Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation Now Available on Amazon

First, we appreciate everyone’s patience while we got this volume out.
And now, from Holly Buchanan‘s Foreword to the book…

Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and ExpectationAfter inhaling Reading Virtual Minds Volume I I was like an antsy 3-year old waiting for Reading Virtual Minds Volume II. It did not disappoint.
I love the way Joseph Carrabis thinks. He has a unique ability to share broad rich theory with actionable specifics. Unlike many technical writers, he has a unique voice that is both approachable and humorous. It makes for an enjoyable read.
But what’s the main reason why you should read Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experiences and Expectations? Because where most companies and designers fail is on the expectation front.

Humans are designed as expectation engines.

This is, perhaps, the most important sentence in this book. One of the main points Joseph makes in this volume is this – Understand your audiences’ whys and you’ll design near perfect whats.
Design failures come from getting the whys wrong. That can lead to failures on the experience side, but also on the expectation side. And that can be the bigger problem.

Expectation is a top-down process. Higher-level information informs lower-level processing. Experience is a bottom-up process. Sensory information goes into higher-level processing for evaluation. Humans are designed as expectation engines. Topdown connections out number bottom-up connections by about 10:1.

Why is this so important?

In language, more than anywhere else, we see or hear what we expect to hear, not necessarily what is said or written. Across all cultures and languages, neurophysiologists and psychologists estimate that what we experience is as much as 85% what we expect to experience, not necessarily what is real or ‘environmentally available’.


When people expect A and get B they go through a few moments of fugue. External reality is not synching up with internal reality and the mind and brain will, if allowed, burn themselves out making the two mesh.

Get your consumer/visitor/user experience AND expectation right, get their why right, and you’ll be exponentially more successful.

Here are just a few of the goodies you’ll find in this book:

  • Privacy vs. value exchange and when to ask for what information. Joseph has some actionable specifics on this that will surprise you.
  • Why we design for false attractors rather than the real problem.
  • The importance of understanding convincer strategies. Convincer strategies are the internal processes people go through in order to convince themselves they should or should not do something.
  • Companies spend a lot of time trying to convince consumers to trust them. But what may be even more important is understanding how to let consumers you know you trust them. This book has ideas on how to show your customers/users/visitors, “I believe in you”.
  • How often our own experience influence our designs. Unless you’re able to throw all your experience out, and let the user’s experience in, get out of the usability and design business.
  • How to allow your visitors easy Anonymous-Expressive Identity and make them yours forever.
  • Regarding new material, design, interface, the importance of making sure your suggestions provide a clear path to the past (thus being risk averse while providing marketable innovation).

As always, Reading Virtual Minds provides specific actionable ideas. But it will also make you think and approach your work in a new way. And I think that’s the best reason to treat yourself to this book and the inner workings of NextStage and Joseph Carrabis.

(and we never argue with Holly Buchanan…)

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Counting Wristwatches at the SNCR Conference

Note: this post is from Jun ’07. We’re reposting because J references it in Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation.

I spent some time last week at the SNCR Symposium and Awards Gala at Harvard U in Cambridge, MA. One thing that always happens at these meetings is that the Researchers (I’m one) get to prognosticate about what’s coming down the pike re social media, new communications, the ‘net and such.

I think I was the only one with an actual cellphone, no camera, no internet, no media, no music, no twittering on the go.

Thankfully, my Ludditehood is still intact.

Questions investigated in a roundtable format included the future of print, who’s getting their news online, who’s getting their news mobline (online mobile), what’s the latest technology that will emerge and what will fade, …

Very interesting stuff.

analog wristwatchAnd it’s meetings like this that hammer into me the different set of filters I work with. I sat, watched and listened to my extremely intelligent and knowledgeable brethren and sistren and inwardly smiled. I was counting the number of net-savvy, on the edge, knowing the future people who were still wearing wristwatches. In fact, analog wristwatches. Not digital, and maybe quartz driven, but with analog faces.

There is a asymptotic ceiling to how much information the human mind can respond to from any interface. Cognitive theorists know this, and until we evolve further (and in the necessary direction) that asymptote is getting exponentially nearer (mathematicians grimace when I write or say things like that).

