Tag: diy

Value Dissonance, Digital Goods, The Long Tail & My Oven

August 5th, 2009 — 7:24am

This week­end I went look­ing online for the ser­vice man­ual for my oven, to effect some DIY style repair work, and was unpleas­antly sur­prised to find every col­lec­tion of dig­i­tal ser­vice man­u­als within ready googling dis­tance locked tightly away behind a solid e-commerce wall.

Ten, five, or even three years ago, some thought­ful mechan­i­cal engi­neer would have lov­ingly uploaded a blurry pdf con­ver­sion of a scan of a pho­to­copy of the orig­i­nal KorEng­lish instruc­tion man­ual to a pub­lic file share hosted some­where deep in the wilds of home­brew elec­tron­ics land.  And there it would be, wait­ing for peo­ple who needed it.

Not any­more, appar­ently.  Thanks to all the MBAs who read The Long Tail dur­ing the rev­enue mod­els sec­tion of their Dig­i­tal Busi­ness courses, and then went prospect­ing for an under-monetized con­tent domain with pre­dictable trans­ac­tion and renewal flow vol­umes (read, oppor­tu­nity), I now have to pay $20 to find out how to take apart my ail­ing appli­ance.  To soften the mon­e­tary blow, I have an instantly find­able, one-click-to-purchase, secure-payment-capable expe­ri­ence.  But it’s still $20, when it would have been free last time I looked.

Take note, this is a sea change in dig­i­tal cul­ture star­ing us in the face: DIY become $DIY, thanks to ‘ratio­nal­iza­tion’ of the home brew elec­tron­ics infor­ma­tion economy.

If it sounds like I’m bemoan­ing the sim­ple fact that busi­nesses like to col­o­nize new mar­kets, and I now have to pay for some­thing I used to get for free, I want to say ‘Not true.’  (Okay, par­tially true.)  Some­thing was wrong with this expe­ri­ence.  At first I thought it was price: That man­ual is fully dig­i­tal, mean­ing it comes with absurdly low pub­li­ca­tion costs for print­ing, dis­tri­b­u­tion, inven­tory and restock­ing, thanks to the-great-copying-machine-in-the-sky-called-the-Internet.  It’s also trans­par­ently find­able via a sim­ple two-word query, which I know because I went look­ing for it myself, so there’s few of the typ­i­cal costs from AIDA (gen­er­at­ing aware­ness and moti­vat­ing my deci­sion to buy).  Yet the instruc­tion and ser­vice man­ual for a piece of hand-me-down kitchen equip­ment now car­ries the hefty price tag of $19.95.  And that’s with­out a pre­view; this is dig­i­tal mer­chan­dise I’m expected to buy on blind faith.  So much for free.

Then I real­ized some­thing deeper was involved.  This expe­ri­ence is inter­est­ing because it demon­strates the inevitable ten­sion that comes from liv­ing in an era dur­ing which basic cul­tural lay­ers, with very dif­fer­ent ways of assign­ing value, come into fric­tion with one another.  At heart, this is a mod­ern expe­ri­ence of value dis­so­nance dri­ven by two ancient human pat­terns in collision.

The first pat­tern: I am ‘given’ the oven for ‘free’ by virtue of my ‘mem­ber­ship’ — earned by mar­riage — in the local oper­at­ing unit of the folk-recycling econ­omy instan­ti­ated by my extended fam­ily; specif­i­cally, my Dutch in-laws.  Apart­ments in Europe don’t come with appli­ances, so after mov­ing to Hol­land from New York, I need a new oven thanks to the legacy incom­pat­i­bil­ity in elec­tric dis­tri­b­u­tion infra­struc­tures (volt­age dif­fer­ences) between Norte Amer­ica and Europa.  This lovely unit was avail­able from the family’s pool of col­lec­tively man­aged assets, thanks to a con­struc­tion acci­dent in my wife’s cousin’s neighbor’s adjoin­ing prop­erty, which caused a flood of water into their home while they were on a 3-week  hol­i­day, result­ing in sub­stan­tial water dam­age, com­pen­sated in proper Dutch fash­ion by a hefty insur­ance set­tle­ment, which allowed this par­tic­u­lar pair of agents in the extended fam­ily net­work to go shop­ping for a new kitchen set-up, all appli­ances included, long before the pro­jected life­cy­cle expi­ra­tion of their cur­rent oven. [ill winds indeed…])

This pat­tern is as old as man­ag­ing the aggre­gate live­stock and pas­turage.  Decid­ing which of the chil­dren to edu­cate, send to the mil­i­tary / priest­hood (or some other form of bach­e­lor­hood), or sequester in a con­vent b/c of lack of required mar­riage dowries is the same thing.  For me, all is fine and good: I have the oven I need, and all I have to do in return is allow the extended fam­ily to use my house to host the annual fam­ily New Year’s din­ner.   A fair trade for all parties.

