On the Roots of Social Computing

November 17, 2011

I recently received an invitation from Mads Soegaard, Editor-in-Chief at Interaction-Design.org to offer those who read this blog an early view of a new chapter on Social Computing in their encyclopedia. I’m a little late on this writing for you to get a pre-publication view of the chapter but I wanted to make sure and point it out for those who take topics like social computing seriously. Thomas Erickson wrote the chapter. To be candid, I didn’t really know much about Thomas until I read it. He seems like a very interesting person. Thomas’ chapter takes seriously the point of an early comment I made in a post here in 2008 on Social Software, Community, and Organization: Where Practice Meets Process, specifically my point that not enough of the influential discussion on the topic took seriously the roots of what it means to do social computing.

The distinctions involved are as old as the study of social interaction in organizations, especially the characteristics of routine work. However, we don’t need to go back to the 1950s when the distinction first emerged in the study of industrial organization to understand the significance of Ross’ point. Indeed, the early 1980s will do. Rob Kling discussed computing as social organization as early as 1982 in Marshall Yovits’ edited series on Advances In Computers. Drawing from the symbolic interactionist tradition, Rob distinguished between a line of work which, he contended, indicates what people actually do in computing work, compared to formal descriptions of that work, or what we might today refer to as business processes. Kling’s work was one precursor to the focus on computer supported collaborative work  (CSCW) in studies of group collaboration, most notably developed at Xerox PARC.

The social roots of social computing are important for influentials to keep in mind as they discuss current developments in Web 2.0 technologies, especially their use in the enterprise. The point is not a simple academic exercise of giving credit to what came before. Rather, it is to take note that the distinctions made explicit…regarding practice/process are as old as the modern, hierarchical organization and seem to survive regardless of the way communication technology is applied in it. Those who discuss tensions between social software and Enterprise 2.0, or learning management systems and eLearning 2.0, are pointing to persistent challenges in how organizations work.

Thomas’ chapter provides an excellent overview of the roots, history, and development of the concept of social computing as a concept that promises to stand the test of time regardless of the labels used to describe it, e.g. Web 2.0, Social Media, Social Business, Enterprise 2.0, etc. I recommend anyone involved in current discussions related to compound nouns like social media, social business, social “this” or “that” take a look at Thomas’ chapter as well as the Interaction-Design.org encyclopedia which offers in-depth analysis of such topics.


A Learnability and Experience Design Update

November 9, 2011

One of my earlier posts discussed the learnability of a service as a key challenge for experience design. Today I ran across this early video from Don Norman on learnability and product design. I thought I would share it.

 


Wayfinding, Purposive Desire, and Service Design

April 20, 2010

 

My last post dealt with transformations in the grocery shopper’s service journey in the United States since the late 19th century, after creation of the shopping bag. It noted that, before the shopping cart was introduced into grocery stores, the shopper’s journey started with paper grocery bags and noted the transformation required to get shoppers to use shopping carts.

In recent years, local and state governments, grocers and other retailers, as well as many shoppers increasingly understand the environmental impact of using so many disposable bags, whether paper or plastic. Not to mention the direct costs to the grocer in providing the disposable bags.

Paper bags cost four cents each on average and plastic bags one cent. The cost per year in the United States is over four billion dollars, leaving aside all the unintended harm to the environment. This post suggests that shoppers exhibit a purposive desire to use reusable shopping bags. When will the large grocery chains design the customer journey to reinforce the purposive desire of their shoppers? Customers expressing such a purposive desire need symbolic resources to aid them in remembering to take their reusable shopping bags,

from here

or here

to here

and, finally, here

Let’s start off with an anecdote.

Schnucks is a grocery chain in the St. Louis area that I sometimes frequent. The particular store I shop in seems to stock the best Bibb lettuce in my area and that is the main reason I go there. Earlier this year, as I entered that store, I experienced the simplest solution you could imagine to a recurrent problem many retail shoppers face.

Someone in this store took the time to mount a reusable Schnucks bag onto a matte board and attach it to the Enter doorway. Even though I was almost in the store when I saw it, the mere sign with no call to action gave me the motivation to turn around and go to my car trunk to retrieve some reusable bags. 

My household owns 15 – 20 reusable grocery bags from various retail chains in St. Louis, Schnucks and Dierbergs. I keep several of those reusable bags in the trunk of my car to use whenever I go shopping, especially for groceries. I’m sure many of you do the same with stores in your area. Needless to say though, I can’t count the times I’ve reached the checkout counter and realized that the answer to the “paper or plastic” question is, “Oh crap, I forgot to bring my bags in with me.”  

