Posts tagged “social media”

The veneer of empathy

From this article about newsroom practices at USA Today

For Social Media Tuesdays, the staff must act as if there is no other way to get their articles except through sites likes Facebook and Reddit. That means USA Today’s journalists diligently place each of their famously punchy, graphic-rich stories onto various social media platforms. The purpose is to get them thinking like their readers, who increasingly get news through their Twitter feeds instead of the paper’s front page or home page.

“Think like your reader” is a generous framing as it highlights empathy, and who wouldn’t want their company, their products, their staff to be more empathetic? In fact, trying to get attention through social media is an exercise in manipulation (see Harry McCracken’s analysis/history of the “restore your faith in humanity” flavor of linkbait). That’s not empathy.

I’m not sure if this distortion was introduced by the reporter directly or whether they simply took what they were given at face value. Either way, that’s poor journalism (which is ironic in an article about the challenges facing the newspaper industry).

Now, the idea of taking what you know how to do and setting it aside, as a creative constraint, is a fabulous approach, like something from Oblique Strategies (See more about Brian Eno, one of the creators of Oblique Strategies, in this great article about his approach to art and creativity).

Take pictures (of food that) lasts longer


Insanely delicious burrata small plate, from Alden and Harlow in Cambridge, MA

On one hand this is just another article about the hype that social media more easily enables, but on the other hand, it draws the (perhaps spurious) conclusion that since so many diners are taking pictures of restaurant food (and posting the pictures online), that restaurants are designing food for photographic appeal first and for taste a noticeable second.

Cameras that can capture and transmit images in an instant are being used to photograph food that is meant to hang out indefinitely in suspended animation. Parceled out on a slate tile and pitilessly accessorized with leaves, crumbles, froths and sauces (set with emulsifiers so they never break down), even a charcoal-grilled steak would be as cold as a bologna sandwich. And this is what now passes for great, or at least significant, cooking. But great food is rarely static. As soon as it leaves the kitchen, it’s changing. In general, it’s getting worse. The soufflé is sinking. The arugula is wilting. The color of the steak excites us because it’s deeply browned, and we know that toasted, roasted, seared and caramelized surfaces mean deep flavors. But cameras hate brown food.

Again, I’ll suggest this is not necessarily true, but it serves to remind us of unintended consequences, and at the scale of social media, we are seeing more of this special type of unintended consequences, where we create with the consumption in mind. The media consumption used to be a consequence, but perhaps it’s becoming the primary design target. As consumers, we learn how to participate in experiences so that they can be documented and shared (and earn those addictive likes) and as producers, those that create those experiences, we are learning how to stage them so that they can be more easily shared and earn addictive likes (and valuable cash rewards as well). Public speaking in easily-tweetable soundbites or food-plating in easily-instagrammable bites; either way it all feeds the beast.

The global watercooler


Sorry about the picture quality, but I grabbed this image quickly. I was in Surry Hills, Sydney, Australia. A streetcar is went by and with an advertisement for The Walking Dead. Underneath the title of the show, the poster reads “Same day as the U.S.”

The value proposition here is that viewers can be part of the global conversation, taking place on social media. If you can’t see episodes of a popular show until days or weeks or months later (as has been the case for secondary markets) then you missed out on the party and it’s already spoiled.

Granted, with global time zones, this is not a fully synchronousexperience (but then neither is viewing in the U.S., with a three-hour breadth), but this is a fascinating sign of the times and more evidence that Water Cooler TV is still important.

ChittahChattah Quickies

The Philosophy of Food Project [University of North Texas] – Food is definitely delightfully deep. This ambitious project covers such ground as Food Metaphysics, Gustatory Aesthetics and Food Identity. Rich fare. For a little mental sorbet, watch a meditative video of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger included on their Links page. Sit back, relax, and ponder the meaning of flat meats and reluctant ketchup.

