Socializing Big Data through BRPs

September 11, 2013

BTD

To start let’s consider two distinctions about organizational processes. Following Sig over at Thingamy, two basic types of processes exist: easily repeatable processes (ERPs) and barely repeatable processes (BRPs).

ERPs: Processes that handle resources, from human (hiring, firing, payroll and more) to parts and products through supply chains, distribution and production.

BRPs: Typically exceptions to the ERPs, anything that involves people in non-rigid flows through education, health, support, government, consulting or the daily unplanned issues that happens in every organisation.

As I noted in Social Learning and Exception Handling, BRPs result in business exceptions and take up almost all of the time employees spend at work. Interestingly, much of the writing I see on Big Data is about making ERPs more efficient or making guesses about when to expect occurrences of a BRP. In other words, both goals are really about making coordination of organizational efforts more efficient and/or effective.

How organizations coordinate their activities is essential to the way they function. What makes sense for the organization’s internal processes may not make sense in its ecosystem, and vice versa. These are distinctions that analysts of Big Data sometimes fail to note and consider.

For example, in The Industrial Internet the Future is Healthy, Brian Courtney notes the following about the use of sensors in industrial equipment and the benefits derived from storing at big data scale.

Data science is the study of data. It brings together math, statistics, data engineering, machine learning, analytics and pattern matching to help us derive insights from data. Today, industrial data is used to help us determine the health of our assets and to understand if they are running optimally or if they are in an early stage of decay. We use analytics to predict future problems and we train machine learning algorithms to help us identify complex anomalies in large data sets that no human could interpret or understand on their own [my emphasis].

The rationale behind using data science to interpret equipment health is so we can avoid unplanned downtime. Reducing down time increases uptime, and increased uptime leads to increases in production, power, flight and transportation. It ensures higher return on assets, allowing companies to derive more value from investment, lowering total cost of ownership and maximizing longevity.

In other words, Courtney’s analysis of the big data generated from sensors that constantly measure key indicators about a piece of equipment assumes the data ensures a decrease in downtime and an increase in uptime resulting in increases in production, power, flight and transportation. Yet, the implied causal relationship doesn’t translate to all cases, especially those involving barely repeatable processes (BRPs) that produce business exceptions. It is in BRPs that the real usefulness of big data manifests itself, but not on its own. As Dana Boyd and Kate Crawford note in Critical Questions for Big Data, “Managing context in light of Big Data will be an ongoing challenge.”

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Failing to See Money Hiding in Plain Sight

October 4, 2010

I’ve discussed ethnography, especially digital ethnography, several times here taking note that, whether we use ethnography in marketing  or design research remains irrelevant to the methods employed. What matters is whether we develop the research questions around the assumption that sociocultural practices provide the data source for answers. Ethnographers research settings, situations, and actions, with the goal of discovering surprising relationships. The most surprising relationships though are often hiding in plain sight, right under our noses.

I was recently pointed to a video from a link in the Yahoo Group Anthrodesign. The video, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, provides a unique example of insights about people we can glean from designing situations that transgress established sociocultural practices. I actually watched it three times, and not because Time listed it in the top five viral videos of the week…kind of like people (at least some people) did when the moonwalking bear video came out. Rather, my interest in it was how the mere observation of the actions taken by pedestrians leads us to experience surprise. More on this below. For now, let’s consider the video itself.

After sticking labels on 100 one dollar bills, with a unique message written on each, and clipping those dollar bills to individual leaves on a tree, Ben, Brian, and Amy video recorded how people respond to money hanging on a tree as they walk by it on a street.  The narrator, Amy,  indicates no crowds showed up to grab all the money they could get, though a few did take more than one dollar at a time. Most people who took money, a minority, pulled a couple of dollars, or one, and moved on.

(UPDATE: You will need to click on the Watch on YouTube link to see the video. Some proprietary thing I’m sure) 😉

Amy offers two lessons learned from the Money Tree:

  1. That people routinely walk by a “tree filled with free money” without even noticing
  2. That people can look at a tree filled with money and not even see it

The Money Tree offers an example of what social psychology, but especially ethnomethodology, refers to as a breaching experiment. Breaching experiments typically involve a researcher breaking a rule about everyday life and then analyzing other people’s response. The Money Tree exemplifies a situation designed to break a tacit understanding about money and sidewalks.

