Posts tagged “users”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Do You Know What This Symbol Means? [Yahoo! Autos] – [If people can't figure out what a warning symbol is warning them about, does it still qualify as a warning symbol? Should warning symbols require a public education effort? How does one measure whether a symbol is idiot-proof? How many idiots should be queried?] The issue here seems to be that the public hasn’t been properly educated on the warning symbol, which is supposed to be “idiot proof” and understandable across a wide variety of cultures and languages. Yet 46% of drivers couldn’t figure out that the icon represents a tire and 14% thought the symbol represented another problem with the vehicle entirely.
  • [from steve_portigal] The importance of futility in innovation [Pasta&Vinegar] – [See our various rants against finding "pain points" as the pathway to innovation.] This discussion echoes with the notion of “needs” and the desperate quest lead by big companies to find “new needs”. Looking for these so-called new needs is not a matter of asking people what they want or asking them what they would crave for. Instead, observing how products and services that may seem futile at first can be adopted, domesticated, appropriated and tweaked for other purposes is a better strategy.

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Diving Deep: Best Practices For Interviewing Users

While we know, from a very young age, how to ask questions, the skill of getting the right information from users is surprisingly complex and nuanced. This session will focus on getting past the obvious shallow information into the deeper, more subtle, yet crucial, insights. If you are going to the effort to meet with users in order to improve your designs, it’s essential that you know how to get the best information and not leave insights behind. Being great in “field work” involves understanding and accepting your interviewee’s world view, and being open to what they need to tell you (in addition to what you already know you want to learn). We’ll focus on the importance of rapport-building and listening and look at techniques for both. We will review different types of questions, and why you need to have a range of question types. This session will explore other contextual research methods that can be built on top of interviewing in a seamless way. We’ll also suggest practice exercises for improving your own interviewing skills and how to engage others in your organization successfully in the interviewing experience.

For more on interviewing, you can check out our UIE Virtual Seminar and the follow-up podcast we did with Jared Spool.

Mommy, Where Do Good Products Come From?
(with Gretchen Anderson)

Business case studies are the ultimate in reductionism: A complex business activity rooted in a specific context of people, company culture, time, and place is boiled down to a few key ideas. Consultants, designers, students, and people who read Malcolm Gladwell are especially prone to this form of simplification. While these simplified stories can be helpful as touchstones, we just need to remember that they are often apocryphal archetypes more than investigative summaries. Or people confuse the terms innovation and invention; looking for breakthrough ideas sends companies into a frenzied search for “new” things not great or disruptive things. In this session, we will explore some different pathways to creating great product ideas. As designers and researchers, we’re experienced enough to know that design research isn’t the only approach or even always the best approach (a point of view that Don Norman vehemently argued in recent writings). For instance, design research wouldn’t be sufficient to create a disruptive innovation like Gowalla. We’ll outline a framework that looks at different approaches to idea generation, including corporate competencies and culture, customer needs and cultural context, and technological innovation.

For more on this topic, you can check out our interactions column Some Different Approaches to Making Stuff (PDF). Also, listen to Steve and Gretchen in conversation about the speed of innovation.

Thanks for your votes!

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ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] The $5 Guerrilla User Test [Bumblebee Labs Blog] – [While we're obviously big advocates of getting input about designs from people as frequently as possible and at various levels of fidelity, it's a bit dissonant when informal methods get distilled (so to speak) into formal-seeming methods without any of the purposefulness and planfulness of established methods. Challenging to my assumptions and thus helpfully provocative] Drunk people are a pretty accurate mimic of distracted, indifferent people. This insight has lead to a wonderful technique I’ve been refining over the years that I call “The $5 Guerrilla User Test”. Here’s the 5 second version: 1. Bring a laptop to a bar, 2. Offer to buy someone a beer in exchange for participating in a user study, 3. Watch your application crash & burn as people do all sorts of ridiculous ass shit they would never do in a lab but constantly do in real life, 4. Go back, apply the lessons you have learnt, repeat until you have an app that is 100% drunk person proof