As a recent Twitter poster noted:  

  

A Facebook group even exists for I always forget my green bags.  

For those of you who own reusable shopping bags I’d wager you know the experience. In fact, one of the reasons my household has so many of these reusable bags is that my wife often forgets also, but she is not reluctant to just buy another one or two bags instead of using paper or plastic. Don’t ask!  

In addition to an inexplicable sense of inappropriateness, which my wife says she shares, in bringing a Dierbergs bag into Schnucks, and vice versa, or banish the thought, to bring a Schnucks or Dierbergs reusable bag into Whole Foods or Trader Joes, the main culprit for my failure to remember is usually just getting in a hurry.  

Consider the following numbers:  

40% of 1,000 people surveyed by Consumer Reports in the United States say they own reusable shopping bags and use them along with grocery supplied plastic and paper bags  

17% of 104,830 people surveyed by MSNBC in the United States say they consistently use reusable shopping bags  

Any way you look at the numbers, many more people own reusable bags than use them consistently. Someone at the Schnucks store who posted the sign is obviously listening to those customers who end up at the checkout and express dismay over forgetting their reusable bags. None of the other five or six Schnucks stores I occasionally shop have posted such signs. Schnucks lacks a strategic communications strategy for addressing the green customer need in question, i.e. the desire to remember reusable bags.

Schnucks isn’t alone. Dierbergs doesn’t provide signs to support reusable bag shopping at the start of the customer journey. Neither does Whole Foods or Trader Joes, at least in St. Louis. Nevertheless, the Schnucks store discussed in this post developed a workaround for the overall failure of the company to engage the shopping journey needs of its customers. It serves as a paradigmatic example of service design brought to the wayfinding challenges of grocery shoppers who are interested and motivated to minimize their environmental impact.  

 A customer that voluntarily expresses dismay over leaving their reusable shopping bags in their automobile trunk, or at home, is also revealing a desire, an emotional response to their own failure to remember a personal commitment to a larger purpose, i.e. they want to act in an environmentally responsible way. It is a purposive desire. I suggest that such purposive desires are relevant to service design and wayfinding, and the sections below outline how.

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Transformations in the Grocery Shopping Service Journey

April 15, 2010

Grocery shopping is one of those chores that we all have to do from time to time. I’m introducing the topic of grocery shopping as a service journey not because the concept is new.  In-store ethnographic studies, and shop-alongs, implicitly recognize the concept. Few people who analyze what grocers do, and how people who shop in their stores get the job of buying groceries done, would be surprised that it is a journey. And, of course, the journey starts in the shopper’s home, which Tesco’s Fresh and Easy discovered the hard way when they expanded from the United Kingdom to the United States. What I want to do here is provide a brief, high level history of the U.S. grocery shopper’s journey, and key transformations of that journey, to establish the context for my next post. 

Other than time, money, and typically transportation, two pieces of technology are critical to the journey we take as we shop, especially for groceries. We must collect items around the store and move them to the checkout counter. Once our grocery items are checked out and we pay for them, we must move those groceries from the store to our source of transportation. For many of us that transportation consists of an automobile, or other vehicle; for others it may be public transport. 

A partial solution to the challenge of collecting items around the store came with the invention of flat-bottomed paper bags by Margaret Knight in 1870. However, it really wasn’t until Walter H. Deubner, a grocery store owner in St. Paul, Minnesota, created a shopping bag  in 1915 (a paper bag with a cord running through it for strength) that a workable solution to the challenge of collecting and moving items from shelves to the checkout counter came along. The Deubner Shopping Bag carried up to seventy pounds of groceries. In other words, at least initially, the grocery bag was supplied before customers began to shop. 

The invention of the shopping cart by Sylvan Goldman in 1936 provided the basis for changing the shopping journey. Consider the problems he faced in persuading shoppers to change their shopping journey. 

Goldman’s concept was simple: make shopping easier for the customer and they’ll visit the store more frequently, and buy more. Unfortunately, the customers didn’t want to use the carts. Young men thought they would appear weak; young women felt the carts were unfashionable; and older people didn’t want to appear helpless. So, Goldman hired models of all ages and both sexes to push the things around the store, pretending they were shopping. That, and an attractive store greeter encouraging use of the carts, did the trick. 

Paid female model pushing shopping cart.

By 1940 shopping carts had found so firm a place in American life as to grace the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Supermarkets were redesigned to accommodate them. Checkout counter design and the layout of aisles changed. 