“Money doesn’t grow on trees”, is a phrase most people in Chicago (the location of the Money Tree) probably know. We don’t routinely see money hanging from a tree along a sidewalk. It is certainly more common, as the bicyclist’s experience in the video shows, to see money on a sidewalk. And, I’d wager, most of us just think someone lost it. In other words, merely by setting up the situation to violate the pedestrians’ tacit knowledge of what walking down a sidewalk entails, the videographers show us something about people.

At the same time that the video offers us a surprising experience, it sure would be interesting to know what people who failed to take money were thinking. Anyone else find this interesting?

Posted by Larry R. Irons

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Video Analysis for Experience Design: The Video Card Family Game

July 12, 2010

From "A Journey Round My Skull's" photostream on Flickr

 Digital ethnography is an increasingly feasible research technique as smartphones decrease in cost and more people carry them around. The photographic capability of smartphones is an important resource in making digital research ubiquitous, giving people the ability to capture images and record observations as they go about their everyday lives, and characterize those observations for ethnographers. 

Of course, taking photographs and sharing them online as part of a diary or journal for ethnographic research predates smartphones. Smartphones simply increase the likelihood that an everyday experience is recorded as a representation of the moment in which it occurs. Nevertheless, the video recording capabilities of smartphones afford collaborators an opportunity for representing experience in a manner previously unavailable to ethnographic research. 

I’ll discuss the range of implications for ethnography posed by the ubiquitous access to video recording capabilities by ordinary people in another post in the near future. For now, my discussion focuses on how to use video in ethnographic research to inform product/service design. 

Video of people using products or services is one of the most challenging data resources used in ethnographic research. Playing and replaying video segments for review is time-consuming and, depending on the number of people involved and the type of activity recorded, difficult to distil into agreed-upon insights. 

I recently read several chapters from Sarah Pink’s Visual Interventions: Applied Visual Anthropology, thoroughly enjoying all of them. One chapter in particular though, Video Ethnography Under Industrial Constraints, by Werner Sperschneider, really caught my attention. Werner spells out a technique (the Video Card Game) for analyzing video in design research that I remembered reading about several years ago but, at the time, didn’t really give a lot of thought to.   

The Video Card Game draws from the “Happy Families” childrens’ card game, a game in which players collect families of four cards as they ask one another in turn for cards of a particular archetype. The goal of “Happy Families” is to collect a family of four cards, forming a stack. Collecting the most stacks makes you the winner.  

Werner provides an overview of how researchers in user-centered design at the Danish industrial manufacturer, Danfoss A/S, initially created the Video Card Game as a method for combining ethnographic and visual research methods using video. Design researchers, Margot Brereton, Jared Donovan, Stephen Viller, at the University of Queensland, as well as Jacob Buur and Astrid Soendergaard, of  the University of Southern Denmark, and the University of Aarhus, respectively, also provide case studies of its use. 

Family Resemblance and the Video Card Game

The Video Card Game’s design provides a collaborative space of interaction for researchers, designers, and design collaborators to co-create insights for product and service design, using video as a primary source of insight. The rendition of the game offered here refers to it as the Video Card Family Game for the explicit purpose of making it clear that Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept of family resemblance is a key criteria in the gaming process for deciding to which themes a video card belongs. Using the concept of family resemblance to analyze video enables design researchers to organize, prune, and interpret actions taken in their research with collaborators in the field, providing actionable ideation outcomes.  

When playing the Video Card Family Game the key is remembering that, even though the cards give the video a tangible mode of expression, the images remain on relatively small cards, whether on the surface of a table or attached to a poster on the wall. One can imagine an interactive wall display like Microsoft’s Surface that minimizes the legibility problem. Short of such a solution however it is important to keep in mind the spatial limitations imposed by rendering video representations of action onto tangible video cards arranged on tables or walls. 

