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The GoAnimate song April 19, 2009

Posted by psychobserver in Social Networking, User Experience, Web 2.0.

It’s my first time blogging about something directly related to my current job as product manager at GoAnimate.com. I am not sure why I did not do it earlier… Working at GoAnimate allowed me to switch from being an uninvolved consultant advising people to being in the “pit” fighting to make the website a success not only in terms of user experience and interaction design, but also more generally as a company.

One major realization I had while working is the power of the community. I have been humbled by what and how users have been using the platform. We first designed it for people to create short funny stories, and we now realize that quite a number of users are now using the platform to create whole animated episodes that sometimes last more than 10 minutes. We also see amazing thing happening in terms of users sharing their creations and the content they upload to the platform. Overall it is amazing to see the dedication and passion of the users on the platform.

Passion that sometimes expresses itself in some strange ways, as the following video shows:

There is no question the Internet is magical in the ways it empowers people to express themselves in such diverse ways… for better and for worse. ;o)


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

Posted by psychobserver in Innovation, Newsweek, Social Networking, Trends, User Experience, Web 2.0.

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.

Web Wednesday Hong Kong February 14, 2008

Posted by psychobserver in Hong Kong, Web 2.0, Web Wednesday.

Yesterday night was another edition of Web Wednesday Hong Kong. The interview this time was of Argha Sen who is Head of Marketing for Toys R Us in Asia. It was quite amusing to witness the difference between the talk yesterday and the talk from the last event. Last event was about EditGrid, a Hong Kong online spreadsheet start-up, and it mostly revolved around getting excited about Web 2.0 and getting investment (even though you have no idea how to make money with your company).

In contrast yesterday Argha was on the total opposite side of the spectrum. His approach was show me the money, show me the numbers that supports me getting into that Web stuff and then I will think about it. Obviously the audience at Web Wednesday was not expecting this, and it did not make for a very entertaining discussion, but reality checks are always good. Doing something without thinking about the money and a sound business model first is like entirely relying on luck! It might work, you might get bought by some big guys… but the drains are full of the “hidden” majority of these company who tried to follow that path.

… just my take away from yesterday’s talk…

Update: Listen to the podcast of the Interview on Web Wednesday Blog 

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…

Social Networking: The growth dilemma… November 25, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Customer Experience, Hong Kong, Social Networking, Strategy, Trends, Web 2.0.
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I recently did some work for a mobile social networking start-up here in Hong Kong helping them with their interface and their user experience in general. Although my focus was on the interface (and the project very short as usual) we happened to talk quite a bit about strategy. In fact, I always find it hard to focus on user experience and user interface without poking my nose into the overall strategy behind them (I’d like to spend more time on that, but it is not the point of this post… maybe for a later one).

Anyway, it seems to me that there is a tough dilemma when building a social network. The problem is that the number of users and the amount of interactions going on in the network is everything. Indeed for most social networks (excluding a few business-related or referral-based ones), the networks do not have a clear revenue model. As everything is advertising-based the indicators to get funding and be recognized in the industry are basically number of users and page views. Unfortunately, these indicators in some cases go against user goals and go against the long term survival of the network.

We are now all used to this. We grow a social network and at first all is going well. We have our close friends there and we are having fun exchanging news, pictures, videos, etc. However after a while, our network grows, previous friends, former colleagues, people we actually met via our social network gets added and all goes out of control. Indeed the whole concept is based on encouraging users to “make” more friends. Games are put in place to push them to add people to their network, and simply when somebody asks sombody to be his or her friend it is really hard to say no. It feels like a no return kind of decision. Even though we might never meet the person in real, we just cannot say no to people that easily. And once they are added to our network, we have little control over what they do with their access to our information, thus the beginning of the end and often users drop-out from the network.

Although it means taking more time to grow the network it seems to me that social networks should learn from real life more. Instead of just facing a “friend” or “not friend” situation, users should be able to grow relationships slower and keeping them under their control without feeling like they are making others feel bad (or having themselves the perception that they could make the other person feel bad). It works in this way in the real world. When we meet somebody for the first time, we do not usually invite them home to look at our family pictures or read our private diary. It is just normal that relationships take time to build. It should be the same online. It is of great convenience to be able to exchange information with friends online, but users should not pay the price of this by losing their right to privacy… and if social networks do not realize this, they will all sooner or later face the fact that when the hype is gone, people will choose privacy over convenience.