The wristwatch has survived for a very long time because of four simple design rules:

1) It is simple to use,

2) The information it presents is immediately actionable,

3) It is a wearable interface that doesn’t interfere with other routine daily functions and

4) It economically puts power into a large populations hands (or wrists).

I’ve been telling people for a long time that for all the latest technologies provide, not a lot of them will last. Remember when everyone had to have a digital watch? Do you know that record players are now considered the must-haves because the sound quality is (supposedly) so much better? Technology is wonderful and only when its benefits outweigh its detriments. Personal technologies are wonderful and won’t last unless they (as I said at a previous SNCR symposium and reference again in rule #4 above) put more power into people’s hands.

Mobile devices don’t quite live up to that promise. Yet. I know there are devices close to Dick Tracy’s watchphone. I understand that they’re not simple to use. Shucks. Lost on rule #1 above and require more power to use than they economically provide on a psycho-identity level (see Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History for more on this) so rule #4 is gone, too.

Bummer, dude.

I’m told that wristwatches are greatly on the decline with the young. They prefer to learn the time from their mobile devices. This means one of their hands is always going to be busy mobiling. One hand to hold the device, maybe another to push some button.

This is why digital watches faded. You needed two hands. If not to activate the display, then to light it. Not easy, economical power.

I also know that people purchase watches as they age. Perhaps to keep track of how little time they have left.

And I know that analog watches will catch on as we start to travel at light-like speeds. A little known fact from relativity; analog internals are the only timepieces that keep correct local time regardless of relativistic frame.

Maybe as people grow older they want to know the correct time at the Black Hole Bar&Grill?

So I performed a completely unscientific study

Anyway, I went from the SNCR meeting to the MIT MediaLab and then a walk from said MediaLab back to Harvard Square. I was counting wristwatches as I went along. Specifically on my walk back. About twice per block I would stop someone and say, “Excuse me, I need to get to Harvard Square by (some time). Can you give me directions and let me know if you think I’ll make it?

It was that last part that had the gold in it, so to write. It encouraged people to check their time to determine if I would be on time.

Generally true, there were fewer watches on the young than on the aged (one teenage Honduran gentleman had a most beautiful watch with Catholic symbolism on the band and face. Never saw anything like it and he was quite proud of it). Very true, watches existed on axes of age, gender and income level with income level driving down the age factor significantly. Amazingly true, younger people without watches showed you the time on their mobile devices rather than tell you the time.

Fascinating, that last part. The device is the truth, not the individual controlling the device.

I’ve seen this phenomenon before. In a bar. A couple of people were debating a sports issue, one fellow looked something up on his iPhone and presented the search result as the final arbiter of the truth.

The only problem was that I was sitting with some people who populated the site that was being iPhoned. We were talking about how unreliable their information was.

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Rocks, Hammers, Competition and How People Get Left Behind

Note: this post is from Jun ’07. We’re reposting because J references it in Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation.

I’ve been talking with lots of people about what NextStage does, about our Evolution Technology, and about how I never wanted people to lose their jobs because of it. Ever since I made the first announcement about being awarded our patent, people have been walking up to me and saying things like “Well, there’s goes A/B and Multivariate testing” or “There goes web analytics as we know it” or “There goes marketing”.

It was never my intention to have people lose jobs or have industries go away. I am (at my core, probably) a tool maker. I recognize challenges and create tools to address those challenges.

I also make the tools I create available to anyone who wants to use them (and often at a sliding scale based on their ability to pay). Nobody gets it for free, though. That’s pretty well understood by anyone who asks me.

I also often talk about the history of technology, how tools change culture and, in environmental time, how tools change tool users.

Consider rocks, hammers and those who lost their jobs versus those who didn’t when this technology — a mass accelerated through a torque arc. That’s what both hammers and rocks are — changed.

You can think that the hammer put the rock out of the business of being a striking tool in flint based societies (“stone age”). The hammer’s advantage was it took less effort to do the same amount of work as a rock. Rocks had to be accelerated through the torque arc of the arm and lacked the ability to deliver constant impact strength to small areas (you usually had to swing your whole arm and you couldn’t do fine work).

The hammer could be accelerated by the whole arm. It could also be accelerated by the wrist and deliver close to the same impact strength. Also, because it was controlled by the finer muscles of the wrist, it could do finer work.