Keep reading if you are curious about how the Video Card Family Game is played in the context of video analysis for design research. 

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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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Experience Design and the Intelligibility of Interfaces

February 16, 2010

Created by Timo Arnall and Jack Schulze

As I noted in a post on Peter Morville’s Findability several years ago,

“Interfaces are not what they used to be. The computer-human interface is both more and less than it was a few years ago. Interfaces are not only, or even primarily, a screen anymore. Yet, screens remain important to most design efforts, even though interfaces are increasingly part of the environment itself. As John Thackara and Malcolm McCullough both recently pointed out, entire cities are developing into user interfaces as ubiquitous computing environments expand.”

Caleb, over at MobileBehavior, recently observed that mobile phones do not yet provide users with a graphic language for touch interactions. Caleb’s post points to an early visualization of a standard graphic language offered by Timo Arnall of the Touch project, which researches near field communication. Caleb makes his point by talking about the confusion that consumers experience when faced with a visual tag (v-Tag), or 2D Barcode, and does so with the following Weather Channel forecast that offers viewers an opportunity to interact with a visual tag using their mobile phones (wait until about 45 seconds into the video). The forecast fails to indicate to viewers what the v-tag does. 

The user experience team that developed the v-tag for that particular forecast must have assumed viewers would know it represented an invitation to interact. A search on the Weather Channel website fails to return any information on the use of v-tags in their media programming though.

In a previous discussion of Dan Saffer’s book, Designing Gestural Interfaces, I made a similar point about mundane gestural interfaces in public bathrooms, a setting with fairly established graphic language conventions. Yet, even such mundane gestural interfaces can pose difficulty for users. As I noted,

I remember the first time, a few years ago, when I tried to get water flowing through a faucet in a public restroom that used sensor detection. Initially, it was not obvious to me how the faucet worked, and I suspect others continue to experience the same problem based on the photo I took during a recent visit to a physician’s office.

gesture_water

Among other observations, it is important here to note that these examples provide clear instruction for why experience design encompasses user experience. Specifically, people only experience a user interaction if the interactive capability of an artifact is intelligible, if they recognize the artifact as an instance of that kind of thing, i.e. an invitation to interact with media or machinery. Who knows how many people noticed the Adidas logo embedded in a v-Tag on their running shorts, or shoes, and failed to see it as an invitation to a user experience?

People can’t use an interface if it is not recognizable as such or, as the Palcom team coined it, palpable to their use. Otherwise, the invitation to experience, what Dan Saffer calls the attraction affordance, fails. Consider the more telling example of the symbol at the top of this post. It represents an RFID signal environment for devices using the Near Field Communication (NFC) standard. Indeed, Timo Arnall and Jack Schulze’s recent work for the Touch project demonstrates the spatial qualities of an RFID device’s signal, the shape of its readable volume.

Dan Saffer, in Designing Gestural Interfaces, touches on the fact that we are currently missing common symbols for indicating when an interactive system “is present in a space when it would otherwise be invisible,” or when we just wouldn’t recognize it as such. Adam Greenfield’s Everyware made a similar point a half decade ago.

Posted by Larry R. Irons

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Ethnography and Ubiquitous Digital Research

February 4, 2010

Ethnographers are traditionally known for immersing themselves in the everyday lives of people and paying attention to the details and context of their activity. Anthropologists after Malinowski considered extended participant observation in the lives of the people they studied a prerequisite for analyzing culture. However, in the last few decades of the twentieth-century ethnographers began to consider their analysis increasingly as a challenge of interpreting cultural phenomena rather than explaining their variation.

With the increasing availability of the Web, researchers using computer-mediated communication, i.e. digital, devices in their projects label their work under a range of categories. I’ve discussed ethnography several times before, the first taking note of the trend toward virtual anthropology and the next talking about the significance of Tom Boellstorff’s ethnography of Second Life, followed by a couple of posts about ethnography’s relationship to empathy and globalization.

In 2003, Cheskin’s Davis Masten and Tim Plowman characterized digital ethnography as the next wave in understanding the consumer experience in Design Management Journal. To my way of thinking they were correct in asserting that, “Digital Ethno enables participants to convey the real-time richness of their own lives and environments.”