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Does Language Influence Culture? [] – [Stanford psychology prof Lera Boroditsky examines how it does, and why it does] Just because people talk differently doesn't necessarily mean they think differently. In the past decade, cognitive scientists have begun to measure not just how people talk, but also how they think, asking whether our understanding of even such fundamental domains of experience as space, time and causality could be constructed by language…All this new research shows us that the languages we speak not only reflect or express our thoughts, but also shape the very thoughts we wish to express. The structures that exist in our languages profoundly shape how we construct reality, and help make us as smart and sophisticated as we are…As we uncover how languages and their speakers differ from one another, we discover that human natures too can differ dramatically, depending on the languages we speak. [Thanks @ebuie]
  • [from steve_portigal] Facebook Is to the Power Company as … [] – [The gap between being a customer and being a happy customer. Will Facebook be like Microsoft in a few decades, *still* whining about not being beloved – let alone actively disliked?] It was a typically vexing week for Facebook. On the one hand, the social-networking service signed up its 500 millionth active user. On the other hand, it was found to be one of the least popular private-sector companies in the United States by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Apparently, Americans were more satisfied filing their taxes online than they were posting updates on their Facebook page. It is a continuing contradiction: Facebook is widely criticized for shifting its terms of service and for disclosing private information — and yet millions of people start accounts each month.
  • [from steve_portigal] Digital Domain – Even With All Its Profits, Microsoft Has a Popularity Problem [] – [We want your money and your love!] Microsoft’s enterprise software business alone is approaching the size of Oracle. But despite that astounding growth, Microsoft must accept that, fair or not, victories on the enterprise side draw about as much attention as being the No. 1 wholesale seller of plumbing supplies. Microsoft won’t receive the adoring attention that its chief rival draws with products like the iPad. In a conversation earlier this month, Mr. Shaw explained what prompted him to write his post. “I noticed some pretty critical conversations going on in the technosphere among the technorati,” he said. “There’s a gap between that conversation ­ ‘the company is not doing well, period’ ­ and what the company is actually doing.” In the blog, he writes, “With Windows 7, Office 2010, Bing, Xbox 360, Kinect, Windows Phone 7, in our cloud platform, and many other products, services and happy customers, 2010 is shaping up as a huge year for us.”

Harley-Davidson Invites Cognitive Dissonance

Harley-Davidson is probably close on the heels of Apple as one of the brands most cited as an admirably authentic brand, with people who aren’t merely customers purchasing product, but rather fans evangelizing and incorporating/reflecting the brand into every aspect of their being…

…and employees/executives who walk the walk and talk the talk.

True cred all around. But Harley-Davidson is a bit of a schizophrenic brand. It’s impressive that the brand is able to credibly support two sets of core customers who seem like they would be at best uncomfortable with each other: hard-core lifestyle biker dudes and chicks (anti-establishment, subculture) and weekend-warrior gentlemen or gentlewomen hobbyists (well-to-do, mainstream).

Across from the Harley-Davidson museum in Milwaukee sits a new high-end boutique hotel to draw motorcycle enthusiasts. The Iron Horse clearly caters to the income bracket of the weekend-warrior…

…but holds bike events there that celebrate and attract hard-core bikers. These pictures, courtesy of Stefanie Norvaisas, were taken at a recent “Bike Night” at the Iron Horse.

Then again, perhaps I’m being unfair. Maybe there’s more overlap between these two types of “users” than just looking at the extreme points of the scale would suggest. So often we think we have the customer figured out only to have those assumptions shaken up after a bit of fieldwork. It’s easier to pigeonhole and design for one imagined (probably exaggerated) type of customer, or persona. Harley-Davidson has shown that by celebrating the blurry lines between customer types a brand can invite strange but surprisingly comfortable bedfellows.

