to accept something new,” Eisenberger said. “People say I am nuts. But it would be surprising if people didn’t call me crazy. Look at the history of innovation! If people don’t call you nuts, then you are doing something wrong.”

ChittahChattah Quickies

The Philosophy of Food Project [University of North Texas] – Food is definitely delightfully deep. This ambitious project covers such ground as Food Metaphysics, Gustatory Aesthetics and Food Identity. Rich fare. For a little mental sorbet, watch a meditative video of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger included on their Links page. Sit back, relax, and ponder the meaning of flat meats and reluctant ketchup.

The Philosophy of Food Project is housed in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at the University of North Texas. It aims to disseminate information about the philosophical investigation of food; increase the visibility of food as a topic for philosophical research; serve as a resource for researchers, teachers, students, and the public; galvanize a community of philosophers working on food issues; and help raise the level of public discourse about food, agriculture, animals, and eating. The role of philosophy is to cut through the morass of contingent facts and conceptual muddle to tackle the most basic questions about food: What is it exactly? How do we know it is safe? What should we eat? How should food be distributed? What is good food? These are simple yet difficult questions because they involve philosophical questions about metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. Other disciplinary approaches may touch on these questions concerning food but only philosophy addresses them explicitly.

Airline lets passengers choose seat partners based on social media profiles [Springwise] – A clever concept at first glance, and certainly a perfectly understandable, some might even say natural use of social media, right? But I question the utility here, and the ability to produce repeatable positive experiences in real life. Do they realize that on airplanes you are stuck next to that person for the next x-amount of hours? The mind reels with potential horror stories. I for one still want some part of IRL to be uninfluenced by social media. Maybe that’s particularly so for me, as a middle-aged presumed-introvert. I dunno… do others have a different response to this?

KLM are reportedly developing a similar service to enable passengers to choose who they sit next to on their flight. However, unlike MHBuddy, which operates solely through Facebook, KLM’s new Meet and Seat service will enable passengers to access their fellow travelers’ LinkedIn profiles as well. The Meet and Seat service will allow passengers to choose their in-flight neighbors based on their occupation, mutual interests and appearance. By connecting to LinkedIn and Facebook during online check-in, passengers will be able to pick their ideal seat buddy, although both parties will have to choose to participate in the service. KLM believe it will provide an opportunity for networking, though other reports suggest it’s more likely to be used as a matchmaking tool.

The Art of Video Games [Smithsonian] – I am seriously tempted to make a trip to DC to see this exhibit. It takes an art historical approach, considering the video game as a serious art form in it’s own right, both reflecting our culture and in many senses, helping to shape it.

The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. The exhibition will feature some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers…Video games use images, actions, and player participation to tell stories and engage their audiences. In the same way as film, animation, and performance, they can be considered a compelling and influential form of narrative art. New technologies have allowed designers to create increasingly interactive and sophisticated game environments while staying grounded in traditional game types. The exhibition will feature eighty games through still images and video footage.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Seer of the mirror world [The Economist] – Embedded in this article, along with Gelernter’s thoughts about designing technology and some future-casting (expect more software agent-bots!), is some good drama about patent wars among the tech-cognoscenti.

“Google is commercially successful and dazzlingly imaginative but I don’t see what I would like to see from them, or Facebook or Twitter,” says Dr Gelernter. “They’re not turning on their imaginations”… As ever, Dr Gelernter’s excitement about the potential of new technology is tempered by frustration that too little attention is paid to aesthetic and social factors. “A lot of convenience and power could be gained, and a lot of unhappiness, irritation and missed opportunities avoided, if the industry thought about design, instead of always making it the last thing on the list,” he says. “We need more people who are at home in the worlds of art and the humanities and who are less diffident in the presence of technology. There are not enough articulate Luddite, anti-technology voices.” It is not the sort of thing you expect to hear from a professor of computer science, let alone the victim of an anti-technology extremist. But as well as having foreseen the future of computing, over his career Dr Gelernter has developed a clear understanding of humans’ conflicted relationship with the technology on which they increasingly rely.

