Saturday, 22 March 2014

Five user modes in digital consumption

The fourteenth MEX took place this week, investigating ingredients of user experience across the themes of Create, Consume, Control, Communicate, Locate and Trust. I was fortunate to be invited by Marek Pawlowski to facilitate the creative sessions on the theme of Consume, where, over the course of four one-hour sessions, we sought to answer the following challenge:
"Illustrate 5 design techniques to eliminate distraction and restore focus to digital media."
In the investigation phase, during which the team explored elements of distraction and ways of inducing immersion, we considered some need states and user modes in the consumption of digital media. Since our final presentation largely dealt with the outputs of our work, I felt it would be worthwhile to indulge briefly here in relaying just five user modes in digital consumption, as identified by the team. These modes should in no way be considered to be complete and are not even necessarily the most common modes of consumption but they serve to illustrate a range of times, places, devices, channels and objectives in consuming digital media.

For a long time, I was dissatisfied by the near ubiquitous definition of TV consumption modes of lean forward and lean back. When these modes were first described, they sought to differentiate between the viewing of long-form, professionally-created, linear broadcast and that of short-form, user-generated, on-demand streaming. Last year, a study carried out for Thinkbox, produced a more textured landscape, in which TV-viewing need states can be classified across the six categories of Unwind, Comfort, Connect, Experience, Escape and Indulge. Whether you agree or not that these adequately encapsulate all need states, the study prompts us to consider the variety of user modes in digital media consumption, which clearly is extremely broad and probably impossible to index entirely.

Without further ado, here are five user modes of consuming digital media.

1. Commute

Occuring during the twice daily journeys to and from the workplace, this London-centric finding considered the need for distraction from the confines of the Underground and the other passengers pressing upon the commuter. Using a smartphone - or tablet - to skim over, for example, the Evening Standard's iPhone Newsstand app, the reader dives into the content as a distraction from the unpleasant reality but will have forgotten almost the entirety of the content by the time he reaches his destination.

Time: morning and evening commutes
Place: Underground
Devices: smartphone, tablet
Channels: news apps
Objective: distraction

2. Business

With emphasis on the need for timely information in the financial markets but applicable to a range of roles and industries, this consumption mode is about receiving information, data and analysis at the start of the day and at times throughout to ensure that the individual has the knowledge and understanding required to perform their business tasks. While print media still plays a role here, tablets and PCs are pre-eminent with specific articles accessed via dedicated apps, such as the FT, or from email news alerts.

Time: start of work day; throughout the day
Place: workplace
Devices: tablet, PC (alongside print media)
Channels: news apps; email alerts
Objective: to be expert in chosen field of business

3. Inspiration

Of importance to those involved in creative industries, the Inspiration consumption mode is a lengthy, highly-engaged period of time viewing the work of other creators. It entails full immersion into videos on, for example, Vimeo, without distractions in order to ready oneself for one's own creative indulgence.

Time: daytime
Place: workplace, usually
Devices: PC/laptop ie larger screen
Channels: video, especially Vimeo
Objective: full immersion and preparation for creativity

4. Evening Escapism

Much like the Unwind TV need state, Evening Escapism is a release mode, shaking off the shackles of the day's labour. In this mode, the individual might indulge in multi-screen consumption of different forms of media, from broadcast TV to social media, without their being any relation between the media consumed.

Time: evening, after work
Place: home - living room/bedroom
Devices: multi-screen - TV, laptop, tablet, phone
Channels: any
Objective: de-stress/unwind

5. Learning

Younger members of the team talked about a growing trend in casual learning. It's an individual activity but is likely to be discussed with other members' of one's social circle. In a slightly disengaged state of mind, the individual might watch - or merely listen to - typically short YouTube videos on how to do or make something. One example given was how to make an origami swan, for which several videos exist, including the one embedded below that has been seen close to 3 million times.

Time: evening
Place: home - bedroom/living roon
Devices: laptop, tablet
Channels: video, especially YouTube
Objective: casual learning as a form of entertainment

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Has ITV got its premium player pricing wrong?

ITV has released a new version of its ITV player for iOS, within which it offers an in-app upgrade for £3.99.

Some commentators are challenging the very notion that consumers would pay for ITV content.
 ITV Player Premium gives you:
  • Live streams of ITV3 and ITV4 (and Live Events stream)
  • No advertising around catchup programmes.
Pricing is complicated but the nub of it is that it communicates value to the customer. The consumer will view the £3.99 price tag as consisting of its two elements: ITV3 and ITV4; and 'no ads'. The consumer will attach some value to each element.

ITV3 and ITV4 have very low viewing figures: about 2.4% and 1.8% respectively, including +1 channels. The comparable figures for ITV and ITV2, are 17.0% and 2.9%. Put simply, ITV3 and ITV4 are of little value, for some zero value.

Therefore, consumers will have to consider whether they will accept paying for ITV3 and ITV4 in addition to paying to remove ads. ITV says the value of removing ads is less than £3.99. What matters is if the consumer decides that removing ads is worth more than £3.99.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Breaking: Apple responds to Google Glass with iBall

Google Glass naysayers have my sympathy. More than that, I wholeheartedly support their point of view, even though I disagree. See, when people say "that's never going to happen", they're really saying "I hope that never happens" and I, for one, sincerely hope that Google Glass never happens.

