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Reading Ahead: A Research by Portigal Consulting August 29, 2009

Posted by psychobserver in Customer Experience, Ethnographic Research, Innovation, Research, Trends.
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Investigating the “reading experience” and “physical versus digital books” has to be one of the most interesting research topics available out there. Reading is one of the deepest experiences we have with “things” / “content” and it is presently facing (and resisting still) the new technologies available and other tensions that could entirely change that experience.

Steve Portigal and Dan Soltzberg from Portigal Consulting just released the findings from a really interesting research study they performed on the topic called Reading Ahead (study performed out of their own interest). I strongly recommend checking out their different blog posts about this and especially listening to their findings presentation.

Basically it is so good it got me to post again after such a long time away from my blog…

Note: I won’t summarize the study here as my post is already pretty long, so to fully put my reflections below into perspective, it’s better to look at their slides and listen to their presentation first (the presentation lasts 1 hour and 20 minutes).

There are several thoughts that came to me as I was listening to the presentation. Let me try to structure a few below.

Device Integration: Loss of Important Emotional Stimuli
Steve and Dan go through a lot of impacts arising from going towards a digital reading experience. One impact they mention is the loss of a direct link between the object (the book) and a set of memories or emotions. A book is a physical object and it ages. When you see it on your shelves or take it in your hands, it will automatically trigger specific memories (when you bought it, where you read it), specific feelings or moods. Taking an ebook reader in hand, will stimulate an emotional response as well, but using a single device for reading will make this response much shallower and less rich, as the response will mostly be linked to the device instead of the individual book.

As I listened to the talk I thought about a similar revolution that happened in the past when emails appeared to replace normal mail. Letters are single objects in themselves and are directly attached to memories, moods and other people. In the past, we were free to store these letters in different places according to the emotions they would trigger. Now, with emails (and this is re-inforced by the huge quantity of emails we receive), this link has totally disappeared. Going back to our archive in our email client and digging an old email will not have by far the same effect as reopening a box where we stored all our love letters. And this leads to a different type of emotional attachment, where users are attached to the device (the email client or the eBook reader) rather than the actual content (mails or books).

A changing world: Speed Versus Reflection
Right after listening to the presentation, I read this article from the Los Angeles Times called “The Lost Art of Reading” by David L. Ulin. This article strongly reinforces the insights extracted from Steve and Dan’s research to show how deep the reading experience is. It also highlights a very important fact which is that books are not only fighting a war against technology. They are also fighting a war against our changing way of lives.

As the article discusses, we live in a world where speed is of the essence – where we need to react to information we gather in the next second in fear of losing our edge. Books are all about a different way of life. Books can take years to write and for the most part could not care less about current events happening on the day you read them. Books are about unplugging (term used in Steve and Dan’s study) yourself from the world. Books are about reflecting on things. And these are less and less tolerated in the world today… but I am wandering off topic here (as I usually do), as this concerns the future of reading books in general and not the tension between physical and digital books.

Design Opportunities: Giving Life to Notes
Steve and Dan at the end of their report go through some opportunities that digital books’ designs can integrate to make the digital reading experience a stronger contender against the traditional reading experience. One that they do not discuss (unless I missed it) is notes. I would split notes into two categories in the reading experience: notes from the author and notes from the reader. Both of these categories of notes could be revolutionized by the advent of digital reading.

What would added interactivity do to author’s notes for example? What if you could click on a referenced article the author mentions and read that article the next second? Or even get a review/summary and ulitmately purchase another book the author also happens to cite? This would add a new depth to books and provide an exceptional experience to the reader (not to mention a great marketing opportunity for publishers). As Steve and Dan discuss in their presentation, this can of features would have to rely on a great ecosystem to provide this integrated experience. That’s something not in place at all today (especially outside of the US).