Making Noise About People Who Talk to Their Cellphones [NYT Bits Blog] – Behaviors and sensitivities are explored and exposed as voice-activated software adds to the out-loud interactions people can have with their mobile devices now. The reaction as people feel subjected to these interactions is much more negative than we’d have (culturally) to the old-fashioned practice of overhearing two people talking, or the more desirable and salacious hobby of eavesdropping!

“As I was waiting in a Southwest Airlines cattle queue to fly back east for Thanksgiving, I was subjected to 15 minutes of listening to the man behind me as he dictated all the details of a prostate surgery into his ‘personal’ assistant,” wrote Exiled In MO from St. Louis. “People have simply lost all knowledge of what constitutes personal space and appropriate public behavior. What a noisy, sad world we’ve made.”

ChittahChattah Quickies

Separating You and Me? 4.74 Degrees – In 2008, Microsoft found the number to be 6.6; it depends on how one defines a connection. Can we infer anything from Facebook having a looser definition than Facebook?

Adding a new chapter to the research that cemented the phrase “six degrees of separation” into the language, scientists at Facebook and the University of Milan reported that the average number of acquaintances separating any two people in the world was not six but 4.74. The original “six degrees” finding, published in 1967 by the psychologist Stanley Milgram, was drawn from 296 volunteers who were asked to send a message by postcard, through friends and then friends of friends, to a specific person in a Boston suburb. The new research used a slightly bigger cohort: 721 million Facebook users, more than one-tenth of the world’s population.

Who Uses SpiderOak? – More Personas Leaking Outside the Enterprise. Just because you have personas in your development process doesn’t mean you need to make that your marketing. It’s bad enough that you think and talk about your customers this way, at least have the good manners not to talk TO them this way.

Gavin the Geek – Gavin is a geek. He has been for as long as he can remember. Instead of playing with toy guns, he was ripping apart and rebuilding the Atari – a gift to his dad when he was a young boy. In his spare time, he builds servers for friends. In his professional time, he builds servers for friends. And then he gets to administer them all. Making sure they are all backed up, frequently, painlessly, and securely is crucial in maintaining his sanity. SpiderOak bounces into Gavin’s domain. Now, he can load SpiderOak on all of the servers, keep all the data secure, run everything from the command line, keep out of trouble, and never have to worry if, by chance, he didn’t build the server just right…

5 Ways to Think About Nuisance Fees [NYT.com] – Some great deconstruction of the way we respond to different types of fees, pointing towards some design principles for the creation of fees. The examples in this article are consistent with what we’ve heard in a number of studies.

The discussion starts with a three-pronged test of whether the fee is reasonable: is it fair, is it disclosed and do you have a choice about paying it? Fairness is the least clear, but Robin Block, a retired actuary in Manhattan, argues that the fee must have some relationship to the actual cost of providing the item or service. By that definition, the 3 percent currency conversion fees that credit and debit card issuers levy are unfair. Ditto the $10 or so a day that rental car agencies charge for GPS devices that retail for $100. Bank of America’s effort to charge $5 a month for debit cards is an interesting case study in this context of cost, given that it said that it all but had to add the fee because of new rules that limited what it could charge merchants for accepting the cards.

Ambidextrous magazine shuts down – Although their website is not with this sad news, here’s the email I just got. You can see my contributions here, here, and here.

We know it’s been a while and you’ve maybe wondered what has been going on with us. The global financial crisis, revolutions, The New York Times now charging online… a lot has happened. And with the downturn and the state of publishing, it has been tough. We fought as long as we could and unfortunately must now close Ambidextrous. The magazine has been a labor of love, but it has unfortunately not been organizationally and financially sustainable. Since 2005, we’ve done our best to help designers share their stories and to build a movement around that. As a movement, Ambidextrous will live on, and we should have conversations about what great next steps are for fostering intellectual discussion and sharing in the design community. It’s the community that makes us hopeful and pushes us to find the next outlet, the next forum, the next thing for us to collaborate on. So keep in touch. Share your ideas. Let’s meet again soon.

Stories behind the themes: Relational Connections

Welcome to the next installment of an unfolding bibliography of secondary research that fueled our generation of themes for the Omni project. Today we are focusing on the relational role of technology as a facilitator, participant, and obstacle. This broadly encompasses relationships between human and technology, humans and other humans, human with self, and even technology with technology. The nature of our relationships are changing, as our the tools that are available for us to make meaning of the data that they embody and generate. The items below begin to unpack this tangled web of interconnectedness along with rituals that arise and recede in response to progress and its discontents.