With all this said, the problem still remains. In a short term focus world like the one we live in, we demand quick results and a slow growing network just does not make sense… or does it?

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.

Privacy with Web 2.0 October 1, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in France, Social Networking, Trends, Web 2.0.
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Privacy RedefinedSome time ago Times reported (I got the link through the blog “Putting People First“) a virtual suicide on Facebook; a lady whose former boyfriends would send “flirty” messages on her “wall” (public notice board where anybody can write or read about you). That was bound to happen. One of my friends had a similar case although she did not commit “virtual-suicide” just yet. She is in China, her boyfriend in England. She parties sometimes and some of her friends post pictures on Facebook… “tagging” her on them. So, if you look at those pictures, it looks like she is partying all the time and tagged by many different people… the boyfriend is not pleased. The solution: now she “untags” herself from people’s pictures, as quickly as possible.

Isn’t the Web supposed to make our lives easier? I think there is something big happening today. Our private life is less and less in our control and the rules of the game are yet to be clearly defined so missteps are unavoidable.

On a really insightful report (in French) on mobile phone usage in France (obtained again through “Putting People First“) the researchers also compared habits from adults and teenagers with their mobile phone, a tool that is considered our very own private safe box. The study reveals that teenagers now use their mobile phones as a way to share things more than to keep them away from others. Mobile phones are ways to share pictures, songs, movies and much more; they are thus passed on from people to people and not the best place anymore to keep secrets.

For adults on the other hand, mobile phones are regarded as keepers of secrets. For example a boyfriend or girlfriend keeping his/her mobile phone away from reach is seen as a very suspicious behavior, sometimes for good reasons.

So what is happening with the new generation? Is it just that during teenage years one has less secrets to keep away? Or do teenagers just care less about the private side of their own self? Or is it that new ways to keep our private lives are going to be developed to replace the tools the “old” generation used?

I personally think that soon we will see tools appearing and getting mainstream that will allow us to keep our personal life away from other people. What about a “This is top secret” button on emails, phones, basically anywhere, that can allow us to send stuff to a virtual black box of which only us have the key? The so-called Web 2.0 is about sharing, but in the long run do we really want anybody to be able to see, comment and edit our privates lives?

Hey! Nielsen – Corporate Social Networking September 25, 2007

Posted by psychobserver in Social Networking, Trends, Web 2.0.
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There was a post yesterday on Web Worker Daily about Hey! Nielsen, a new social networking place on the web… yet another one. Hey! Nielsen has been launched by the Nielsen Company behind ACNielsen and Nielsen/NetRatings.

The idea of the website it seems is to leverage on all the people who would like to participate in Nielsen research and let them voice their opinions online. Participating in research cannot be done on a voluntary basis as this would go against random sampling of participants. Nevertheless, people who leave insightful comments on the website may then be asked to participate in some research. As they state on the Nielsen website:

Furthermore, users who give rich, insightful, and frequent feedback may be asked to participate in other surveys and webcam interviews for tv, movies, and commercials.

On the social networking side, this website could work, although in the end the incentive to leave opinions is rather limited. If it gains traction and gets recognized as THE place to leave opinions, then it could work. The fact that Nielsen is behind the website can surely help in that respect.

On the other hand, in terms of research, the website is really scary. Opinions are very personal and it will be very hard to build a coherent whole out of everything people write. For example you need an important number of people to react on an opinion to make that opinion relevant.

Moreover and most importantly, this is a website. Let’s say I really want to participate in Nielsen research, what will stop me from leaving opinions there and ask my friends to react to these opinions so that I would be selected. I was thinking people could even organize competitions with their friends: “Guys, the first one who gets on a Nielsen study wins!!!” This would terribly bias the results and may lead Nielsen giving too much weight to some non-significant reactions.

To me, although the concept is interesting and appealing, opinions on the website will be way too out of control to be of any use to Nielsen’s clients. Maybe the company knows that and just wants to use to website to gain more awareness and create a buzz. If that’s the objective, then it could very well be a success.

Below are some reactions about Hey! Nielsen itself…

Hey! Nielsen