The sec­ond pat­tern: the con­stant evo­lu­tion in the def­i­n­i­tion of first-tier trad­able goods: Suc­ces­sive waves of tech­noso­cial change have made the instruc­tion man­ual for my oven a dig­i­tally trade­able good on it’s own.  At brith, the man­ual was “part of” the con­sumer prod­uct pack­age of the oven, only avail­able — and mean­ing­ful — when sold with the appli­ance.  Fast for­ward to the pre-Long Tail Inter­net, and the man­ual was free to me, as a res­i­dent of the unfenced realm of the dig­i­tal fron­tier, exchanged via the folk econ­omy of DIY prac­ti­tion­ers.  But now that the tech­ni­cal infra­struc­ture required to effec­tively enclose this resource is  itself nearly free, and every MBA knows the Long Tail (sounds like one of those ter­ri­ble fake Amer­i­can Indian names peo­ple used be given in TV sit­coms, when some form of hijinks led them to visit a ‘Native Amer­i­can Tribe,’ and the char­ac­ters had to be iden­ti­fied within the tribe’s con­cep­tual space [another exam­ple of truly awful sort of cul­tural fric­tion…]), this par­tic­u­lar piece of dig­i­tal con­tent has a price tag.  A hefty one.

So using the free appli­ance now requires con­tent from the ambi­ent infor­ma­tion cloud in the form of a paid asset that is now, on it’s own, a trad­able good.  This mis­align­ment causes fric­tion and dis­so­nance for me; I have an appli­ance from the folk-resources layer, but all the use­ful infor­ma­tion *about* the appli­ance resides in the newly mon­e­tized Long Tail dig­i­tal con­tent econ­omy.  The newly dig­i­tal man­ual that should come with my hand me down oven is very much try­ing its hard­est to be a tra­di­tional prod­uct from the uni­verse of trad­able goods: a Thing, with a Price, sold by a Busi­ness, to Customers.

What dri­ves the fric­tion, and what makes this worth pay­ing atten­tion to and writ­ing about, is that it is the oppos­ing direc­tion of the move­ments of these dif­fer­ent kinds of goods, dig­i­tal and mate­r­ial, that cre­ates dis­so­nance by bring­ing me a free phys­i­cal oven and an expen­sive dig­i­tal ser­vice manual.

The oven used to be part of the first-tier trad­able goods layer.  It was a pack­aged con­sumer appli­ance prod­uct, cre­ated by a man­u­fac­turer, sold via opti­mized dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works that moved it through the chain from man­u­fac­turer to whole­saler to retailer at a fixed price, com­mu­ni­cated via mar­ket­ing chan­nels embed­ded within dis­cov­ery and com­mu­ni­ca­tions media.  Since then, it’s ‘fallen out of’ the trad­able goods econ­omy, and is treated as a fam­ily asset, to be handed around as best suits the col­lec­tive needs, with­out any offi­cial trans­ac­tions tak­ing place.  We could put it back into the trad­able goods econ­omy as used, if we choose to sell it, or even enter it into the recy­cling econ­omy, where it would be bro­ken down into con­stituent ele­ments — e.g. motors, wiring, dis­play, or at a lower level of inte­gra­tion phys­i­cal mate­ri­als like glass and steel — to what­ever extent pos­si­ble.  But almost all of the changes in value for mate­r­ial goods when they shift from one cul­tural / eco­nomic layer to another are one-way, and down­wards.  The pos­si­ble paths for re-uptake of mate­r­ial goods that have fallen into the folk econ­omy layer used to be trans­for­ma­tion into antiques, art, or col­lectibles — all one form or another of the museum economy.

That’s not the case with dig­i­tal goods in gen­eral, like the newly Long Tailed ser­vice man­ual for my oven.  The man­ual was orig­i­nally part of the con­sumer / prod­uct econ­omy for trad­able goods when bun­dled with the oven.   Since then, it has under­gone sev­eral trans­for­ma­tions.  First, it was un-bundled and dig­i­tized for the DIY layer (mak­ing it part of the folk econ­omy),  Now it is once again part of the prod­uct econ­omy, though now in it’s un-bundled  and dig­i­tized form.  In terms of which econ­omy it’s part of, *the man­ual is mov­ing all around the page on it’s own*.  That’s highly unnatural!