The tribesman who Facebook friended me [salon.com] – Really astonishing piece, especially since the whole “picture of a Kalahari desert warrior on a mobile phone” images became totally overdone in our field 15 years ago. Very intriguing characterization of the limited exposure to ideas this tribe had and in a very short time they are on Facebook. This article implicates technology in the evolution and revolution of relationships with (and within) tribes that hitherto were characterized by a lack of interaction with the rest of the globe.

But, what I am here to tell you is that it’s happening now.¬† We now live in a world in which a tribe that had not even heard of a feathered arrow until two years ago, can access every idea in the world.¬† For the first time in history, humanity is truly open-access.¬† Our entire species is “logged in.”¬† Should we mourn the passing of a phase in our history when bands of human minds still lived in isolation, or rejoice that we are finally all on the same page?

Life in the Age of Extremes [theatlantic.com] – The internet (which he seems to conflate or equate with processing power and computing capabilities) enables extreme reactions and responses that have great destructive potential. The author argues that interconnectedness via the internet amplifies feedback loops and therefore catalyzes extreme states and transforms the value of individual contributions within these collective contexts.

Optimists have long dominated the cyber-landscape, firm and vocal in their belief that the Internet creates a more transparent world, and that the quick and easy access to information it provides is bringing the global population together into one enlightened chorus of harmony. I have been deeply concerned that the Internet has created a centrifugal force that has the potential to tear us apart. The Internet’s reinforcement of uncompromising positions during acrimonious budget debate in Washington, the Internet-facilitated, high-frequency trading driving volatility in financial markets, and the use of Twitter to organize the recent street riots in the UK brought to mind Eric Hobsbawm’s 1994 book, The Age of Extremes. The book is about the extreme historical events of what Hobsbawm called “the short 20th century.” But he could just as easily have been writing about the 21st century, the Internet age.

Pew Internet Research Report [pewinternet.org] – Results of a recent study about cell phone use. Ironically, of the 2,277 interviews conducted about cell phones, 1,522 interviews were conducted by landline phone, and only 755 interviews were conducted by cell phone (that’s about 33%). So here we have a study that evokes questions about how we relate to others via technology and how that very relationship facilitates the study of the relationship. Is this relational research recursion?

83% of American adults own some kind of cell phone–and these devices have an impact on many aspects of their owners’ daily lives. Half of all adult cell owners (51%) had used their phone at least once to get information they needed right away. One quarter (27%) said that they experienced a situation in the previous month in which they had trouble doing something because they did not have their phone at hand.

When Roommates were Random [nytimes.com] – How technology is mitigating the influence of serendipity and randomness. Fueled the conversation of X before Y, i.e. how did we do X before Y came along?

It’s just one of many ways in which digital technologies now spill over into non-screen-based aspects of social experience.¬† I know certain people who can’t bear to eat in a restaurant they haven’t researched on Yelp. And Google now tailors searches to exactly what it thinks you want to find. But this loss of randomness is particularly unfortunate for college-age students, who should be trying on new hats and getting exposed to new and different ideas. Which students end up bunking with whom may seem trivial at first glance. But research on the phenomenon of peer influence – and the influences of roommates in particular – has found that there are, in fact, long-lasting effects of whom you end up living with your first year.

The Rebirth of the Ringtone [theatlantic.com] – A little ditty about the rise, fall, and rise again of audible cell phone rings, alternatively about the rise and fall of ‘vibrate’ setting. Begins to track some of the rituals of taming technology to comply with social norms and how our personal (i.e. ringtone) choices are reflective of our relationships and (in some cases) responsible for them.

I rarely hear a phone ring these days. Hell, I’m lucky if I catch a stray beep. Only those without much experience in the wireless world continue to derive pleasure from hearing “Achy Breaky Heart” every time an acquaintance calls. A phone on vibrate gives you a slight informational advantage over the people around you, but at the cost of your public identification with a kind of music. Somehow, putting your phone on vibrate seemed politely self-interested, not just plain sneaky.

