Posts tagged ‘User Experience’

SwiftRiver sorts realtime social media streams

We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it and make important choices wisely.

E.O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

How can we evaluate citizen media for breaking news? Hurricanes? Earthquakes? Contested elections? Crowdsourced crisis information produces a flood of data. Individuals send emails, write blog posts, text friends, post to Twitter. Popular tweets are echoed and amplified. Eyewitness reports may be reliable, or mistaken – or planted disinformation.

SwiftRiver, an initiative of the Ushahidi project, aims to help humans aggregate and evaluate streams of social media. SwiftRiver is an open source platform for managing realtime data streams. Its services can be combined in different ways to serve the needs of crisis responders, journalists, and so on.

The first such app is Sweeper (now in beta), which intelligently filters data feeds for volunteers who then validate and geolocate the information.

Jon Goslin, TED Fellow and SwiftRiver director, talks about the five services underlying the apps.

  • Natural language processing to extract meaning.
  • Location context: considering how local the source is to reported events.
  • Reducing duplicates, especially those from Twitter.
  • Accounting for popularity separately from accuracy.
  • Reputation management: authority accruing to those for those who have a history of valued posts.

August 31, 2010 at 3:45 pm Leave a comment

Tummeling? Yes: designing for conversation

Comedian, talk show host, and “UnPresenter” Heather Gold shows us all how to turn presentations into conversations. In comedy it’s called working the room, or tummeling.

Giving talks that “are more fun, require less preparation, and leave your audience feeling awesome”? Even in large groups?

Bay Area friends, you can see this in action. Heather’s got a free talk and two full-day workshops coming up. BayCHI members get a break on both the August 7 tutorial and the August 8 class.

And here’s a sample. In this Google talk Heather earns her pro status. They’ve only given her a podium mike, so she can’t move around to work the room. Watch her use friendly charm to draw in folks on the periphery.

You want to do everything you can to help people feel like they can be themselves. Because the best way to tummel is to be yourself, to be a really big version of yourself. Tummel means to make noise, to help people bring the noise.

July 30, 2010 at 12:14 pm Leave a comment

Wikipedia color-codes consensus

Starting this fall, an optional extension to Wikipedia will automatically color-code text backgrounds to indicate how “trusted” the text is.

WikiTrust (via Wired Science)Currently, text on a Wikipedia page is agglutinated from the contributions of multiple, anonymous authors. Anyone can contribute and over-write existing text. This leaves entries open to bias, vandalism, and editing wars.

The WikiTrust extension computes the author of every word of text and determines the author’s reputation based on previous, lasting, contributions. Less trusted text is backgrounded with an orange shade, which fades to white as the text survives later edits and is considered increasingly trustworthy.

Note that trust isn’t truth, it’s consensus. If you’re a new contributor to Wikipedia, your contributions will be colored with a bright orange shade. Established contributors’ new text is colored with a paler orange. But even as an established contributor, if you write something controversial that gets edited in and out, that text will also be flagged with color.

Readers won’t be facing a sea of orange, however. The overall levels of orange text-tagging are kept low in the interest of readability. And the entire trust mechanism will be a separate tab on the Wikipedia page, so you can choose whether to view your pages with or without it.

(via Wired Science)

September 1, 2009 at 5:00 pm Leave a comment

Field research for SMS queries in Uganda

The Grameen Foundation, Google, and telecom provider MTN Uganda have launched a suite of mobile phone applications. These are the first products of nonprofit Grameen’s Application Laboratory (AppLab) effort. The SMS query-and-answer services are designed to work with basic mobile phones, and provide real-time health and agricultural information as well as a virtual marketplace.

Users can access the services at the time of their choosing and search relevant content on-demand, operating almost like the Internet.  The services include: Farmer’s Friend, a searchable database with both agricultural advice and targeted weather forecasts; Health Tips, which provides sexual and reproductive health information, paired with Clinic Finder, which helps locate nearby health clinics and their services; and Google Trader matches buyers and sellers of agricultural produce and commodities as well as other products.

Local organizations provide the knowledge base for each information service. Users enter a freeform text query, and Google’s algorithms identify keywords, search the appropriate knowledge base, and return the most relevant answer.