Along with any new wave in understanding people’s experience comes a range of neologisms intended to clarify the multiplicity of research options that emerge. Kozinets recently suggested that the use of ethnography in computer-mediated research activities is best described as Netnography, a neologism he dates from 1996. He argues for the use of the term, netnography, in the following way:

Netgography differs from other qualitative Internet research techniques in that it offers, under the rubric of a single term, a rigorous set of guidelines for the conduct of computer-mediated ethnography and also, importantly, its integration with other forms of cultural research (p. 15)

However, as Kozinets suggests, the 2008 survey of Intenet users done by the Annenburg Digital Futures Project found that 56% of the members of online community members meet other members of their online community face-to-face. And, as Kozinets further notes, the Annenburg research did not include social networking sites, making the figures conservative ones since, as Brian Solis recently noted, social networking combined with geo-location and augmented reality applications is bridging the online and offline interaction. Kozinets insists that this simply means research must blend ethnography and netnography to study the intermix of online and offline activity.

I won’t go into all the reasons I think Kozinets thinking on the relation between netnography and ethnography fails to persuade. Suffice it to say that, to my mind, as Web 2.0 increasingly permeates peoples’ everyday lives, the term netnography fails to sufficiently describe the way ethnography works in a consumer environment where digital devices are  ubiquitous.

As people increasingly access the Web and engage online communities on the go, the notion that this is happening on the net seems quaint. If any term is needed other than ethnography, I’d suggest digital ethnography remains the most fitting. When we consider mobility as part of a ubiquitous computing environment, defining the relationship between space and place increasingly requires analyzing social practices rather than simply distinguishing a time and location for an activity.

As Johanna Brewer and Paul Dourish observe, “space is not simply an ‘inert container’ for the places of everyday experience; rather, space itself is the outcome of particular ways of reasoning about and representing the world.” Brewer and Dourish note, for example, that research on mobile messaging used to coordinate meet-ups or other rendezvous allow for people to show-up using a proxy form of participation before they get to the physical meeting. Additionally, the recent research by Hope Jensen Schau, Albert M. Muniz, Jr., and Eric J. Arnould, How Brand Community Practices Create Value from the Journal of Marketing explicitly approaches brand communities using a range of qualitative techniques, including netnographic, to study participants across several years both online and off.

My inclination regarding ethnographic methods is to endorse the point of view offered in Sunderland and Denny’s Doing Anthropology in Consumer Research. They note,

…ethnography is not a method per se, but rather a collection of methods…In commercial consumer research circles, one sometimes hears various rules, on the order “it is only ethnography if there is observation,” or “video,” or “multiple meetings,” or “sufficient time,”…or…(filled in with any number of favorite and idiosyncratic rules. But what seems most accurate about ethnography as a companion mode of discovery in cultural analysis is that as a methodology it must be viewed through, and seen as permeated with, the sociocultural. (p. 50, my emphasis)

In other words, the specifics of the methodology matter less than its purposive application. Following Geertz, Sunderland and Denny contend, the methodologies employed, whether participant observation, focus groups, in-depth interviews, diaries (online or offline), village censuses, surveys, or maps, “are not ‘ethnographic’ per se, but…are made so by the intellectual framing of the task” (p.52).

The purpose of ethnographic research is as important as the methods used, as long as the sociocultural context remains in focus. For example, whether we use ethnography in marketing  or design research remains irrelevant to the methods employed. What matters is whether we develop the research questions around the assumption that sociocultural practices provide the data source for answers.

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Future Home Interfaces: Beautiful Seams for Everyday Life

February 25, 2009

An earlier post, Metaphorical Refrigerators, Design, and Ubiquitous Computing, pointed to the need to go beyond the desktop metaphor in thinking about he design of interfaces in the connected home.  The video below offers a clear example of the direction such a transformation in thinking about interfaces must take. It starts off slow, so give it some time to see the point. I particularly like the implicit control that the user retains over most of the interactions, though the zany, intelligent agent is a little far-fetched.

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Posted by Larry R. Irons