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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Thoughts on Blogging

Ah, the freedom.

I’ve been doing some thinking about blogging since my liberation therefrom. That, of course, means research. My curiosity knows no bounds, I’ve been told.

I’ve wondered at my lack of number generation. I stopped writing for a online magazine because they wanted me to write “rants”. I remember when the editor-in-chief told me they were looking for rants I had to ask what she meant. Pretty much what she meant was “A rant or harangue is a monologue that does not present a well-researched and calm argument; rather, it is typically an attack on an idea, a person or an institution, and very often lacks proven claims.

“Some rants are used not to attack something, but to defend an individual, idea or organization. Rants of this type generally occur after the subject has been attacked by another individual or group.

“Rants are used often in situations requiring monologue. Comedians, such as Lewis Black or Rick Mercer, use rants as a way to get their message or punch-line across to the listening audience.”

I like Lewis Black’s comedy. Not sure if I’ve ever seen Rick Mercer. I also recognize (in Lewis Black’s case) that much of his rants are well researched. To me, it’s that research that makes it worth waiting for his punchline.

But the problem for me in ranting was the “…does not present a well-researched and calm argument; rather, it is typically an attack on an idea, a person or an institution, and very often lacks proven claims.”

Well, heck…why would I waste my time on a not well researched attack on someone or something, especially when they or it are not there to defend themselves?

So I began to wonder…

I don’t get a lot of comments on my blogs. I do get lots of emails about them. I compared what happens on my blogs to what happens on other people’s blogs. I have about 300 blogs in my reader, about 30 are from research institutions and are really updates on what they’re doing, who’s presenting, who’s coming and going. There’s not a lot of comments. I’d call them “news” feeds more than anything else.

There’s probably another 30 or so that are industry specific. Again, they’re more newsfeeds than blogs as I understand blogs. Another 30 or so are written by multiple authors or contributors.

I don’t follow any of these blogs daily. Heck, I don’t follow these blogs monthly. Or quarterly. I open up my reader every once in a while when there’s a break in my work and see what’s out there. “…a break in my work…” translates to maybe once or twice a year. I most often get my information from journals (Nature, Science, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Cybernetics and Human Knowing, Perception and Physical Reality, …).

When I do read through them, it goes pretty quick and mainly because most bloggers don’t offer a lot of information and do offer a lot of opinion.

Opinion again. I’ve studied how opinions form. I stay away from them the best I can.

So right now I’m answering some questions people sent in to Susan Bratton’s blog. It’s a fascinating exercise. I’ve been watching myself compose the answers.

Each response is basically a seminar in print. That’s not what I want, it’s simply that I don’t like offering an opinion unless I can back it up with lots of research.

Which means it’s not really my opinion. A few times people challenged my columns and I welcomed their input. Once or twice their challenges were what I recognize as rants. I thanked them for their thoughts. In all cases, I also posted the bibliographies for what I’d written. Never heard from any of them again.

Guess it’s a little harder to rant against someone who recognizes opinions for what they are and returns research in its place.

Sorry about that.


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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.

Hmm…

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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Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th edition

It’s with great pleasure and a little pride that we announce Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION.

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History, 4th edThat “4th EDITION” part is important. We know lots of people are waiting for Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation and it’s next in the queue.

But until then…

Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION is about 100 pages longer than the previous editions and about 10$US cheaper. Why? Because Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation is next in the queue.

Some Notes About This Book

I’m actually writing Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation right now. In the process of doing that, we realized we needed to add an index to this book. We also wanted to make a full color ebook version available to NextStage Members (it’s a download on the Member welcome page. And if you’re not already a member, what are you waiting for?)

In the process of making a full color version, we realized we’d misplaced some of the original slides and, of course, the charting software had changed since we originally published this volume (same information, different charting system). Also Susan and Jennifer “The Editress” Day wanted the images standardized as much as possible.

We included an Appendix B – Proofs (starting on page 187) for the curious and updated Appendix C – Further Readings (starting on page 236). We migrated a blog used for reference purposes so there may be more or less reference sources and modified some sections with more recent information.

So this edition has a few more pages and a few different pages. It may have an extra quote or two floating around.

You also need to know that Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History is a “Let’s explore the possibilities” book, not a “How to do it” book. As such, it deals with how NextStage did it (not to mention things that happened along the way). It does not explain how you can do it. This book’s purpose is to open a new territory to you and give you some basic tools for exploration.

There are no magic bullets, quick fixes, simple demonstrations, et cetera, that will turn you into jedis, gurus, kings, queens, samurai, rock stars, mavens, heroes, thought leaders, so on and so forth.

How to Do It starts with Volume II: Experience and Expectation and continues through future volumes in this series. We’ve included a Volume II: Experience and Expectation preview with a How to Do It example on page 302 so you can take a peek if that’s your interest.

That noted, I’m quite sure that you won’t get the full benefit of future volumes without reading this one because unless you’ve read this one you won’t understand the territory you’re exploring in those future volumes.

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History, 4th edThat’s Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION. It’s so good and so good for you! Buy a copy or two today!


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Panalysis’ Rod Jacka Said It

[Note: this post is from Oct ’07. We’re backfilling again for Joseph’s references in Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation]

Panalysis‘ Rod Jacka noticed that I referenced his email to me in Back from eMetrics Dec ’07 and invited me to both attribute the quote to him and provide the full quote.

I’ll gladly attribute the quote to him (and a G’Day, Mate! back to you, Rod).

What I will do is expand a bit on what Rod learned and is commenting on in his email to me. First, I’m not going to say A/B-Multivariate-Taguchi testing is a waste of time or money. Second, I will note that every time I do a quick analysis of a company’s website I get the same reactions; “…we just did some A/B-multivariate-Taguchi testing and everything you said is what we found out we had to do.” This has happened at IMedia summits, eMetrics summits and countless times with clients.

What’s it all about? It’s very simple, really. It’s all about knowing how the human brain is wired and how it’s going to respond to information in its environment. This is the key to it all and what NextStage has been researching, publishing about and helping clients with for almost seven years now. A web page and more recently multi-media (what NextStage calls “multi-modal”. see Get the attention you’re already paying for (page 2 of 4)) environments are nothing more than demonstrations of what the brain-mind has been dealing with for several millions of evolutionary history. This history exists and won’t be replaced any time soon so make use of it.

Think of it as “Those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it.” My guess is they’re repeating it by spending tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on A/B-multivariate-Taguchi methods.


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