Agriculture query results

It’s worth noting what a huge opportunity there is for such services. Overall, 80% of new mobile users are coming from developing countries (CGAP). Google further points out that Africa has the world’s highest mobile growth rate, and mobile phone penetration is six times Internet penetration. One-third of the African population owns a mobile phone and many more have access to one. In Uganda agriculture employs over 80% of the workforce and only 13% of Ugandans live in urban areas, so using mobile phones to get information to rural populations meets a great need.

And that’s why it’s worth spending money and time to get the service right. How do you anticipate what questions people will ask, and what answers will be most useful? Enter the user experience team, taking a classic Wizard of Oz technique to Ugandan villages.

First, we trained a multilingual team to act as user researchers in 17 carefully selected locations across the country. In each place, they introduced themselves to a cross section of people they met and invited them to participate in a free study that would help create useful services for Ugandans. If the person agreed, the researcher handed them a mobile phone and encouraged them to write a text message containing a question they wanted to know the answer to. (If people had their own phone, we reimbursed them with phone credit.) The text message was then routed to a control room we’d set up in Kampala where a human expert read the text message, typed a response, and sent it back via SMS to the person who asked the question. In the meantime, the interviewer observed and recorded the participant’s user experience. This allowed us to record rich qualitative data from hundreds of interviews in just a few days, and to collect quantitative data from hundreds of search queries.

The team captured 280 queries in 4 days. Watch this great video; it really gives you a feel for the process. The sessions at the markets start at around 2:20. At 6:22 are visits to phone operators in rural villages, where phones are shared. (Get the feeling that the answer to the malaria query didn’t quite hit the mark?)

I’ll be interested in the longer term reports of social impact, to be conducted with Innovations for Poverty Action, plus Google.org support.

August 4, 2009 at 11:40 pm Leave a comment

Look. Here.

Saturday was a fine but breezy day in San Francisco before evening fog settled over the avenues.

At Prepare for the Playa Burning Man attendees shopped for camping gear and Black Rock finery. Models spiffed up for the 2 PM fashion show: steampunk leather and lace, or spandex and day-glo fake fur. A pair of wings here. Glitter or face paint there.

And a coconut.

I was ordering lunch at the organic sandwich counter, pondering rye vs. sprouted wheat bread, when a guy in voluminous tribal pants, brown shirt, and white scarf rolled in. Man on a mission. After cheerful banter he walked away with a white drinking coconut to accessorize his outfit.

I ran into him again after his turn on the runway. He explained: “It’s a look-away. You need to give people something else to look at.”

Here he posed with the coconut held out in his right hand, away from his body.

“They look out at the coconut, then they look back. Otherwise they’d just be staring at your outfit all the time. You need to give their eyes a place to rest, and then come back to you. Like silence in music. So they can really see your outfit.

“And it’s more interesting. They’re thinking about the coconut. It’s unexpected. ‘What’s he doing with it? Is he at a party, is he having a good time? He’s wandering around the playa drinking a coconut.’

This morning I poked around in the literature on painting composition and eye movement. But the look-away isn’t about still life, it’s about performance. Movement. Dynamically creating space. Visual space between outfit and accessory. Narrative space between the real-world fashion show and the imagined life of the model.

The look-away is a pragmatic tool with surprisingly subtle aspects. Today I’ll be mindful of space, silence, and our rush to fill that silence with interpretation.

August 2, 2009 at 7:43 pm Leave a comment

Even in 3G, it’s the Internet through a straw

Digital market researcher comScore releases a new report: Mobile Financial Services: The Market Today and Opportunities for Tomorrow. Although the July 30 webinar is already fully subscribed, and the report is available only for purchase, some details are to be found in the press release.

comScore’s emphasis is on the US market and on more capable phones (smartphones and 3G phones). The statistics leave me wanting detail on methodology  – not to mention error bars. But since comScore can tap a consumer panel of 1 million in the US, let’s assume sample size makes these differences significant, and go from there.

    Mobile Banking Access by Device Technology
    March 2009
    Source: comScore Mobile Financial Services Report
                          % of Smartphone    % of 3G Users
                             Users Who        Who Mobile
                            Mobile Bank          Bank
    Via Internet Browser       44.1              53.3
    Via Application            40.6              48.1
    Via SMS                    25.0              41.0

First, a result that will be no surprise to iPhone purchasers (and weary AT&T network engineers): faster network and better user interface drive demand for services. 3G phone users do more mobile banking than smartphone users.