The other category of notes is user notes and this is where to me there is an even greater opportunity. Right now, you can highlight things in a book or put sticky papers on pages you think are interesting. What about searching for a term you saw in the book after you finished reading or looking up all the pages where another author is referenced? What about building yourself a set of quotes and comments about the book that you typed as you where reading and that are organized and retrievable anywhere after you’re done reading? What about co-reading even? See what people felt or commented as they read the book you are reading. What if the digital book allowed you to share your experience with other readers thus giving the digital book a life of its own, turning each book into a vertical social network almost…

As usual, I am just following a spur of the moment to write this post and I ought to have put more reflection into it (sorry… I am a product of the new changing world where speed is everything), but I do hope that it can even so modestly contribute a tiny bit to the discussion surrounding books and the reading experience. I am personally a big fan of physical books, but if the digital reading experience and a good ecosystem were in place, I would definitely juggle between both physial and digital reading (similarly to the way I do with CDs and digital music).

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The end of User-Generated Content? March 8, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Innovation, Newsweek, Social Networking, Trends, User Experience, Web 2.0.
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The end of user-generated content? Really?! With social networks, blogs, wikis and more new similar applications appearing every day, who would defend such an idea? It is at first glance what Newsweek seems to be doing with their article: “Revenge of the Experts” (found through Putting People First blog). But is it really what they are saying?

Revenge of the ExpertsThe debate is not really about whether user-generated content will disappear or not. People will continue to generate content. And with the increasing power of applications and tools we have within our grasp, we will continue to generate more and more content. But it is the role of this content that we generate that will be changing. With all the excitement brought by “Web 2.0” (for lack of a better word) about common user doing the job of experts and companies using them to build a business model, we forgot that experts did not appear out of nowhere. Experts are here because, well, they are experts! They are much better at doing something than other people, and they should be rewarded for that. The tools that we now have available helped closing the gap between real expertise and perceived one, but the difference remains nevertheless.

The fact that blogs exist for example does not mean we can all be good reporters or journalists. It only means that we can all publish stuff. The fact that we can now comment on articles on most of the major magazines and newspapers, does not make us more expert than the person writing that article. And actually if we go beyond the facade of user-generated content, we discover that most content, as highlight in the article, is generated by a very small group of people. In the end, to create quality content to all can refer to, you need experts. Wikipedia just showed that an amazing tool could be created by offering a place where experts from a wide range of fields could aggregate all their knowledge, but it omitted to include a clear accountability review on the quality of each contributor.

In every such discussions I have these days everything boils down back to the word “good”. In the recent discussion on the use of personas, the conclusion basically is that if the person is “good” then personas are great. In this case it is the same. If a person is good, or an expert, then we can trust his or her judgment. This means that we need expertise, and we need ways to identify who has that expertise. After all the excitement, we could very well see more old fashioned business model that we thought were dead make a come back.

Open your mind… and dream: Nokia Morph February 29, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Concept, Innovation, Mobile, Trends, User Experience.
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This is a concept video from Nokia. You can download it from Nokia’s website or watch it on YouTube (embedded below).

Concepts have been used a lot in the car industry to spur design ideas and creativity. I think this video does an amazing job at setting a vision for the future of mobile. It is crazy and … and a very long term vision. But it is also based on actual technology and actual constraints we have today with mobile devices (like features integration, screen size). Just like in the car industry where we don’t see concept cars in the street, there is very little chance we will see this concept out at all. Still, just like in the car industry, some of the features in these concepts can make it to the main stream products. I can’t wait personally how screen size limitations are addressed with new technologies… See Philips work… or Modu Mobile.

Airgini launches private Alpha… January 23, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Airgini, Hong Kong, Innovation, Mobile, Social Networking.
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AirginiAirgini has just launched its private alpha version. Airgini is a Hong Kong born mobile social networking application. It is great to see product innovation and development in Hong Kong. There are too few of those.

So, all the best to the Airgini team!

The web auditory experience January 22, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Innovation, Trends, User Experience.
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For a long time, the Web has been about having a visual experience. But now, there are signs that it is changing. With more and more videos on the Web, with Skype causing (or maybe causes are elsewhere) people to wear headsets in office and with music being added to websites, the Web now has the opportunity to deliver a richer experience using both visual and auditory cues.

Click-2-ListenIt looks that the first focus of this evolution is to tackle one of the most critical problem with the Web, the fact that people don’t read. I was reading (… so people really don’t read?) an article today and next to the title was a button saying: “Click-2-Listen”.