See Also:

  • Steve discusses Harley in Interactions magazine. Ships in the Night (Part I): Design without Research

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Forrester’s 2010 Customer Experience Rankings [Customer Experience Matters] – # Retailers take 12 out of the top 20 spots. Most of the top rated companies on the list are retailers. Hotels also grabbed three of the top 20 spots. Interestingly, three financial services firms also cracked the top 20: credit unions, SunTrust Bank, and Vanguard.
    # Healthcare, Internet and TV services dominate the bottom. The bottom 11 companies on the list came from only four industries: five health insurance plans (United Healthcare, Medicaid, Anthem, and CIGNA), three ISPs (Charter Communications, Comcast, and Qwest), two TV service providers (Charter Communications and Comcast), and one credit card provider (HSBC).
  • Can Design Change Behavior? [Stanford School of Engineering] – Because behavior can be influenced—not just observed—it provides an important opportunity for tackling complex challenges such as sustainability. That opportunity is perhaps best addressed with design…With this outlook, Banerjee says he is excited to be one of the principal investigators in a new project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy in which he is working with other Stanford professors who have expertise in behavioral sciences, communications, human-computer interaction, and behavioral economics. The team aims to create interventions that influence behavior to bring about significant reductions in energy use. But what designers understand well is that people are “predictably irrational” and influenced by emotional as well as rational criteria, Banerjee says.
  • The Art of Asking the Question [UIE Brain Sparks] – Steve Portigal will show your team the art of asking the question. You might visit the user in their office or home, have them come to you for a usability test, or even have a chance encounter at a trade show or while waiting for an airplane. Do you know what to ask? Do you know what to listen for, to extract the critical detail of what they can tell you about your design?

    Steve will help you prepare your team for any opportunity, be it formal user research or less structured, ad-hoc research. He’ll also give you tips on how to work with your stakeholders and executives, who may also be meeting potential customers and users, so they know what to ask and how to listen—integrating their efforts into the research team. (Wouldn’t it be great if they understood why you’re doing what you’re doing?)

    Update: Use promotion code CHITTAHCHATTAH to get lifetime free access to the recording after the fact (normally a separate cost)

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Social science meets computer science at Yahoo [SF Chronicle] – Yahoo Labs has bolstered its ranks of social scientists, adding highly credentialed cognitive psychologists, economists and ethnographers from top universities around the world. At approximately 25 people, it's still the smallest group within the research division, but one of the fastest growing.

    The recruitment effort reflects a growing realization at Yahoo that computer science alone can't answer all the questions of the modern Web business. As the novelty of the Internet gives way, Yahoo and other 21st century media businesses are discovering they must understand what motivates humans to click and stick on certain features, ads and applications – and dismiss others out of hand.

    Yahoo Labs is taking a scientific approach to these questions, leveraging its massive window onto user behavior to set up a series of controlled experiments (identifying information is always masked) and employing classic ethnography techniques like participant observation and interviews.

  • Domino’s "The Pizza Turnaround" [YouTube] – Domino's Pizza uses customer research to spawn product redevelopment, and then uses that process to promote their improved product. Note the negative quotes posted on the walls of their office.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Will gadget revolutionize our reading habits? – For the concept of a device that allows books to be read electronically, "this is the year we get it," said Steve Portigal, the head of Pacifica consumer research firm Portigal Consulting. "But there's this huge psychological chasm we have to cross before people buy them."
  • 15 Google Users Tried Bing for a Week and 10 of them Switched – Students often ask me about ethics, i.e., our findings being influenced by corporate agendas. Here's a study that Microsoft commissioned to see if Google users would switch to Bing if forced to use it. Results say "yes." The research question may not have been "Will Google users switch to Bing?"…it may have been "Help us understand how Google users react to Bing [once they don't have to think about the choice between Google and Bing at search-time]" It may be that the findings led themselves to this promotion.
  • Sports Illustrated future vision for their Tablet – So the future of reading is, apparently, television. They've managed to throw everything into this demo, including nekkid (almost) ladeez, game playing, and really bad sound effects (note: boop and page-flip don't make a coherent soundscape IMHO).