Then the intriguing bits. You might predict that smartphone users, impatient with graphical display, would preferentially resort to text messages (SMS) for m-banking. Instead, smartphone users do less with SMS banking than with other interfaces. And they do drastically less SMS banking than do the 3G users. Are 3G users more likely to have an all-you-can-eat plan? Or are 3G users more in the habit of reaching for their phone no matter what their location, choosing SMS if their network is spotty or slow?

Finally, even though “there’s an app for that,” more people use a browser than a dedicated application to access their financial information. But here too, details matter. How well is the app designed? How painful is it to switch from browsing to the app? How many people even have the app loaded?

Oh, to be a fly on the contextual-inquiry wall.

Here’s another interesting bit: people at home with access to a personal computer still use their phone to bank. 31% do their primary m-banking at home, not on the road:

    Q: Where do you primarily access your financial accounts via
    your mobile phone?
    March 2009
    Source: comScore Mobile Financial Services Report

    Location            Percentage of Mobile Financial
                               Services Users
    At home                          31%
    Running errands                  25%
    Commuting                        15%
    At work                          11%
    Away on vacation                  9%
    Away on business travel           8%

Again, I suspect task switching costs. If you’re at the kitchen table wanting to quickly check a balance, it may take longer to wake up a computer than to pull the phone out of your pocket. But for that monthly statement reconciliation, it’s worth the trek to the home office.

comScore summarizes usage patterns for current m-banking applications. But better mobile app development and mobile-specific web development are sorely needed. The Nielsen Norman Group’s report on Mobile Usability documents the rough state of the art. Research summaries from July and February 2009 preview some detail. The studies combine data from user testing, diary studies, and expert design review, and cover a variety of applications beyond finance.

  • The average mobile task success rate is a “miserable” 59%, lower than the 80% seen on PCs.
  • Using a mobile makes you a disabled user.” Restricted field of view and excessive scrolling mimic the experience of low vision users on desktop websites. Long page load times, big images, and JavaScript crashes compound the frustration.
  • Using a mobile-optimized site increases success by 1/5:  64% to 53%.
  • Users are escaping their carriers’ walled gardens. They are increasingly likely to get to a mobile site via search, which takes longer.
  • Therefore, mobile-optimized sites need to be easy to find and should present streamlined functionality. Auto-detect the mobile device, and provide the option of a link back to the full site.
  • Large businesses may consider multiple mobile-optimized designs, one for feature phones with small screens and one for smartphones + full-screen phones.
  • Mobile apps can drastically cut task time. “An iPhone user … had a weather application installed on the phone and used it to get the weather forecast in only 18 seconds (1/3 of the fastest speed from 2000).”

July 29, 2009 at 11:38 pm Leave a comment

Mobile phones in microfinance

Missed an excellent Twitter #MifiMon (Microfinance Monday) on July 20. Fortunately there’s a summary.

Microcredit began as character lending. People with no collateral banded in small groups and became jointly responsible for paying back loans. This is the village model of microcredit most familiar to the public.

But when is technology erroneously substituted for human contact, that face to face accountability which ensures timely loan repayment? And when is it used effectively to connect and empower clients? Credit SMS is about to launch a pilot program in which microloan officers receive weekly payments via SMS, rather than traveling to meet all borrowers.

Lively #MifiMon discussion continues on Facebook,  July 27, starting at 8:30 AM Central.

Also, I enjoyed Tapan Parikh’s lecture [iTunes movie] on appropriate technology for the developing world. In his experimental system, paper procedures for microcredit loans are augmented by mobile phones, which are used for data capture through keypad entry and camera image capture. (Mobile phone + wooden box to stabilize phone above paper = scanner!)

Mobile phones work in environments where people are only intermittently connected to the network and to electric power.

Key elements of Parikh’s system:

  • Paper based, using forms with scan codes.
  • Uses numeric input. Intermediaries read and write on behalf of the village borrowers, but the borrowers themselves are numerate. They can recognize that the number in “their” cell of the paper worksheet is accurately recorded.
  • Provides audio feedback in the local language. This fosters group participation, and also reassures the borrower that their transaction was correctly recorded in the system.

There’s good video of the system at the 32 minute mark, and a summary starts at 42 minutes.

July 24, 2009 at 6:53 pm Leave a comment


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