The Philosophy of Food Project is housed in the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies at the University of North Texas. It aims to disseminate information about the philosophical investigation of food; increase the visibility of food as a topic for philosophical research; serve as a resource for researchers, teachers, students, and the public; galvanize a community of philosophers working on food issues; and help raise the level of public discourse about food, agriculture, animals, and eating. The role of philosophy is to cut through the morass of contingent facts and conceptual muddle to tackle the most basic questions about food: What is it exactly? How do we know it is safe? What should we eat? How should food be distributed? What is good food? These are simple yet difficult questions because they involve philosophical questions about metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. Other disciplinary approaches may touch on these questions concerning food but only philosophy addresses them explicitly.

Airline lets passengers choose seat partners based on social media profiles [Springwise] – A clever concept at first glance, and certainly a perfectly understandable, some might even say natural use of social media, right? But I question the utility here, and the ability to produce repeatable positive experiences in real life. Do they realize that on airplanes you are stuck next to that person for the next x-amount of hours? The mind reels with potential horror stories. I for one still want some part of IRL to be uninfluenced by social media. Maybe that’s particularly so for me, as a middle-aged presumed-introvert. I dunno… do others have a different response to this?

KLM are reportedly developing a similar service to enable passengers to choose who they sit next to on their flight. However, unlike MHBuddy, which operates solely through Facebook, KLM’s new Meet and Seat service will enable passengers to access their fellow travelers’ LinkedIn profiles as well. The Meet and Seat service will allow passengers to choose their in-flight neighbors based on their occupation, mutual interests and appearance. By connecting to LinkedIn and Facebook during online check-in, passengers will be able to pick their ideal seat buddy, although both parties will have to choose to participate in the service. KLM believe it will provide an opportunity for networking, though other reports suggest it’s more likely to be used as a matchmaking tool.

The Art of Video Games [Smithsonian] – I am seriously tempted to make a trip to DC to see this exhibit. It takes an art historical approach, considering the video game as a serious art form in it’s own right, both reflecting our culture and in many senses, helping to shape it.

The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. The exhibition will feature some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers…Video games use images, actions, and player participation to tell stories and engage their audiences. In the same way as film, animation, and performance, they can be considered a compelling and influential form of narrative art. New technologies have allowed designers to create increasingly interactive and sophisticated game environments while staying grounded in traditional game types. The exhibition will feature eighty games through still images and video footage.

Don’t Bother, Braun

Today, I am proud to carry on the lively tradition of eviscerating… I mean, learning valuable lessons from other folk’s attempts at research. I will be examining a Braun-fielded poll that appeared on my Facebook page. (Recent notable additions to the oeuvre include Jared Spool’s 19 Lessons from United Airlines on How To Build a Crappy Survey and Steve’s imagined reaction to a Netflix survey, Effective Concept Testing: Getting the Answers You Want to Hear!)

OK, here it is:

I have a few questions.

1) Who? The pollsters don’t seem to care that I am neither a fan nor a consumer of Braun shavers specifically, or of electric shavers in general. They’ve got the audience all wrong. To respond would merely be to sabotoge their data-set in response to the absurdity. Which of course I wouldn’t dream of doing!

2) What is the purpose of this (Part I)? What is the marketing or social media team going to do with this information? What is the business question behind this? Knowing, as they must, that the data will be terribly corrupted, they can’t possibly believe that they’re actually getting useful information. So maybe it’s just one of these crazy social media ploys that appears to be important research but is really a bit of marketing designed at the level of a made-you-look joke?

3) What is the purpose of this (Part II)? If they just want me to look, then what did they want me to think upon having seen this survey/ad/poll? Is is supposed to intrigue me into thinking, “GOSH now I do wonder how new and different Braun shavers actually are! Let me look into that and then get back to them on this relevant question.” (If so, where’s the link?) Or is it, “Wow – Braun makes electric shavers!” Or is it merely an unconscious, Pavlovian Braaaaauuuuunn they’re trying to get? “Oh yeah, Braun is a brand. I need a shave.” Or do they really just want me to answer their ridiculous question?

4) Can it make sense, please? Don’t ask me to compare Braun, a brand responsible for a wide variety of consumer products, to the more specific but still questionable category of “other electric shavers.” I can’t compare things that are not comparable.

5) “New and Different?” Really? New and different are not necessarily positives, especially as those attributes relate to whirring blades that come into contact with your body parts. Is this the most important consumer response that the marketing team is really hoping to understand, if, in fact, they are hoping to understand anything at all?