Does The Internet Make You More Or Less Connected? [npr.org] – There are two sides to the coin of constant connectedness. The distraction from immediate social situations is real, but so is the fact that connections with people can be more frequent and relationships can blossom using technology.

The distractions play an even more aggressive role when it comes to my connection with myself. Most of the moments once reserved for a little alone time have been infiltrated by the realtime Internet. I never just wait for a bus, or just stand in line at a bank, or even just sit and think as I sit stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. At these moments, I pull my phone out of my pocket faster than a gunfighter pulls his weapon out of its holster.

Information Consumes Attention Focus In The Age of Abundant Stimulus [boingboing.net] – The paradox of focus and how it can be improved by meditation and pleasure. A lovely little respite that suggests strengthening our relationship with the present moment and our Self in order to better navigate the influx of attention-grabbing information.

The most promising solution to our attention problem, in Gallagher’s mind, is also the most ancient: meditation. Neuroscientists have become obsessed, in recent years, with Buddhists, whose attentional discipline can apparently confer all kinds of benefits even on non-Buddhists. (Some psychologists predict that, in the same way we go out for a jog now, in the future we’ll all do daily 20-to-30-minute “secular attentional workouts.”) Meditation can make your attention less “sticky,” able to notice images flashing by in such quick succession that regular brains would miss them. It has also been shown to elevate your mood, which can then recursively stoke your attention: Research shows that positive emotions cause your visual field to expand.

Love in the Time of Robots: A Duet With Siri [theatlantic.com] – Interview with creator of the viral song/video duet between human and iPhone. This delightful little duet touches on how we derive meaning from our relationships with our devices and gets us wondering about artificial interpersonal communication.

Do you think humans will actually fall in love with their robots one day? Is it happening already? OOOOOOh. Yes. I’m really infatuated with the idea of machines eventually being capable of love. I think it’s kind of inevitable, but I don’t really expect to see it in my lifetime.

 

 

Put your money where your meme is: #dollars4boobies

Two nights ago I (and 194 others) received a Facebook message from an old friend. It outlined instructions for a post with the noble intentions of raising breast cancer awareness (spoiler alert) with instructions not to share with men. This conjures up a saying that has become something of a personal mantra for me: We often judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.

It was undoubtedly with the best of intentions that someone sent me the message below; with the quite noble intention of raising awareness about breast cancer.

 

 

Sadly, I must turn a critical eye towards the ensuing actions because I genuinely believe they failed to support the noble intention. Why? I hypothesize that, in some ways similar to previous year’s viral FB booby-supporting memes this generates a flurry of chatter that is unfortunately decontextualized from the cause. In fact, in my case it was directed at all of the possible things I could/should or could not/should not do for 18 months in Amsterdam¬†and numerous requests for clarification. And, for the record, I am certain that they do not let you on a¬†plane from Amsterdam to the US with seeds. Fortunately, I believe Steve is still in the midst of a Facebook Fast (and boy, he ain’t alone) and has yet to ask me just how I intend to continue working here if I am overseas. (see? we’ve gotten a little far afloat from breast cancer here)

 

I recognize that my actions here (i.e. demystifying the meme) may derail the breast cancer awareness mission, but my intention is simply to direct some energy towards activities that have a more direct impact on the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s mission “to save lives by increasing awareness of breast cancer through education and by providing mammograms for those in need”. So, to walk my talk, I just made a (modest little) donation to support the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

So I’d like to offer up a reframe of this whole meme business: If you love boobies (and quite frankly, who doesn’t?)¬† make a donation and use your FB status to celebrate your own actions! And you can tweet that, too, if you are feeling meme-y and aren’t up in a fuss about the word boobies (because some actually are). Come on people, get a pair. Or give a couple bucks to support someone else’s. #dollars4boobies

Tech relationship similes

Over the past week or so, I’ve noticed some of the ways folks in the media frame and express our relationship to entities we interact with on the web. There’s something odd about the murkiness of roles and power dynamics. One thing is for sure – it’s gone far beyond the consumer-producer relationship.

To Daniel Soar of the London Review of Books, with Google, users are like teachers. By interacting with Google we are unwittingly instructing the machine, giving it lessons on human behavior. I like to think Google, the distributed Google-monster, finds us fascinating, an enormous virtual Andy Warhol.