So the hammer put the rock out of business, yes?

The hammer put the rock out of business, no!

The hammer put people who refused to learn how to use the hammer out of business. People who learned how to use the hammer could also learn how to use the rock. The aboriginal people I’ve been with often start people with rocks when teaching them how to knap, then progress them up to primitive hammers as the student’s skills develop.

However, people who stop their education with the rock? It might be impressive to watch (it is. I’ve seen it) and the amount of time required to do the same amount of work with hammer or rock? Much longer with a rock. Much more expensive.

I won’t stop people from using rocks. I just think hammers are much more effective.

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The Complete “Nothing New Under the Sun: Designing for the Small Screen” Arc

Note: this was a two part post and so apropos that we’re reposting now, on the eve of our releasing Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation, don’t you think?

Nothing New Under the Sun: Designing for the Small Screen, Part 1

I read an interesting post on Andy Beal’s Marketing Pilgrim blog. The post, by Janet Driscoll Miller, was iPhone May Present New Mobile Design Challenges. It was interesting because it was yet another example of Nothing New Under the Sun.

I commented on the blog, “This reminds me of an early consulting project I was on. We saw from the client’s web data that people were browsing their site using these odd sized, small screens. It was their browsing patterns that explained what was going on. We decided to create an all-text site to accommodate them and business went up. This was years ago, though. Nothing new under the sun, yes?”

Here I’ll share a little more on this. It’s a fond memory and, at the time, it was a nice piece of research.

NextStage’s first client was a B2B specializing in warehousing technologies. They noticed a decrease in online sales even though their web traffic was increasing and asked me to figure it out. Their focus was on bandwidth, page load times, things like that, and were ready to do a major overhaul of their website to make it “friendlier”.

Okay, I thought. But friendlier to whom?

We attached our tracking tools to their website and noticed two fascinating features of the increased traffic; the browser window sizes were small and oddly shaped. That was interesting and the kicker was something (and I’ll admit to some vanity here) that (I think) only NextStage’s Evolution Technology could determine; the patterns in the page navigations.

It was the patterns which revealed the mystery of increased traffic and decreased sales. Visitors would navigate busily then stop for a period, navigate busily then stop for a period, navigate busily then stop for a period. They never closed the browser window. They might keep it open for hours at a time. But during these hour long visits they would navigate busily then stop, navigate busily then stop.

These odd navigation patterns did end up with online orders but only of specific items. Usually items located at the top of the client’s webpages.


Nothing New Under the Sun: Designing for the Small Screen, part 2

This is part 2 in a two-part arc trigged by reading Janet Driscoll Miller‘s interesting post, iPhone May Present New Mobile Design Challenges, on Andy Beal’s Marketing Pilgrim blog.

I commented on the blog, “This reminds me of an early consulting project I was on. We saw from the client’s web data that people were browsing their site using these odd sized, small screens. It was their browsing patterns that explained what was going on. We decided to create an all-text site to accommodate them and business went up. This was years ago, though. Nothing new under the sun, yes?” and am sharing more of this story in this arc. Part 1 described the problem and provided pointers to the solution. Here I share the solution itself.

As I wrote in the previous post, it’s a fond memory and, at the time, it was a nice piece of research.

This was a case of listening to the silences rather than the sounds. The pauses in navigation were extremely regular, too regular and over too long a period of time, to be un-noteworthy. Also, the pauses had different periods depending on the visitor but were consistent time-wise by visitor; a visitor might have consistent pauses of three seconds and another perhaps of five, but the three-second visitor always had three second pauses, the five-second visitor always had pauses of five seconds.

Was there variance? Yes, a little. That was a clue. The variance was organic (by which I mean “biologic”) in nature, not inorganic (by which I mean “machine-based”). More correctly, the variance was biomechanical, not automated.

I thought about biomechanical mechanisms that follow pause-activity, pause-activity natures and realized I was observing cursorial tracking behavior. Humans, like wolves, are cursorial hunters. We use to jog after our prey and follow them. These evolutionary roots remain with us and even manifest themselves in screen navigation patterns.

Here I was witnessing people following prey, stopping to gather their kill, following prey, stopping to gather their kill, … But I also knew nobody was navigating a website while killing that night’s dinner.