6) Wait… anonymous or not? The question mark there, which (I know, I know) is a what-does-this-mean question mark probably linking to a privacy policy still reads like a sleazy wink. Fingers crossed! Your response may or may not be kept anonymous.

Even though I’ve no doubt that this is an insignifiant throw-away in the overall universe of Braun marketing, it definitely made an impression. If you’re going to bother to ask people questions, know who you’re asking and make it seem, even just a little bit, like the whole exercise matters to you.

We’ve learned quite a bit from other people’s surveys many times before:
Bad Survey Design. Please Stop!
Son of Survey
Son of Survey Madness
Thank You For Voting
The Space Between Yes and No
Does Calling it a Report Card Make it Not a Survey?
Survey Revenge

Reading Ahead: Managing recruiting

Reading ahead logo with space above

There’s always something new in every project. Often we encounter a bit of process that we may not know how to best manage it. So we’ll make our best plan and see what happens. We learn as we go and ultimately have a better way for dealing with it next time.

In a regular client project, we write a screener and work with a recruiting company who finds potential research participants, screens them, and schedules them. Every day they email us an updated spreadsheet (or as they call it “grid”) with responses to screener questions, scheduled times, locations, and contact info. It still ends up requiring a significant amount of project management effort on our end, because questions will arise, schedules will shift, people will cancel, client travel must be arranged, etc. etc.

For Reading Ahead, we did all of the recruiting ourselves. Although we’ve done this before, this may be the first time since the rise of social media: we put the word out on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, email to friends, and here on All This ChittahChattah.

While Dan lead the effort, we both used our own networks, and so we got responses in a number of channels, sent to either or both of us, including:

  • @ replies on Twitter
  • direct messages on Twitter
  • Comments on Facebook posts
  • Messages on Facebook
  • Emails (directly to either of us, or forwarded from friends, and friends-of-friends

A private dialog on Facebook

Comments on a Facebook status update. Note that Dan is able to jump in and make contact directly

Direct Messages in Twitter

Some people were potential participants, some were referrers to other potential participants, and some were both. And given the range of platforms we were using, with their associated restrictions (and unclear social protocols), we had to scramble to figure out who could and should communicate with who to follow up and get to the point where we could see if the people in question were right for the study. We didn’t expect this to happen, and eventually Dan’s inbox and/or his Word document were no longer efficient, and as some participants were scheduled or in negotiation to be scheduled, he ended up with this schedule cum worksheet:


Being split across the two of us and these different media, eventually we were interacting with people for whom we had to check our notes to trace back how we had connected to them, which was great for our sample, since it meant we weren’t seeing a group of people we already knew.

It was further complicated when we had finished our fieldwork and wanted to go back to everyone who offered help close the loop with them, thanking them for help. Technically, and protocol-wise, it took some work (who are the people we need to follow up with? Who follows up with them? What media do they use), basically going through each instance one-by one.


We haven’t figured out what we’ll do next time; we won’t forget the challenges we’ve had but there’s just not time or need right now to plan for the future. If I had to guess, I’d imagine a Google Spreadsheet that includes where we got people from, who owns the contact, whether they are participant-candidate or referrer, etc.). Despite being very pessimistic about the demands of recruiting, we still underestimated the time and complexity required for this project.

Where does Twitter go from here?

(Originally posted on Core77)

It’s an interesting time for Twitter. Although the folks on Twitter are lead user/early adopter types, there is huge buzz about the service. And as with many disruptive innovations, this new-and-different-thing is not well understood and begins to evoke a backlash. The mainstream media (NYT, Daily Show) is enjoying the opportunity to portray the technology – and its adherents – as contributing to a social decline, wasting time, being foolish, self-absorbed, and other cultural sins. But we went through this with cellphones (self-important rich people only), the Walkman (self-absorbed anti-social jerks), and so on. Let’s understand the backlash for what it is: a society grappling with emerging behaviors that challenge social norms. See Evan Williams on Charlie Rose for a discussion of “normal people” using the service.