As a result, shopping bags were relocated in the shopper’s journey, with the exception of small bags for produce and other perishables. The invention of plastic bags later on added another alternative for bagging, in the produce section as well as the checkout counter, and it was a cheaper direct cost than paper. 

Today, the result of these basic technologies for supporting grocery shoppers makes the experience much easier, no doubt less stressful on the back and shoulders than carrying heavy bags around the store while shopping. My next post focuses on the current transformational challenge facing the grocery shopper’s service journey through the diffusion of reusable bags.

Posted by Larry R. Irons

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Using Social Network Analysis in Social Business Design

September 23, 2009

radical

My last post discussed the Open/Closed culture fallacy in social business design. I made the point that leaders of large corporations are typically unable to answer the key strategic questions posed by David Armano of the Dachis Group in a recent important post, Re-designing Your Business Culture. Among other questions, David asked:

Do we want real connections established between employees, customers, partners?
How can we reward those in our ecosystem who actively contribute?
Do we actually want to engage those who want to engage us? Can we?

As this post’s subject indicates, my interest here is to explain how social network analysis, applied to the ecosystems of organizations, helps apply social business design in a manner that avoids the fallacy of open/closed business cultures. We can’t know how open or closed a business culture is until we research, analyze, and understand both its formal and informal networks.

As I noted previously,

To paraphrase Valdis Krebs, a social network analyst, more connections are not necessarily betterValdis Krebs, and other social network analysts engaged in ONA (Rob Cross and Steve Borgatti, for example) contend that the most efficient and effective adaptation to emergent challenges lies in “the pattern of direct and indirect links” in the ecosystem. You can read a straightforward overview of ONA by Valdis.

This post continues David’s line of thinking by considering a combination of two of his strategic questions in light of the open/closed culture fallacy. I also take a stab at noting how to answer his last question.

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The Fallacy of Open/Closed Culture in Social Business Design

September 22, 2009

 Think about a closed business culture. Try to visualize what it looks like. What do you see? Does it look something like a pyramid?

Now, think about an open business culture. Try to visualize it. What image comes to mind? Does it look something like a spider web turned on its side?

 These two imaginings pose similar relationships between their parts. A three dimensional pyramid flattened out is about the same shape as a spider web. It is a matter of perspective as to whether one is more open or closed than the other. When connections are made across, rather than only between, the existing nodes in a network we can start to visualize informal relationships in a way that adds value to discussions of culture. It sounds simple, at least initially.

So, how do these observations relate to culture and social business design?

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Informal Learning in Health Care 2.0

August 19, 2009

transform-masthead

Update:

The presentations from Transform are now available online. Take some time and listen to these videos if you are in the least interested in how to transform health care. 


Health care is increasingly gaining attention as an area in which innovation involves informal learning, and many of the other topics that go along with using Web 2.0 to engage people. The current debates at the national level about changing health insurance carry with them an underlying focus on innovation in the design and delivery of healthcare services, an area referred to for several years as Health Care 2.0. And the Mayo Clinic is always at the top of the list when innovation is discussed in healthcare. So, it isn’t a surprise that the Mayo Clinic is sponsoring a symposium in September focusing specifically on innovating health care experience and delivery.

The symposium includes a number of segments with intriguing topics. However, the two I find most interesting are the Redefining Roles and the Content, Community, Commerce, Care, & Choices segments. It looks like a promising experience for those fortunate enough to attend.

Redefining Roles
This segment will introduce the emerging roles of disruptive technology and business model innovations in making products and services in health care affordable and accessible. It will touch upon the evolution of health care delivery systems — particularly hospitals — from geographically-centered and costly entities to decentralized and more focused operations. Participants will be introduced to emerging business models in health care, including facilitated networks — online communities of people who help to teach one another about how to live with their diseases. This segment will also explore the notion that health care can be designed to minimize the degree to which it disturbs peoples’ lives.

Content, Community, Commerce, Care, & Choices
Communities of people are sharing health care-related content online. This has come to be called “Health 2.0.” Individuals and organizations have built business ventures around sharing content. But what does it take for these models to evolve into reliable facilitators of wellness? How can these communities link with existing bricks-and-mortar care delivery systems in ways that help people in their journey to wellness? What are “microchoices” and how might they be more powerful than all of health care?

My interest in using communities to enhance the service experience goes back several years. I had not considered their application to health care services until recently when an associate pointed me to several hospitals using social media to connect with patients. It looks like a promising area for innovation and highlights the relevance of informal learning to health care services. 

Thanks to Tim Brown at Design Thinking for the pointer to the Mayo symposium.

Posted by Larry R. Irons

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