This is a key prop­erty of dig­i­tal goods that the mate­r­ial world is just begin­ning to under­stand.  Dig­i­tal goods are designed for just this sort of mobil­ity: We can move dig­i­tal goods all around the map in terms of the cul­tural / eco­nomic lay­ers they inhabit, and their con­se­quent value, with a few changes in address­ing and for­mat.  No trans­for­ma­tion of a dig­i­tal good is nec­es­sar­ily one-way.  And when these trans­for­ma­tions aren’t syn­chro­nized with the ele­ments that inhabit the phys­i­cal world, we feel the con­flict and ten­sion that results.

In my case, the oven is mov­ing one way, while the infor­ma­tion about it is mov­ing the other way.  This fail­ure to dance together eco­nom­i­cally and cul­tur­ally is a con­se­quence of the way that the oven was designed, made, mar­keted, dis­trib­uted, etc.  It’s a tem­po­rally iso­lated form of dis­so­nance that emerges from fric­tion with the new dig­i­tal layer that’s per­me­at­ing the world so rapidly.  If you’re famil­iar with spimes, and related con­cepts like ser­vice avatars and infor­ma­tion shad­ows, you know this is a (osten­si­bly) tem­po­rary state of affairs.  Once our cul­tural frames of ref­er­ence catch up with our tech­ni­cal capa­bil­i­ties, and every­thing is part of the great data­base in the sky, these expe­ri­ences of fric­tion should be much less common.

But in the mean­time, I have to fix my oven on my own.  Or cough up the $20 for the manual…

Comment » | Ideas

Frameworks Are the Future (Slides From EuroIA 2008)

October 8th, 2008 — 6:28am

In case you couldn’t make it to Ams­ter­dam for EuroIA 2008, or if you were in town but pre­ferred to stay out­side in the warmth of a sunny Sep­tem­ber Sat­ur­day than ven­ture into the mar­velous Tsuchin­ski the­ater, I’ve posted the slides from my talk Frame­works are the Future of Design.

Comment » | Building Blocks, Information Architecture, User Experience (UX)

Frameworks are the Future of IA: A Case Study and Example

August 20th, 2008 — 7:43am

Sep­tem­ber in Ams­ter­dam approaches: in addi­tion to the inevitable mix of clouds, rain, more rain, and tiny sliv­ers of sun­light, Sep­tem­ber means EuroIA 2008, where yours truly will speak about design frame­works.
In case you can’t make the con­fer­ence, here’s a text only sum­mary of my talk. Pic­tures will fol­low the pre­sen­ta­tion — promise!

It’s a DIY Future
The Web is shift­ing to a DIY [Do It Your­self] model of user expe­ri­ence cre­ation, one where peo­ple assem­ble indi­vid­ual com­bi­na­tions of con­tent gath­ered form else­where for expres­sive, func­tional, and (many) other pur­poses. The rapid growth of wid­gets, the resur­gence of enter­prise por­tals, the spread of iden­tity plat­forms from social net­work des­ti­na­tions to blog­ging ser­vices, and the rapid increase in the num­ber of pub­lic APIs syn­di­cat­ing func­tion­al­ity and data, are all exam­ples of the DIY shift.

Archi­tects of the Future
For design pro­fes­sion­als, the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of DIY future is co-creation: the par­tic­i­pa­tion of a broad spec­trum of peo­ple in cre­at­ing expe­ri­ences. In this new world, the role of design­ers is to define the tools co-creators use to assem­ble expe­ri­ences for them­selves and oth­ers. These tools will increas­ingly take the form of design frame­works that define the mod­u­lar com­po­nents of famil­iar struc­tures such as social net­works, func­tional appli­ca­tions, col­lab­o­ra­tion plat­forms, per­son­al­ized dash­boards, and man­age­ment con­soles.

Why Frame­works?
Frame­works are the future for three rea­sons. First, every­one can cre­ate sophis­ti­cated infor­ma­tion struc­tures now, and design­ers no longer serve as a gate­way. Sec­ond, the def­i­n­i­tion of frame­works allows design­ers to con­tinue to pro­vide valu­able ser­vices and exper­tise in a cost effec­tive man­ner: It’s some­thing design­ers can sell in a com­mod­i­fied dig­i­tal econ­omy. Third, design­ers have an good com­bi­na­tion of human insight and archi­tec­ture design skills; this hybrid way of think­ing can serve as a dif­fer­en­tia­tor and strength.