Personas Leaking Outside the Enterprise

Yesterday’s NYT article about Ford using personas raised one of my big concerns about the process, where a design process artifact becomes (inappropriately) a marketing artifact.

The designers imagined her life in detail in a video, “A Day in the Life of Natasha.” Several human models were screen-tested before one, who looks vaguely like Audrey Hepburn, was chosen to appear in the video. The video was also convenient for explaining the car to the press and public.

Here’s an egregious example of persona-think gone mad: In the “Intel Process Personalities” contest, they put forth a number of personas
intel1intel2 and asked online readers “What kind of PC junkie are you?” and “What superhero powers would your ideal notebook PC have?” People submitted their answers online and a six were chosen to be profiled in followup advertising. Here’s one:


Five other real people are similarly profiled in the 3-page ad.

It’s just disturbing to see corporations decide that there are 6 mutually exclusive customer types and ask people then to identify themselves as a Frequent Flyer, a Cafe King, or (yecccchhhh) The Multimedia Monkey. I don’t aspire to be any of those characters. While I may have a set of needs, behaviors, and preferences that align me with other folks, it’s audacious of the company to set up categories and ask me to fit myself into them. And when it’s as ham-fistedly awkward as this (i.e., The Blogger is involved in “posting timely twitters updates”) it’s even more insulting.

Now, this is marketing, not user research, but it’s bringing in user research as semiotics in a way that devalues the real work of researchers and participants. “What superhero powers would your ideal notebook PC have?” is a great question in participatory design, but smug as part of a contest.

Kudos to Intel to using real people in these profiles (admittedly, I assumed they were fake until I read the fine print) but shame on Intel for exposing their patronizing “segmentation” and offering goods in exchange for people identifying themselves within those caricatures.

For more anti-persona ranting, we’re happy to pass along the now-classic interactions column Persona Non Grata upon request.

Get our latest article, Ships in the Night (Part II): Research Without Design?

My latest interactions column, Ships in the Night (Part II): Research Without Design? has just been published.

Our client had the right idea-get feedback on something unfinished in order to improve the finished product. Unfortunately, aspects of the object were so unfinished that people were unable to make the leap from the prototype (excuse me, appearance model) to the real thing, and the outcomes shifted away from usability and aesthetics toward high-level concept validation. Given that, there’s always the opportunity to create something specifically to provoke people around the deeper issues we want to explore.

Get a PDF of the article here. To receive a copy of the article, send an email to steve AT portigal DOT com and (if you haven’t given us this info before) tell us your name, organization, and title. We’ll send you a PDF.

Be sure to read Ships in the Night (Part I): Design Without Research? as well.

Related: Steve Portigal speaks at User Research Friday – Design and Research, Ships in the Night?

Other articles

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Robert Fabricant of frogdesign considers whether understanding users means that design is or isn't persuasive/manipulative – How do we decide what the user really 'wants to achieve'? The fact is that there are a host of different influences that come to bear in any experience. And a host of different needs that drive user behavior. Designers are constantly making judgment calls about which 'needs' we choose to privilege in our designs. In fact, you could argue that this is the central function of design: to sort through the mess of user needs and prioritize the 'right' ones, the most valuable, meaningful…and profitable.

    But according to what criteria? These decisions, necessarily, value judgments, no matter how much design research you do. And few designers want to be accountable for these decisions. From that perspective, UCD, starts to seem a bit naive, possibly even a way to avoid accountability for these value judgments.

    [Obviously no easy answers here; even defining the terms for the discussion is challenging, but the dialog between Robert and others is provocative]

  • Dave Blum, treasure hunt designer, offers 100 treasure hunts around the world – I was always a puzzle and a game kid. I had a friend when I was growing up in Millbrae, Mike Savasta, and he and I were just board game and card game fanatics. Monopoly, Life, Sorry, Stratego.

