Posts tagged “party”

War Stories, Live!

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This past Monday was the Interviewing Users book launch party. It was a fantastic good time. The room was filled beyond capacity with people happily diving into yummy beer, wine, snacks and desserts. We gave away 20 free copies of the book, and had the first-ever live War Stories.

It was fascinating to see how these stories, originally written for the web, changed when told aloud to an engaged crowd. Each storyteller seemed somewhat surprised that their stories produced laughter, with several folks beginning by disclaiming “I’m not going to be funny” only to produce that reaction from the group. Real human stories that involve screwups, frustration, surprise and conflict can be funny even if it’s not something we wish on anyone else. There’s a humor of recognition and also the humor that comes from the way a story is told. And they all did a great job at telling their stories, not a skill to be taken for granted. I was so impressed!

Our storytellers:

  • Kelly Braun, Senior Director, User Insights and Analytics at Walmart.com who told Pictures are language independent, about shooting fieldwork video and inadvertently getting the money shot.
  • Diane Loviglio, CEO & Co-Founder at Share Some Style told Interrupted Interview, a reminder that participants are part of larger systems that we don’t have insight into when we’re recruiting them.
  • Consumer insights professional Carla Borsoi told A dirty diaper sitting in the mud, where she encountered the outlier that illustrates a greater truth.
  • Tom Williams, Principal of Point Forward dispensed with his original story (Go With the Flow) and instead told a (richly detailed) story about an interview we did together in 1998!

Also in attendance were War Stories contributors Jon Innes (Beware of Trap Doors), Rachel Wong (Subject Matter May Be Inappropriate) and Vanessa Pfafflin (DDoSed in Vegas).

See also Susan Dray’s take on what the body of War Stories has revealed for her.

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photos courtesy of Tom Williams/Kate Edgar

Gavin’s War Story: It’s 4:00 a.m., Do You Know Where Your Ethnographer Is?

Gavin Johnston, Principal at People Path, LLC has a epic fieldwork adventure that evokes a darker version of those 80s flicks that might have starred one or both of the Coreys.

The nature of what you’re studying and the importance of context is something one should never forget. This is particularly true when the product you’re focusing on is a fusion of caffeine-infused malt liquor, Red Bull and Tang and is primarily consumed by hipster 20-somethings as they “pre-funk” on a Friday night. On the surface it sounds like the kind of thing one hears or reads about and says “Oh, poor you” with more than a touch of sarcasm. And to be fair, I’ll be the first to admit that doing ethnographic research on a topic like this is decidedly more enjoyable than studying, say, online tax preparation. Or at least it is until it’s 4:00 a.m. in the Bronx, the subway has stopped running for night and your shoulder is coated in a quickly freezing film of someone else’s vomit. This is when knowing your limits and having a back-up plan for getting back to the hotel (or out of jail) becomes as important as the camera, the training or your research experience.

The fieldwork began with a party being hosted by two young women so obsessed with the drink that they had actually dressed as cans of the product for Halloween. They were experts at finding an amazing number of uses for it, from turning empty cans into art to cooking with the neon liquid. Imagine a float made with a mix of the god-awful stuff and strawberry ice cream. As the party heated up and the list of participants grew, simply keeping up was difficult. Notepads were quickly filling up and batteries drained.

Normally, the idea is that you drink one of these concoctions to kick off the evening and one late in the evening, say midnight, to keep the party going. But that wasn’t the case with these folks. No, rather than being used to supplement the other drinks throughout the evening, the stuff was consumed exclusively, leading to what they hoped would be “mad adventures” and general mayhem. Being long past my partying days, I took it in stride, assuming it was just bravado. Fieldwork demands vigilance, so if capturing the full context of use meant losing a little sleep and stinking of cigarettes, so be it. But it turned out that much more was required.

At about 1:00, as one of the roommates found a corner in which to sleep away the night. The other grabbed two more cans of the stuff, three of her friends and me, then headed for the door, intent on getting to an obscure club in the Bronx. After a walk through a foot or so of snow, we hopped on the subway and headed out of Brooklyn. As it turned out, the obscure club was a warehouse in a deserted neighborhood. At this point my camera battery had run dry, my notebook was full from cover to cover and I was running out of steam. As I contemplated calling a cab, I realized that I was too far away, had limited cash and was in a neighborhood that no cab driver would have driven to in the first place. So I decided to continue on with my participants. In for a penny, as they say.