One way to normalize a new behavior is to think about how it’s going to make money. Because what’s more normal than capitalism, right? So we’ve got all the Skittles buzz recently. We’d rather consider the designed experience that Twitter is facilitating than the marketing, PR, and money stuff, though. For a primer, you can read our previous thoughts here (summary: What the heck is this thing for? You’ve gotta use it for a while and see). Of course, all ideas are brainstorming, and not recommendations. Brainstorming works best when people build on the ideas, so we’d love to see all the builds you can come up with on the issues and the stand-in solutions. Note: some of these things may already be available on; but we see them only when we log out, so not sure how much help that is?!

Out of Box or Is This Thing On?
Just for fun, we went and looked at some of the first tweets (or postings, if you prefer) from people we are connected with on Twitter. Here’s some typical ones

  • taking the plunge
  • ok, i’m here… now what?
  • teaching rissa what twitter is.
  • trying to figure out why i joined twitter

(side note: there’s a lot more exploration of what people’s first tweets are; see this analysis and this part of the My First Tweets project).

There’s nothing wrong with this sort of tweeting, it’s a way for people to explore and test the system out. But it reveals that tentative stage people are in (and some never leave) when first using the system. A general principle here is to give people scaffolding to help them move to a more comfortable, fluid, confident, and rewarding stage of usage. Twitter asks What are you doing? and people can answer that question. But without a more full-fledged model of Twitter, they are always going to be tentative in this stage.

One possibility: give people a backstage mode where they can just try posting stuff, and then once they are ready, turn them “live.” Maybe you get 10 free tweets that no one will see. I’m thinking of Practice Mode in Guitar Hero where the player strums and the disembodied voice urges “great!” “rock on!” “go for it!” Give people permission to play without an audience, and then go live with it.

What Goes Where
Maybe it’d be helpful to provide a diagram that visually explains what you are broadcasting and to whom. What do you see as input on Twitter? Where does what you write go? Who can see it? And sure, if your stuff goes on the public timeline, then “everyone” can see it, but if Twitter is getting (say) 5,000 posts a second, that may change how you feel about your content being put all the way out there. But building that model in a realistic way for people so they understand how public they are being.

The Device Ecocystem
There’s two use cases here (for most of these issues): posting and reading, and you can configure your devices/technologies a few different ways. There’s a cliche of Twitter as a mobile device-only system, but it’s much more flexible than that. You can use IM, SMS, or PC and a combination or multiplicity. That creates a lot of options and customization, but people need a bit of help understanding what the options are, and perhaps why those options would be better for one situation than another (rather than realizing how much it sucks to get 30 texts in 4 minutes).

The External App Ecosystem
We could imagine why Twitter would not want to get involved in telling people about these things, but since they’ve opened up their API there are a ton of other services and applications out there. Designers of these tools are building in the viral aspect so that using this extra service (say, MrTweet which suggests new followers for you) creates a tweet that tells others about the fact that you are using it). But how does a not-so-new user find out what else is available? Sorting through the iPhone apps and desktop apps that let you manage your tweets and followers differently is not an easy task. And no doubt there are websites out there that have captured all that, but why not put it on

Terminology and Commands
We’ve learned most of this by watching other people. But it took a lot of Twitter use before we were clear about conventions such as @ to reply to another person (and to understand what that looked like to the recipient), D to directly and private contact another person, # for tagging, and RT for ReTweeting (we still aren’t sure if that’s an evolved bit of common language or a command that we can use somehow). Can we help people with this? Sure, help text on the screen, but also some sort of smart tech, like Google’s suggestions during search, or (God forbid) a Clippy-like solution that offers some suggestions based on what it thinks you are trying to do.

Social Norms
One of the consequences of new social media is that it creates unarticulated and emotional expectations on others. People that post too much are rude. People that don’t tweet enough are rude. People that don’t have a bio, or a good user name are rude. People that follow us back too quickly are obsessed. People that don’t follow us back are rude. People that …well, you get the point. We bring expectations about others into this new interactive soup, but we can bet that most people do NOT share those norms, and it can get ugly, or awkward. Twitter is in no position to dictate those social norms to people as they are evolving organically, but Twitter could provide some coaching. Why doesn’t Twitter itself analyze our usage and suggest – something – in a gentle way. Or at least help make us mindful that there are evolving and varying social norms here and we should take it easy on ourselves and with others. Note: David Pogue addressed this issue pretty well here.