What could my client’s clients be doing that mimicked that behavior?

Because I worked in warehouses to support myself in high school and college I quickly came up with the answer; my client’s clients were walking through their warehouse, stopping at each rack and checking inventory. The small and oddly shaped screen sizes were due to the end clients’ realizing they needed to reorder something and coming to my client’s website while the end client was checking inventory, carrying a handheld.

Why were only the top items on a given webpage being ordered? Because navigating a regular webpage much further was too much trouble.

Easy solution; offer a text only page for customers coming in through handhelds.

Yes, NextStage’s client was thrilled. Their online sales increased dramatically, all the good stuff.

For me, though, it was the detective work, the research, that made it worthwhile.

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Fred Thompson; Is He Changing His Tune? And How Does He Compare with Governor Mitt Romney? Before and After NextStage Analysis of Campaign Messaging Styles

[[updating lost posts in prep for Reading Virtual Minds Volume 2: Experience and Expectation]]

Frequent reader and correspondent WindKiller posed a question on the Senator Fred Thompson and the Marketing of a Presidential Hopeful: A NextStage Analysis of the Fred Thompson for President Homepage entry and I responded on that post and in a phone conversation that I’d get back to him on how much is encapsulated in NextStage’s Rich Personae (it’s now our PersonaScope and is included with Membership).

I wanted to do that by tying it to a before and after analysis of Senator Fred Thompson’s campaign site. It’s always fascinating to see how somebody changes their messaging after an announcement.

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The casual observer won’t notice much different between the site as it was on 1 Sept 07 (on the right) and how it appeared on both 5 Sept 07 and 6 Sept 07. That’s a good thing because in politics, it’s the positive and familiar that wins votes.

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This is the 5 Sept 07 homepage. There’s the naturally occuring changes in content that you’d expect on any high traffic site. Both the 1 Sept 07 and the 5 Sept 07 homepages are designed for the V8 Rich Personae.

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This is Senator Fred Thompson’s campaign site on 6 Sept 07. The changes are more obvious to the casual observer and again, you’d expect them to be after a major announcement. What is interesting to me is that the site is now using a V7 Rich Personae. This was the personae used by Governor Mitt Romney. It was Senator Thompson’s use of the V8 Rich Personae and its “You’re doing a good job. Let me show you something that might help you out.” versus Governor Romney’s V7 message’s “You’re doing it wrong, do it my way. It’s better.” that I thought would separate Senator Thompson from the pack.

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Before I forget, the other modification to Senator Thompson’s site is a new “prepage” before you get to what most would consider the real homepage. This is something we saw often during the 2004 campaigns. From a consumer perspective it’s not something I would encourage. This page, encountered before all others, essentially asks the visitor to buy the product before learning if the product is a good match for what ails them. The assumption on Senator Thompson’s staff may be that he’s so well known at this point that anybody coming to the site is coming to join. I’m not so sure. This page, by the way, is designed for a K7 Rich Personae, ie, it has a good, strong, emotional appeal. Just what you’d want if you thought people already knew about you and you wanted them to act in your behalf.

This gets us to what else is encapsulated in NextStage’s Rich Personae. NextStage’s Rich Personae also reveal most prominent messages, strongest messages, messages in the order they appear to the non-conscious mind, … It’s pretty…um…rich.

Also, as you begin to get deeper and deeper into the Rich Personae system, you’ll learn that the strongest message on, for example, a young female V7 is different from a mature, male V7.

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Here, Senator Thompson’s strongest message is “Compare me to others and you will see that I can put us on a path and bring structure to this country. You can count on it.” Governor Mitt Romney’s strongest message is very similar with two significant edits; “[no comparison desired or implied] You will see that I can put us on a path and bring structure to this place. Are you with me, yes or no?” Perhaps Senator Thompson sees Governor Romney as having the audience he wants, hence the deep messaging is the same. The substantive difference between the two sites is that Governor Romney, if he were talking to you, would be saying his message twice as loud as Senator Thompson.

Back in the day when Senator Thompson’s site was designed for a V8 Rich Personae, its message was similar except for the missing introductory call to comparison;”[no comparison desired or implied] You will see that I can put us on a path and bring structure to this place. You can count on it.

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