We teach [Google] while we think it’s teaching us. Levy tells the story of a new recruit with a long managerial background who asked Google’s senior vice-president of engineering, Alan Eustace, what systems Google had in place to improve its products. ‘He expected to hear about quality assurance teams and focus groups’ – the sort of set-up he was used to. ‘Instead Eustace explained that Google’s brain was like a baby’s, an omnivorous sponge that was always getting smarter from the information it soaked up.’ Like a baby, Google uses what it hears to learn about the workings of human language. The large number of people who search for ‘pictures of dogs’ and also ‘pictures of puppies’ tells Google that ‘puppy’ and ‘dog’ mean similar things, yet it also knows that people searching for ‘hot dogs’ get cross if they’re given instructions for ‘boiling puppies.’

To Matthew Creamer of Ad Age, with Facebook, we are like disgruntled, unpaid employees. A more pointless, powerless role may not exist!

Some things are lost with each one of these Facebook changes, but they are not only matters of usability, navigation, privacy and other factors in our part-time but ever-more-involving jobs working as ad impressions for a rich company in Palo Alto, Calif. The stuff that inconveniences you in the short-term may make you rage with a hotness that, if spotted by an alien scout, would either send the visitor whimpering back to Zebulon or alarm him onto war footing, but it’s only so important. You will adapt. Or you will leave.

So, have they got it right? Are we teachers? Employees? Something else? Have you noticed other examples? How would you describe your relationship to Google or Facebook?

See Steve’s recent related post on Facebook changes, in which the above Matthew Creamer quote is cited as a comment.

We make change. It’s what we do.

Here’s a snippet from What Was Facebook’s Best Redesign, Anyway? [Technologizer]

I had fun looking back at the fruitless nature of Facebook redesign backlash. No one is surprised anymore when a redesigned Facebook home page-such as the one that rolled out today-causes an outrage.

But that made me wonder: what design, exactly, do people want? Was there ever a single home page layout to which Facebook users, given the choice, would happily revert? In other words, have we cooked up in our minds some ideal vision of an “old Facebook” that never really existed?

I’d like to declare this as a National Week of Umbrage. Between Netflix and Facebook, it’s been a strange few days. And still, we have our share of “It’s just a [blank], get over it!” and (as in that post) “What do people WANT?” Sadly, most of it misses the point. While there are definitely features that suck (wait, I’ve got to manage two queues? wait, you’ve reordered stories from the friends I just recategorized according to what scheme again?) and of course features that are improved, this is really about how you manage change. This isn’t, ultimately, about features. Facebook is the social OS for many many people. Netflix is the entertainment OS for many many people. We invest countless hours in using the thing, including setting it up just the way we want. That’s our choice, in fact, it’s almost an imperative. I can organize my fridge and my sock drawer in a way that I find appealing, satisfying, efficient, or whatever. And no, I don’t have to be on the autism spectrum to do that and to find reward from doing that.

When things change, without warning, without rationale, without a clear sense of how things are different – and better – for me, without an easy way to adjust to the changes, then we’ve got a problem. Google Docs redesigned something or other the other day. Today I previewed the changes. They are vaguely dramatic, aesthetically. But my workflow hasn’t changed, and I will adjust. I didn’t find myself unable to find my docs, or having to do more work instead. I’d hardly hold up Google as some ideal user-centered culture, but they seem, in general, to roll out redesigns, and even business changes, without a lot of teeth-gnashing on our part.

The intimate relationships we have with these services are indeed emotional ones. When change is foisted surprisingly on you, it’s unsettling.

Change is inevitable, necessary, good. But I’d love to see some less-hamfisted rollouts, and I’d love to see these companies understand – at the very fiber of their being – how much we are connected to their products and how their brutish ways make us feel. It’s not the medium, it’s the lack of message.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Park guests instantly share photos on Facebook [Springwise]. – This direct-to-Facebook publishing service does well by first addressing a real need: the difficulty waterpark visitors have toting electronics around the sodden environs. It also points to how key Facebook has become as a repository for photos. Might as well just eliminate a bunch of steps and put the images of you and your soaked friends right where they’re gonna end up anyway! Back in the olden days they might have provided kiosks to print the photos out upon exit, or even sent them to guests’ emails. This blurb doesn’t address it, but having fallen victim to the RFID-driven pricing schemes of waterparks myself, I would bet they are charging handsomely for this service. If so, through adding value, Great Wolf has figured out how to make guests pay for to provide the park with an authentic social-advertising engine.