Except it's already happened.

Google Glass is not a product. Those product reviews complaining that it slips down the nose or tilts to the right or is uncomfortable, don't get the point. The privacy advocates complaining of intrusion don't understand. Google Glass is the realisation of a concept, not a piece of hardware. Of course the product design aspects aren't quite right but it doesn't take a clairvoyant to see where it's headed.

The concept I'm talking about is none other than the one that has been doing the rounds since the whole Web 2.0 malarkey got going. It's the notion of enhancing reality with a virtual overlay in order to enrich life. And is that any different to what you've been doing since the birth of the Apple App Store? Location-based services, song tagging, instant photo sharing... they're all just part of the same idea that leads inevitably to ever more biologically-proximate devices.

We're all familiar with the rush to decide an argument by checking the facts on our portable devices. How difficult it is to resist that urge to see what's new on social media! Don't we have an incessant and insatiable appetite for combining what is happening here and now with what might be elsewhere at another time?

While today it's difficult to get used to a lopsided, ugly device that slides awkwardly down your nose and whose operation depends on spoken commands, we're not so far away from effectively invisible implants that function seamlessly with our conscious minds.

So is it surprising that many people fear what Google Glass represents? And perhaps that fear will be sufficient to slow down the trajectory upon which humanity finds itself. Slow down, not halt. The Google Glass product might fail but you read it hear first, beware the Apple iBall!

Friday, 1 February 2013

Taxi app wars waging on the streets of England

Kabbee logo
Kabbee facing competition
This week I heard of yet another cab app. Minicabit revealed itself at the Wayra Demo Day, joining a line-up of taxi and minicab apps that includes Hailo, Kabbee, and Anycabs, amongst a whole bunch of others.

In my mind, the world was divided three ways:
  • Hailo for instant black cabs
  • Kabbee for pre-booking minicabs
  • Uber, when you want a chauffeur-driven car
It seems I was wrong. There was already a bit of an overlap in the positioning since both Hailo and Uber are for immediate pick-ups, while Kabbee can also provide luxury transport and minicabs can be pre-booked for 'now'.

It turns out that the space that Kabbee seemed to occupy - pre-booked minicabs - is filled with other contenders. So I asked how do they differ from each other?
Apparently they're "all very different", says Anycabs. Here is how they each described themselves:
  • Kabbee: "instant quotes covering all of London from carefully managed fleets"
  • minicabit: "UK wide service that can instantly compare quotes with no wait for cabbies to bid"
  • Anycabs: "users compare real-time quotes & book their licensed minicab using app or website"
So I get that Kabbee is limited to London but from the consumer's perspective, I just don't see any other substantive difference. In each case, you enter details, select a quote and book your cab. With illegal minicabs posing risks to passengers, especially lone women at night, these apps ensure that you're booking with licensed firms. So each of them is providing safety and convenience.

I had a look on the App Store and found that there are several other alternatives offering a similar service. I'd forgotten that I have previously used ubiCabs too. I can't help but think that some of these businesses should be collaborating, working off the same tech platform and pooling resources to get UK-wide coverage fast, then expanding overseas. As it currently stands, there are few barriers to entry into this market, profit margins are likely to be thin and all it takes is for one well-funded foreign competitor to turn up and upset the handsome cab.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Three reasons why people search sucks

The Tattoo Bible not by Alex Guest

I am not a holidaying establishment.

The Alex Guesthouse. Google and other search engines are inept when it comes to distinguishing between a holidaying establishment and a person.

I was not portrayed by Andie MacDowell. 

Alex (guest star Andie MacDowell)... They are rubbish at detecting punctuation that fundamentally alters the meaning of the result.

I did not write The Tattoo Bible.

And useless at evaluating two or more people sharing the same name: it is a different Alex Guest who can take credit for The Tattoo Bible.

There have been attempts to deal with this but they are all equally useless.

You think it's just me and my slightly quirky name?

A friend of mine, a doctor, shares her name with a writer, a model, a wedding photographer and a few other doctors. I can tell the difference between each of these. I could manually group the results by individual and serve up the results as clusters relating to each one. As a human, it is easy for me to tell the difference between an oncologist based in Ireland, and a writer of trashy novels, whose agent is in New York City.

Six steps to fix people search

  • First, consider the links coming in and out of the page and especially links between those pages.
  • Next, look for clues such as title: Dr, Mrs...
  • Go further and consider some of the words that appear specifically in some results and not others. My doctor friend practices in a different field to the other doctors with the same name. Indeed, it appears that each one of them - on a quick analysis - have unrelated specialties.
  • What geographical locations are referenced?
  • Some names, like Alex, are given to both men and women. Look for gender clues in pronouns.
  • Consider that some names are words with everyday usage: Guest, Brown, Parkinson. Alex (guest star...) should be trivial to detect as it has punctuation between Alex and guest; guest is all lower case; and guest star is a common word pairing.

Finally, the word Tattoo, an indelible mark on the skin made by inserting pigments in punctures, is clearly not the same thing as Zattoo, the live TV-streaming business for which I was the UK Country Manager.

It should not be difficult for a machine to cluster search results for individuals, yet, as far as I know, there is currently no solution that does this adequately. If you can write code and are irked by this problem, get in touch. Please.