April 2007

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Hoodiez Launch!

My colleague and friend David Fiorito’s toy company (DreamLand Toyworks) is having an official launch party for a line of excellent collectible toys called Hoodiez, designed by Carl Jones, the artist behind Boondocks.

Check out the site, but if you’re in town, definitely go by the gallery, because even after the party Jones’ work will be on display until sometime in May.

Launch Party Poster

This is the ‘final’ version of the Architectures for Conversation talk. Hence the (ii) appended to the title.

The presentation isn’t very useful without the notes, and unfortunately at this size the notes aren’t terribly legible. So I recommend viewing it full-screen, or downloading the PDF from Slideshare.

This was a version that I presented at Philly CHI (Philadelphia chapter of the Computer-Human Interaction special interest group of ACM), at the U. Penn campus.

Most of it is the same thing I did at the IA Summit in Vegas a month ago, but there are some new slides and some more content, especially about how User-Experience Communities of Practice fit together, and what I mean by “Infospace.”

Gene puts up a very nice honeycomb diagram for thinking about the capabilities & focus of social software.

Social Software Building Blocks

While doing research for a recent workshop, I came across a useful list of seven social software elements. These seven building blocks–identity, presence, relationships, conversations, groups, reputation and sharing–provide a good functional definition for social software. They’re also a solid foundation for thinking about how social software works.

Two colleagues in the last week or so have posted in their blogs about persona-based design.

Austin Govella gives us a nice set of links about Personas, and Antonella Pavese touches on some counterintuitive truths about personas after reading Jason Fried’s Getting Real in her post Get Real: How to design for the life of others.

Antonella in particular mentions that one way to ‘get real’ about design is to realize you can’t design for anyone but yourself. That is, you can’t read a bunch of facts and figures about your users and somehow methodically design for them; that it takes a kind of roleplaying, and how that was Alan Cooper’s approach when he initially articulated a persona-based approach.

I only recently realized how powerful persona design can really be, and even more recently realized why.

When most people talk about “personas” they’re really talking about deliverables: documents that describe particular individuals who act as stand-ins or ‘archetypes’ for other users.

The truth, however, is that personas aren’t the documents, or the method, or any of that. Personas are people! But they’re people a designer needs to “get” in a visceral, intuitive way.

I was actually fairly confused about what personas should be, how they were different from marketing segments or “user profiles,” until I read Alan Cooper’s own column about “The Origin of Personas.”

A few paragraphs of it are so important that I think they deserve quoting in full:

I was writing a critical-path project management program that I called “Plan*It.” Early in the project, I interviewed about seven or eight colleagues and acquaintances who were likely candidates to use a project management program. In particular, I spoke at length with a woman named Kathy who worked at Carlick Advertising. Kathy’s job was called “traffic,” and it was her responsibility to assure that projects were staffed and staffers fully utilized. It seemed a classic project management task. Kathy was the basis for my first, primitive, persona.

In 1983, compared to what we use today, computers were very small, slow, and weak. It was normal for a large program the size of Plan*It to take an hour or more just to compile in its entirety. I usually performed a full compilation at least once a day around lunchtime. At the time I lived in Monterey California, near the classically beautiful Old Del Monte golf course. After eating, while my computer chugged away compiling the source code, I would walk the golf course. From my home near the ninth hole, I could traverse almost the entire course without attracting much attention from the clubhouse. During those walks I designed my program.

As I walked, I would engage myself in a dialogue, play-acting a project manager, loosely based on Kathy, requesting functions and behavior from my program. I often found myself deep in those dialogues, speaking aloud, and gesturing with my arms. Some of the golfers were taken aback by my unexpected presence and unusual behavior, but that didn’t bother me because I found that this play-acting technique was remarkably effective for cutting through complex design questions of functionality and interaction, allowing me to clearly see what was necessary and unnecessary and, more importantly, to differentiate between what was used frequently and what was needed only infrequently.

There are several very important insights I had from reading this:

1. Persona design didn’t start as a ‘method’ or especially not a ‘methodology!’ It was the intuition of an empathetic software creator, someone with a personality and mental frame capable of putting himself as much as possible not only in the ‘shoes’ but in the voice, body and life of his user.

2. Persona design was this activity of enlightened empathetic roleplay, not a deliverable or procedure to produce it. This explains to me why, in so many situations, I’ve seen personas created and wondered what use they were. The answer: they’re useless on the page, unless the page is used to help tell the story.

3. Personas didn’t start as collaborative artifacts, but that’s how we almost exclusively think of them in UX circles. Cooper was working essentially alone on this: he wasn’t using his persona to explain things to an executive stakeholder — he was just designing, in the present.