Out of curiosity, I clicked on it and listened to the article being read to me. In the end, I missed most of it as my colleagues were talking to me and I could not be bothered to press Pause/Play all the time. The quality of the speech although impressive is nothing like a real human talking. In the end, I think I prefer by far reading.

I guess the nice thing with this text to speech service is that you can download the media file and play it later maybe on your mp3 player when you are on the way home. It seems to me that if we are in front of our screen, we’d rather read through an article which is a much more flexible task rather than listen to the article. The service could then be much more targeted towards people who download the file for later.

Two companies offering the service are:

  • News Worthy Audio
  • Odiogo (I really like the tagline: “Gives your text content voice … and legs!”, which plays much more on the listen later feature of the service)

Online World vs. Real World – An Increasingly Blurry Line January 14, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Customer Experience, Innovation, Strategy, Trends, User Experience.
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A great article featured on Experientia’s Putting People First: “Technology and the World of Consumption” from the blog apophenia. The article is interesting already and the discussion below is even more.

“her daughter moved seamlessly between the digital and physical worlds to consume”

The whole idea can be summarized by the quote on the right. Up until now, the real and the online worlds have been considered as entirely separate, selling different products and services, and addressing the needs of different customers. But more and more these differences are disappearing. With the new generation growing accustomed to the online world, the distinction is less and less relevant. Consumers are learning how to adapt their shopping behavior to optimize their experience regardless of how retailers are thinking and planning their offering.

Thus behaviors like searching online and buying in the real world, or the reverse – searching in the real world and buying online – becoming common place. This transition is far from an easy one. If we look at the services industry for example, banks have been struggling for a long time to move their customer from branches to the ATM and then online. Only now are they seeing younger customers using cheaper channels. In the case of the banks, cost has been driving the transition and helped companies doing the necessary changes pro-actively (even before customers actually wanted those changes).

But what about retail? The cost component and the complementary of both worlds is not self-apparent. That could explain why companies are slower to react. But react they will have to. Both real and online worlds have their place. They both address different kinds of needs, but surely both will have to adapt to the changing habits of consumers. Personally I see this as one of the most interesting potential for innovation and changes in customer experience.

Wikia Search and HAPPY NEW YEAR! January 8, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in BusinessWeek, Innovation, Social Networking.
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After some time away from my blog. I am back, and if my resolutions for 2008 are to be trusted I should be a good boy and post more often on my blog (objective once a week).

This quick post to highlight the launch of Wikia Search, a project from Jimmy Wales (read Wikipedia) that is supposed to bring an alternative to web search by bringing a human touch to the whole thing. More information can be found in the next two links:

I will not comment on the fact that this early version does not actually include any human touch to web search, but wanted to comment on the whole concept. It appears strange to me to think that people interested in searching for information will take the time to “rate” search and thus help the search engine do a better job. It seems to me that from a user perspective it defeats the whole purpose of a search engine, which is supposed to help us make sense of the whole Internet mass (not the reverse).

I don’t know how the people behind this project search, but in my case and the case of people around me, I don’t want to spend time searching for information. I want to spend time reading relevant content. If I cannot get the content I want the first time, then I will not use that search engine. And user reviews and rating takes time to make sense. With new websites, blogs and so on being created everyday, how can user rating keep up with all this.

Anyway… that was just a quick post on this. Will try to give me some more thoughts soon. Also a review of Zotero plugins for Firefox should come soon (I think I am going to get addicted to that thing real quick).

Update: One more article about Wikia Search on BusinessWeek. When your product is far from making a difference, is more press coverage good… or bad?

Changing the advertising experience? December 7, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Advertising, BusinessWeek, Customer Experience, Innovation, Japan, Strategy, Web 2.0.
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BusinessWeek published an article entitled “In Japan, bloggers get to pick their ads” on December 5th 2007 about a new ad network aimed at bloggers called AdButterfly (website in Japanese). Advertising arguably creates one of the worse experience not only for online users, but for people in general. However it is done, advertising is most of the time perceived as intrusive.