What To Use It For
Twitter might not want to go too far with this either. People are inventing all sorts of new use for Twitter all the time. But highlighting some use cases would be interesting and eye-opening for people as they either are thinking about putting their toe in, or after they are users and considering what the heck this thing is really for. Although it’s rather smarmily self-congratulatory, the LinkedIn Blog does this fairly well.

I’m sure we’ve missed a ton of ideas. What do you think?

Note: follow us on Twitter at and (new)

Twitter’s User-Generated Disruptive Innovation


In the late 1980s, I had heard about spreadsheets (such as VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3). I had a general idea of what they were for (“what-if” calculations) but I didn’t have a clear model of how I myself would use it. I had the chance to sit down and try Excel. After it launched, I just stared blankly at the empty grid. I couldn’t figure out what to do with it. And so I left it alone for many, many years. Now it’s one of my regular tools, but at that time I didn’t have the need to organize columns of data, or an application built upon the platform to address any need I might have, or the mental model to allow me to customize the platform to suit any need I might have.

I think of Twitter as an analog. Almost two years ago I wrote about my experience with Twitter.

I finally started using it and I’m not sure I like it.

I think it’s a really powerful idea, it’s an impactful side effect of some simple technologies like putting up your pictures on a website. It starts to evolve well-formed social interactions like party chat.

Twitter takes that behavior and blows it up. The side effect is now the main effect (and no doubt tons of new side effects are created).

And I don’t like using Twitter. It makes me feel lonely and isolated. I don’t know what most people are talking about, I sometimes feel bad I’m not included in their conferences, travels, adventures, dining. Maybe I’ve chosen the wrong people to follow, maybe it’s not the same people to Twitter with that I would LinkIn with. I don’t have a posse, a regular gang. I have social relationships with colleagues, but we’re not in each other’s lives in any sort of deep way.

I don’t dismiss or blame Twitter; I may find the experience evolves over time, or I may simply bail. It’s always interesting to introduce new layers of interface onto my social interactions and see what the impact is.

I’d love to hear from others how they are using Twitter and of course how I might start using Twitter.

I did abandon Twitter for a long time, and then came back to it. There’s more of a critical mass of people I know involved; there’s more evolved social norms around responding and interacting; I’ve started posting more non-lame stuff. When significant news events happen (Mumbai shootings, plane crashes), Twitter is the place I know to go to find out what’s going on instantly. I’ve had the experience of being involved in a massive-dialog-like exchange during election events and conference sessions.

I wrote before about ComcastCares, a Comcast VP who decided to respond to customer complaints on Twitter. This has made a lot of people very excited about Comcast and Twitter, although I maintain it reveals the tremendous failings in Comcast’s default customer support infrastructure (I did make use of the Twitter support after being frustrated with the phone support recently, and was mostly satisfied). Meanwhile, Wired points out that this effort is driving internal change at Comcast, and while the public isn’t seeing the results yet, this is looks to be a significant side effect of Twitter adoption.

Lately when I tweet about a brand, I will quickly hear back from someone associated with that brand, offering to troubleshoot for me (examples here and here). That induces a tremendous feeling of being-listened-to (how come there’s no word for that feeling in English?), especially when my intention was to vent or share, not to seek help.

There’s an important network effect here, but that’s not the only disruptive aspect. Users of Twitter continue to find new applications that are not inherently obvious in this minimally functional service: type up to 140 characters and people can see it on their phones or on the web.

For more, see David Pogue’s latest column where he describes the still-evolving social norms

One guy took me to task for asking “dopey questions.” Others criticized me for various infractions, like not following enough other people, writing too much about nontech topics or sending too many or too few messages.

and offers a set of hints for using Twitter including my favorite: USE IT HOWEVER YOU LIKE.

And to everyone that found this post on Twitter: hi!

Squeaky Tweets Get Grease

This article relates how a Comcast VP started using Twitter to track down and resolve customer problems, after a lot of bad news began appearing on blogs and websites.