At the Great Wolf Lodge chain of waterpark resorts, visitors can use RFID-enabled wristbands to transmit photos to Facebook over the course of their stay. Guests at Great Wolf Lodge resorts already use RFID wristbands as room keys and in-house charge accounts. Now, beginning at the chain’s property in Grand Mound, Washington, its new Great Wolf Connect service allows guests to register their wristbands at a dedicated kiosk and link them directly to their Facebook account as well. Then, when they stop to pose for a photo at any of the park’s five camera-equipped “Paw Posts,” guests simply scan their wristband and their photo can be automatically posted to their Facebook wall.

ChittahChattah Quickies

Woods+ [Ftrain.com]. – Absurdist reaction to Google+. I love how slightly changing names/words and bluntly feeding back common behavior on social networks conjures such a sinister vision of the social landscape, while at the same time belittling the battle. It’s bringing on flashes of A Clockwork Orange.

I know it’s confusing. But this is their competitor to Facebook basically. Except you can list your friends. That’s the circles. But it’s easier to remember if you call them holes. Like I could have a friend hole and an acquaintance hole and a K-hole. And they give you a list of friends and you stuff them in the hole, like Silence of the Lambs, except you are sending them images and text messages and hanging out with them on video chats…Anyway, the new thing from the Gootch makes it really easy to sort people into the holes, which is good, because this lets you divide people into clusters and lie to each group in different ways, which makes it easier to preserve the fictions that make up our polite racist society. And it looks pretty sweet and works well so far, which probably means that there will be a huge battle-in-earnest between the Gootch and the Books, between Circles and Friends.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] rep.licants.org – enhanced virtual self – [I'm trying this although I may come to regret it; meanwhile the notion is so fascinating, giving virtual extensions of our presence and personality to make us "more" human in our interactions rather than less human!] rep.licants.org is a web service allowing users to install an artificial intelligence (bot) on their Facebook and/or Twitter account. From keywords, content analysis and activity analysis, the bot attempts to simulate the activity of the user, to improve it by feeding his account and to create new contacts with other users…The bot does not born with a fictitious identity, but will be added to the real identity of the user to modify it at his convenience. Thus, this bot can be seen as a virtual prosthesis added to an user's account. With the aim to help him to forge a digital identity of what he would really like to be and by trying to build a greater social reputation for the user.
  • [from julienorvaisas] Venture Inside China’s Tiny Public Housing Cubes [Flavorwire] – [A surprising variety is borne of extreme domestic constraints: approaches and techniques for featuring and concealing objects, decoration and overall effect or mood.] The dwellers of the Shek Kip Mei Estate public housing project in Hong Kong occupy just ten feet by ten feet of living space. The humble rooms that originally served as relocation units for fire victims in the 1950s are furnished with bunk beds. The crowded units balloon with dozens of plastic bags for all-purpose storage and are decorated with a varying amount of patriotic paraphernalia.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Facebook Policy Spurs Big Pharma to Rethink Social Media [Advertising Age] – [Beyond challenges such as authenticity, relevancy and voice, social media presence is a regulatory risk for brands in some industries.] Being forced to enable comments on its Facebook pages puts pharmaceutical companies at risk of running afoul of the current FDA regulations, even if it's just consumers making the comments. For instance, if a company has a branded page for an antacid, and a consumer comments that it helped lower his blood pressure as well, that's considered off-label promotion. "The Facebook decision is entirely consistent with what Facebook is designed to be — interactive. A Facebook page with the interactivity turned off is just a static web page residing on an interactive platform. And that isn't what Facebook is all about. It's time for regulated industry to step up to the plate and embrace the powerful tool that is real-time interactivity."
  • [from steve_portigal] Focus Groups That Look Like Play Groups [NYTimes.com] – [The lede, emphasizing focus groups, is misleading. The article explores a range of methods that market researchers are using. Maybe some novel ideas in here but also a good artifact of the popular press discourse about how we work.] Mr. Denari’s agency takes a different tack, interviewing consumers in their homes and leaving them with journals called “Little Truth Books” for a week or two. “It forces people to think a little more deeply than they normally would,” Mr. Denari said. When Ugly Mug Coffee wanted to retool its brand, Mr. Denari’s agency asked consumers to use the journals to draw family trees showing which family members were coffee drinkers. They were also asked to list some of the worst things about coffee, what their coffee “cut-off time” was and why they drank it at all. “The whole goal is the get to the heart,” Mr. Denari said. The research helped Ugly Mug create new packaging and expand distribution. [via @serota]
  • [from steve_portigal] A gelato-less June [Gelatobaby] – [Interesting to see how blogs can structure/support deliberate habit changes.] I wrote an essay pledging to fly less to reduce my environmental impact. (I’m actually only allowing myself one round-trip flight per month, compared to the 23 trips I took last year.) My friend Greg Lindsay, author of the new book Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next pointed out that my air miles were nothing compared to the footprint of my gelato habit. A United Nations report from last year noted that “agriculture accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.” I’m hoping that I can fill my gelato-less days with facts and information about where my dairy is coming from, how it’s produced, and if­if!­I might even come to love some dairy-free options. Suffice it to say, this is going to be an extremely enlightening 30 days. Especially since I have just discovered that the LA Weekly has embarked upon 30 Scoops in 30 Days project.