4. Cooper was doing this in his ‘spare time’ while things were rendering, away from the system, away from the cubicle. I wonder if this would’ve happened if he’d had a more responsive system, like we typically do today? And yet, I’ve *never* seen in any description of a Persona method a direction to get away from the cubicle or meeting room, and breathe fresh air, and talk to yourself!!!

5. His persona was based on a real person, not a mashup of users. Typically, we make personas that cram a number of different characteristics into one person. But I think this approach may lead us astray at times — not that we have to use only a single actual person for a persona, but maybe we should *start* there, before creating a frankensteined non-existent user from the cherrypicked parts of the ones we’ve observed?

Essentially, personas aren’t a method that you follow step by step and end up, automagically, with a reference-facsimile of your user. It’s really an emotional, almost theatrical leap that takes imagination and deliberate, focused empathy.

It makes me wonder if, as designers, we should have some kind of method acting seminar, to get us out of our geeky skins?

Online Community Basics: Start with Research – The 3 questions to ask – Online Community Report

I hadn’t heard of this blog/site until a colleague pinged me about it. It has some excellent advice on issues to consider when thinking about designing for an online community, especially the idea of an “ecosystem” that’s already there to an extent, that you’re just trying to complement and enhance. Good stuff.

Excellent article on JM’s ideas about how game situations can unlock incredible problem-solving potential in groups of people, and can be applied to anything from medicine to politics.

San Francisco – News – Future Games – sfweekly.com

McGonigal designs games for a living, and she believes they point the way toward civilization’s next step forward. Her games are sprawling extravaganzas that suck in thousands of players and force them to pool their talents to become, essentially, one big networked brain. In the young and burgeoning genre of alternate reality games, otherwise known as ARGs, the players’ collective intelligence is applied to cracking codes, solving puzzles, and completing complex tasks doled out by almighty “puppetmasters.” McGonigal is one of the people who pulls the strings.

Ran across this bit in Andrew McAfee’s Blog

Ford once enlisted an efficiency expert to examine the operation of his company. While his report was generally favorable, the man did express reservations about a particular employee.

“It’s that man down the corridor,” he explained. “Every time I go by his office he’s just sitting there with his feet on his desk. He’s wasting your money.” “That man,” Ford replied, “once had an idea that saved us millions of dollars. At the time, I believe his feet were planted right where they are now.”

Yeah, I modified the title a bit… but that’s the gist of what I’ve scanned so far. Basically, all this worry over teens naively posting all their personal information for predators to poach may be somewhat overblown. The kids are alright, and savvier than we think.

Pew Internet: Teens, Privacy and SNS

Some 55% of online teens have profiles and most of them restrict access to their profile in some way. Of those with profiles, 66% say their profile is not visible to all internet users. Of those whose profile can be accessed by anyone online, nearly half (46%) say they give at least some false information. Teens post fake information to protect themselves and also to be playful or silly.

I’m a huge fan of Jonathan Lethem. And I hadn’t gotten round to reading all of his essay in Harper’s until just lately. Here’s a slice. And yes, the writing is this sharp and elegant all the way through:

“The ecstasy of influence: A plagiarism” by Jonathan Lethem (Harper’s Magazine)

For substantially all ideas are secondhand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral caliber and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment. There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands. By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote. Neurological study has lately shown that memory, imagination, and consciousness itself is stitched, quilted, pastiched. If we cut-and-paste our selves, might we not forgive it of our artworks?

It strikes me that his argument about art and influence is applicable to communities of practice as well. That we all borrow and re-contextualize our tools, ideas, methods.

It also strikes me that language itself works this way. What if, at some point early in civilized human development, as soon as one primitive came up with a name for something, nobody else was allowed to use that very name for that thing, without paying a fee of some kind? The very reason we have a rich language is that it can be fluid — it can grow, morph, and brawl its way through history — and because of that, we have civilization itself.

I recently did a presentation at the very excellent DigitalNow conference, in Orlando. It’s a conference for leaders of professional associations, who have a vested interest in virtual community building and keeping their constituents engaged, even in the splintered information-saturated “Web 2.0” world.

I combined a couple of previous years’ IASummit presentations and added a few new things to try and create an interesting picture that tries to re-frame the situation in several ways, hopefully adding some clarity and helping spark some new ideas for them.

Here’s a pdf of the deck: The Rise of Letting Go: How the Net Generation can teach us to lose control and like it. (Warning: it’s about a 20MB file!)

SnoopyBrown Zamboni at Electric Sheep Company has started a geek-roots initiative to bridge the somewhat divergent virtual world experiences at World of Warcraft and Second Life.

Second Life of Warcraft Wiki Is Up

Check it out, lend your thoughts, and if you’re excited please get involved! This can be as big as we all make it. Looking for more WoW guilds and Second Life builders to throw in their hats.