Not long after, around 3:00, my key informant and one of her friends tracked me down (I had lost them half an hour earlier in the crowd) and asked if I was ready to go because one of their cohort had consumed “a little too much” booze. We headed for the door. Unfortunately, making it to the subway for the last late-night train was unlikely. Instead, half an hour later I found myself, my host and her friends sitting in a subway station that was in disrepair. Thirty minutes after that, sitting on a bench in the frigid subway station, waiting for the 5:00 a.m. train, the friend that had downed a bit too much decided it was a good time to paint my shoulder with the Day-Glo contents of her stomach.

The decision to stick with it ultimately resulted in some breakthrough insights and a very happy client, so I can’t complain. But all things being equal, I would do things differently today. The experience helped remind me that it’s important to know when to bow out and how you’re going to do it. It reminded me that it’s important to set limits on what you’re willing to do in the name of research, rather than pushing yourself to the breaking point, putting yourself in harm’s way or being party to what may be questionably legal behavior. Of course, six months later I was sitting in a 130 degree attic with HVAC guys for 10 hours at a time. Sometimes it takes years for these lessons to take hold.

ChittahChattah Quickies

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood says MP3s sound good enough – [In ReadingAheda we explored the "Gold Standard" of previous generations of technology]
    SASHA FRERE-JONES: Is the MP3 a satisfactory medium for your music?

    JONNY GREENWOOD: They sound fine to me. They can even put a helpful crunchiness onto some recordings. We listened to a lot of nineties hip-hop during our last album, all as MP3s, all via AirTunes. They sounded great, even with all that technology in the way. MP3s might not compare that well to a CD recording of, say, string quartets, but then, that’s not really their point.

    SFJ: Do you ever hear from your fans about audio fidelity?

    JG: We had a few complaints that the MP3s of our last record wasn’t encoded at a high enough rate. Some even suggested we should have used FLACs, but if you even know what one of those is, and have strong opinions on them, you’re already lost to the world of high fidelity and have probably spent far too much money on your speaker-stands.
    (via kottke)

  • Yoostar lets anyone act opposite Hepburn, Brando – It's a consumer-level greenscreen system, so you can record video of yourself composited into classic movie footage. While it's amazing that this is being productized at a consumer level, the reviews make it clear that it's riddled with difficulties and limitations.
  • Microsoft tries Tupperware-party-esque promotion for Windows 7 – If you can find 9 friends and provide a decent pitch, you could be chosen to host a Windows 7 House Party and win a free signature copy of Windows 7. There are four pre-defined categories for the party: PhotoPalooza, Media Mania, Setting up with Ease, and Family Friendly Fun.

Five-minutes-ago Nostalgia

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Last night was a launch party for Pikeo, a new photo sharing application. The product comes from France Telecom-Orange R&D (here in the Bay Area) but the party was at Adobe (since they provided Flex, an ingredient technology), where we had to sign a ridiculous NDA in order to gain access to the party. Food was pretty bad, conversation was pretty good, but seeing a demo wasn’t so easy. However, they had (as the FT-Orange people often do) lots of photography going on, and a few huge screens showing the Pikeo interface. One of them was regularly being updated with images from party, in some slideshow mode. The event was being archived as it was happening, with the archive being fed back into the event itself. You could see who was in the room just by standing in one spot and watching the screen. It wasn’t earthshaking but it was at least provocative to see the normal mode (go to an event, take pictures, go home and upload them, then review other’s pictures) subverted with a bit of technology and effort.

Here’s the setup (on flickr, ironically) before many people showed up.


ZoneTag Photo Tuesday 6:35 pm 12/5/06 San Francisco, California

Originally uploaded by Marc Davis.


User Research Friday

I’ll be joining over 100 people at this event in SF on Friday. It could be mayhem, although I haven’t seen how large the space is, I’m figuring it’ll be pretty cramped. I’ll be part of a panel session; topics TBD, and I’m looking forward to the conversation and hanging out.

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