Don’t Bother, Braun

Today, I am proud to carry on the lively tradition of eviscerating… I mean, learning valuable lessons from other folk’s attempts at research. I will be examining a Braun-fielded poll that appeared on my Facebook page. (Recent notable additions to the oeuvre include Jared Spool’s 19 Lessons from United Airlines on How To Build a Crappy Survey and Steve’s imagined reaction to a Netflix survey, Effective Concept Testing: Getting the Answers You Want to Hear!)

OK, here it is:

I have a few questions.

1) Who? The pollsters don’t seem to care that I am neither a fan nor a consumer of Braun shavers specifically, or of electric shavers in general. They’ve got the audience all wrong. To respond would merely be to sabotoge their data-set in response to the absurdity. Which of course I wouldn’t dream of doing!

2) What is the purpose of this (Part I)? What is the marketing or social media team going to do with this information? What is the business question behind this? Knowing, as they must, that the data will be terribly corrupted, they can’t possibly believe that they’re actually getting useful information. So maybe it’s just one of these crazy social media ploys that appears to be important research but is really a bit of marketing designed at the level of a made-you-look joke?

3) What is the purpose of this (Part II)? If they just want me to look, then what did they want me to think upon having seen this survey/ad/poll? Is is supposed to intrigue me into thinking, “GOSH now I do wonder how new and different Braun shavers actually are! Let me look into that and then get back to them on this relevant question.” (If so, where’s the link?) Or is it, “Wow – Braun makes electric shavers!” Or is it merely an unconscious, Pavlovian Braaaaauuuuunn they’re trying to get? “Oh yeah, Braun is a brand. I need a shave.” Or do they really just want me to answer their ridiculous question?

4) Can it make sense, please? Don’t ask me to compare Braun, a brand responsible for a wide variety of consumer products, to the more specific but still questionable category of “other electric shavers.” I can’t compare things that are not comparable.

5) “New and Different?” Really? New and different are not necessarily positives, especially as those attributes relate to whirring blades that come into contact with your body parts. Is this the most important consumer response that the marketing team is really hoping to understand, if, in fact, they are hoping to understand anything at all?

6) Wait… anonymous or not? The question mark there, which (I know, I know) is a what-does-this-mean question mark probably linking to a privacy policy still reads like a sleazy wink. Fingers crossed! Your response may or may not be kept anonymous.

Even though I’ve no doubt that this is an insignifiant throw-away in the overall universe of Braun marketing, it definitely made an impression. If you’re going to bother to ask people questions, know who you’re asking and make it seem, even just a little bit, like the whole exercise matters to you.

We’ve learned quite a bit from other people’s surveys many times before:
Bad Survey Design. Please Stop!
Son of Survey
Son of Survey Madness
Thank You For Voting
The Space Between Yes and No
Does Calling it a Report Card Make it Not a Survey?
Survey Revenge

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