    In college, I played thousands of games of cribbage. I like the intellectual challenge, the analytical challenge. I'm very much a "play-it-by-ear" kind of guy, so I like a game where you have to think on your feet.

    After college, I lived in Japan for 3 1/2 years and taught English. Then I spent 11 months traveling through Asia and Europe, and when I came back to San Francisco, I worked in tourism for a while. I said, "I need to find a career that I really love." I thought if I could combine group work, travel, games and puzzles – that would be the ultimate job. I started Dr. Clue in 1995.

Take It from Consumers: Simpler Is Better

I’ve got a short article in the latest issue of Photo Reporter (a trade journal for the imaging industry). Check out the PDF here.

These problems should be obvious, yet manufacturers consistently fail to take them into account in their product development efforts. “Ease of use” has become a buzz phrase commonly uttered in consumer electronics circles, but technology manufacturers have a different mindset than their customers. They seem to think people want an endless array of features, and they continue to market products based on that.

We’re finding consumers would trade a lot of the excess functionality built into their digital cameras, cell phones and other devices for a less complicated and ultimately more rewarding user experience. Perhaps now is the time to listen to consumers a little more closely. There’s a significant opportunity for companies to embrace the consumer’s burning desire for simplicity.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Airwalk footwear – In the mid-90's, Mann left the company. After his departure, the decision was made to "go mainstream" and focus on a more general audience rather than just creating shoes for sport enthusiasts. There was a brief rise in sales, but some people loyal to the brand found the mainstream designs questionable.
  • What happens when underground brands go mainstream – Wharton marketing professors David Reibstein and John Zhang have been exploring how early adopters react when a product goes mass-market. When is there a backlash? When do early adopters switch to new products and when do they stick with the brand?
  • Personas for Firefox | Dress up your web browser – Finally, a definition I can live with: Personas are lightweight, easy-to-install and easy-to-change "skins" for your Firefox web browser.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Listening to customer feedback? Twenty-Five Years of Post-it Notes (Thx, @susandra) – In '77, 3M decided to test-market. It failed to ignite interest. “When we did the follow-up research, there just weren’t a lot of people saying this was a product they wanted.”
    "We knew the test markets failed, but we just kept saying, ‘Maybe it was us. Maybe we did something wrong. Because it couldn’t be the product—the product was great.”
    To see for themselves how people responded to Post-it Notes, 2 execs cold-called offices, giving away samples and showing people how to use 'em. The responses were more enthusiastic. “Those things really were like cocaine. You got them into somebody’s hands, and they couldn’t help but play around with them.”
    1 more test was in order. They got newspapers to run stories about it. They festooned stationery stores with banner displays and point-of-purchase materials. 1000s of samples were sent to office managers, purchasing agents, lawyers, etc. People demonstrated it to potential customers. It was a huge success, and 3M decided to launch Post-Its.
  • Listening to customer feedback? Peter Arnell Explains Failed Tropicana Package Design – Big outcry over the Tropicana packaging design (which this suggests was NOT tested but that's hard to believe) led to a return to the previous packaging.
  • Listening to customer feedback? Malcolm Gladwell on the Aeron chair – The Aeron chair was originally despised and deemed ugly. It didn’t catch on for 2 years, and then it quickly became the most popular chair. Everyone came to love it. Gladwell concludes that people find responses about some topics extremely difficult to articulate. While they may think they dislike something (like the Aeron chair), in their hearts they may actually like it. There is a disconnect that causes people to express dislike in their heads while they actually like it in their hearts (and vice versa).
  • Listening to customer feedback? Hate Facebook's new look? You'll like it soon enough. – Slate advances the point that people react to change negatively but eventually get used to the change and make it work.
  • Listening to customer feedback? Problems With NBC’s ‘Parks & Recreation’ – When do you listen to negative feedback and when do you follow your vision? I think there's an important middle-ground that is often ignored: understanding what lies beneath that feedback and choosing carefully if and how to respond to it, or how to create supporting activities that help get over the barriers that the rejection points to

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?

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