But in portraying this as a big success, with social media mavericks working inside the enterprise to really solve customer problems, the article is missing the larger point: these companies (in this case Comcast, but substitute anyone else you like) are so bloated, bureaucratic, inefficient or corporate that the regular system can’t work. This is the problem resolution system that is available to the greatest majority of the customers, those who don’t know what Twitter is, who don’t start anti-Comcast blogs, those vast majority of customers who have either surrendered entirely or who only have access to the resources the company offers them: a toll free number to call. If Comcast (or equivalent) can’t solve problems that come in that way, they shouldn’t be lauded when customers are driven to the brink and complain in other channels that Comcast isn’t really and truly supporting.

While it’s great that there are motivated and creative folks at Comcast that are pushing the envelope of how to reach and support customers, it smacks of elitism to be applauding this thin veneer of problem resolution when what it reveals is the rotting timbers of the support infrastructure.

Stories, lost forever

The way things used to be

As I’ve already blogged, I was the victim of a phishing scam and my flickr account was deleted.

According to some flickr forum discussions (where others are reporting similar occurrences) Yahoo/flickr has known about this particular culprit for a year or so. And they’ve failed to implement sufficient countermeasures, technical or otherwise.

Phishing typically targets banking and PayPal information, obviously for financial gain. In my case, someone left a comment on a photo, with a link. And clicking on that link led me to this sad situation. Why did Yahoo let someone post a link that was harmful?

Sure, the forums are also filled with smug posts (not from the flickr staff; they have been instructed to use a soothing tone, while not providing any resolution) from people who insist that the victims of these scams are to blame for not knowing better. I would have thought I did know better, actually.

This miscreant deleted my account, just for fun. And Yahoo can’t restore it. We all know there are backup copies all over the place, but they can only recreate my account, blank.

That means that my 5000 photos are gone. Those I can upload. But all the people I’ve linked to are gone (I’ve spent a few hours trying to reconnect with those I can remember). Anyone who watched my photos via their contacts has lost me (and I’ve lost much of my audience). All the photos that were marked by others are gone. All the groups which I participated in by contributing illustrative images are gone. All the titles, tags, geotags, view counts and comments are gone. All the descriptions and stories and dialog with others is gone.

My document, my story, my part of the community, is gone.

But the whole social media movement that we can’t ever stop hearing about is asking us to contribute content to their websites; we’re building the value for them. YouTube wouldn’t sell for $1.65 billion without our videos. Flickr has our photos. LiveJournal has our stories and pictures.

But is it ours? Do we know who owns it? If the data is on our hard drive, we know where it is, we may even take the trouble to back it up (I’ve got an external backup at work, at home, and online). But if the data is on someone else’s site, how can I keep a copy of it? It may be against the site rules for you to do that, in fact, as the high profile Scoble story demonstrated.

flickrbackup is a tool that lets you save the photos, but how does one download all the metadata? Flickr should have an export feature that creates a .flk file on your PC with all the good stuff. LinkedIn lets you export all your contacts in a variety of standard formats (and if you are nervous, maybe you should go do that right now: LinkedIn->My Contacts tab->Export Connections button near bottom), Google Reader (and any of the other RSS readers I know of) exports an OPML file (Google Reader->Manage Subscriptions ->Import/Export).

DataPortability is a movement to create these tools where they don’t exist. I hope someone creates something for flickr soon.

As for me, I don’t know how to proceed. I was just beginning my Tokyo story, which reached about 1500 pictures (not all worth posting, of course). I’ve got several hundred from Taipei (November/December) and I had a lot of Bali pictures and stories – the cool cultural stuff, the signs, all that great stuff – still unposted. But I’ve also use flickr as a storage for images that I’ve referenced in bios, conference presentations, this blog, other blogs, etc. It’s overwhelming and I don’t know what to do first. Or if I should even do anything. I can’t imagine going to the trouble of writing stuff only to have it disappear again. Maybe one should see it as ephemeral, but I am not there yet.

dux07 announced

dux07 has just been announced.

DUX (Designing for User eXperiences) Chicago, November 5-7, 2007

Social media and networks are producing a new set of expectations regarding people’s ability to contribute, create, personalize, and share information.

I think the theme is very timely. I’m also not sure how interested I am in it, and given that my last DUX experience was not quite satisfactory, I’ll have to keep this in the maybe pile.


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