I guess we could categorize the reactions to that fact into two. The reaction that seems the most common around the World and especially here in China is to consider that a negative experience with advertising is a given and cannot be changed. If that cannot be impacted on, the important objective for advertisers is to be seen and hope that will create brand awareness (or unintended clicks that would result is a purchase maybe?). If the user is in some ways “forced” to see the ad, the advertiser (or should we blame this on media placement companies?) is happy.  The growing focus on ad clicks only solves part of the problem. Indeed only some advertising campaigns can be measured in terms of clicks, while others are just supposed to raise awareness, or create brand associations. And because of the focus on clicks, the websites where the ad is displayed have an incentive to have flying ads all around, hoping users may click by mistake.

We can definitely put the new venture in Japan mentioned above in the second category. On AdButterfly, although I am not sure about the details, bloggers will be choosing which ad campaigns and brands to associate with. With bloggers endorsing the ad, it is thought that the experience created by the ad will be much more positive. It is very probably true. If I read a blog and I know the ads there have been selected by that person, I would certainly (even though maybe unconsciously) pay more attention to them.

What about the advertisers’ side of the story? Potentially companies with great brand equity can greatly benefit from such a platform. But companies with lower brand equity may be totally blocked from getting access to the network by users. A pretty scary thought for the advertiser who is so conscious about keeping the brand image under control. Scary yes, but maybe a good thing. If people’s experiences with ads can become more positive, everybody is bound to benefit from that. In any case, AdButterfly is a great experiment! I wish I could read Japanese and try the service…

Yahoo Pipes: Am I a geek if I like it? October 9, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Innovation, Tools, Trends, Web 2.0.
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I have just discovered Yahoo Pipes… and I quite like it!

I am in the “very beginner” stage regarding this type of applications and to be frank I feel a bit geeky getting into it. But it seems to be that this kind of mashup applications could be changing a lot of things on the Web and letting users customize even further their web experience.

Yahoo Pipes

For now, I kept it simple creating two “Pipes”:

  • A pipe that selects only Intermediate and Upper Intermediate lessons from my Mandarin Chinese online school instead of all lessons
  • A pipe that looks for keywords like Usability, Experience and Interaction in some blogs and feeds that I read regularly

But most more can be done with these things. Ideas can be found on the Yahoo Pipes website. For more information about Yahoo Pipes and other similar application, you can read the following article from NY Times about Mashup applications.

On Digg, one can find an older post about “What is Yahoo Pipes?“. Here are some of the answers before the service was available to all:

“perhaps its something music related. maybe one of those searches based on humming a few bars”

“Can’t Think Of What It Could Possibly Be”

Despite being not too clear at first maybe, I like the name of that service. It feels like we are now able to rewire… sorry, repipe the whole Internet according to what we want.

Interactive Billboards equipped with Bluetooth: Good or Bad? October 4, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Advertising, France, Innovation, Trends.
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BBC interactive billboard with a live pollYesterday in the French newspaper Le Monde (sorry, article in French) there was an article about interactive billboards supposed to be installed in the Paris Metropolitan stations. These billboards will be equipped with Bluetooth and will be able to send information through SMS or other means to people passing by.

Interactive billboards of such kinds are not new, but it seems to me that something is different about this initiative. Browsing the web we can find quite a number of interesting brand-driven campaigns that use interactive billboards. Below are just three examples, that I think are pretty innovative and can be efficient:

What is different here is that the initiative is not brand-driven, it is media placement company-driven. This could mean that instead of being surprised by a funny and innovative interactive billboard somewhere in town, people could be overloaded with interactive stuff and potentially unwanted SMS all over town if that type of billboards spread.

I am also puzzled by the choice of location to kick-start the project. People in the Metro don’t strike me as having time to interact with some ads. They strike me as been tense (especially during rush hours) and potentially running late. It seems to me that an initiative like this would make much more sense in the waiting area of an airport where waiting cannot be avoided.

As quoted from the Le Monde article, right now, Métrobus (website in French), the company behind the project and which is owned by Publicis and JCDecaux is waiting for approval from the CNIL (Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés/National Commission on Computing and Freedom) before the project can be launched. Other companies like CBS Outdoor or Clear Channel are waiting for the approval as well to potentially launch their own projects.

I personally would prefer the approval not to be given as it would change what is a very effective niche advertising channel into mainstream advertising that would just overwhelm people and could lead to serious privacy issues.