One exam­ple of the sort of design frame­work infor­ma­tion archi­tects will cre­ate more of in the DIY future is the Por­tal Build­ing Blocks sys­tem described herein. Prov­i­den­tially, this design frame­work addresses many of the prob­lems inher­ent in the cur­rent archi­tec­tural schema for DIY self-assembled expe­ri­ences.

His­tory Repeats Itself: The Prob­lem With Por­tals
The rise and fall of the Web 1.0 por­tal form offers a use­ful his­tor­i­cal les­son for cre­ators of the new gen­er­a­tion of design frame­works under­ly­ing DIY self-assembled expe­ri­ences.
Despite early promises of util­ity and con­ve­nience, por­tals built with flat portlets could only grow by expand­ing hor­i­zon­tally. The result­ing expe­ri­ence of low-density infor­ma­tion archi­tec­tures was sim­i­lar to that of nav­i­gat­ing post­war sub­ur­ban sprawl. Like the rapid decline of many once-prosperous sub­urbs, the incon­ve­nience of these sprawl­ing col­lec­tions of portlets quickly over­whelmed the value of the con­tent they aggre­gated.
The com­mon prob­lem that doomed many very dif­fer­ent por­tals to the same fate was the com­plete lack of any pro­vi­sion for struc­ture, inter­ac­tion, or con­nec­tion between the self-contained portlets of the stan­dard por­tal design frame­work.
Look­ing ahead, the co-created expe­ri­ences of the DIY future will repeat this cycle of unhealthy growth and sprawl — think of all those apps clog­ging your iPhone’s home screen right now — unless we cre­ate design frame­works that effec­tively pro­vide for struc­ture, con­nec­tion, and inter­ac­tion.

The Build­ing Blocks — An Exam­ple Design Frame­work
The build­ing block frame­work is meant to serve as a robust archi­tec­tural foun­da­tion for the many kinds of tools and func­tion­al­ity — par­tic­i­pa­tory, social, col­lab­o­ra­tive — that sup­port the vision of two-way flows within and across the bound­aries of infor­ma­tion struc­tures. This means:

  • Allow for rapid growth and struc­tural change
  • Estab­lish a com­mon lan­guage for all co-creation perspectives
  • Encour­age con­struc­tion of scal­able, reusable structures
  • Cre­ate high-quality user experiences
  • Enable shar­ing of assets across boundaries
  • Enhance social dynam­ics, such as 2-way con­ver­sa­tion flows

The Build­ing Blocks frame­work defines two types of infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture com­po­nents in detail — build­ing blocks (or Con­tain­ers), and nav­i­ga­tion com­po­nents (or Con­nec­tors) — as well as the sup­port­ing rules and guide­lines that make it pos­si­ble to assem­ble com­plex user expe­ri­ence archi­tec­tures quickly and effec­tively.
The Con­tain­ers and Con­nec­tors specif­i­cally pro­vide for struc­ture, inter­ac­tion, and con­nec­tion at all lev­els of the infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment; from the user expe­ri­ence — visual design, infor­ma­tion design, inter­ac­tion design, infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture — to func­tion­al­ity, meta­data, busi­ness rules, sys­tem archi­tec­ture, admin­is­tra­tive processes, and strate­gic gov­er­nance.
Case Study: Evo­lu­tion of an Enter­prise Por­tal Suite
The Build­ing Blocks began life as an inter­nal tool for low­er­ing costs and speed­ing design dur­ing the course of sus­tained por­tal work done for a For­tune 100 client. Over a span of ~24 months, the Build­ing Blocks pro­vided an effec­tive frame­work for the design, expan­sion, and even­tual inte­gra­tion of nearly a dozen dis­tinct por­tals.
The design frame­work evolved in response to changes in the audi­ences, struc­tures, and con­tents of por­tals con­structed for users in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, dif­fer­ent oper­at­ing units, and sev­eral orga­ni­za­tional lev­els.
The por­tal suite went through sev­eral stages of evo­lu­tion and growth:

  • Exper­i­men­ta­tion
  • Rapid expan­sion
  • Con­sol­i­da­tion & integration
  • Sta­bil­ity and continuity

Lessons In Design­ing Frame­works
Suc­cess­ful co-created expe­ri­ences — Flickr (com­mer­cial) and Wikipedia (non-commercial) — com­bine delib­er­ate top-down archi­tec­ture and design with emer­gent or bottom-up con­tri­bu­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion in a new kind of struc­ture Kevin Kelly calls the “hybrid”. Frame­works sup­port hybrids!
Hope to see many of you in Amsterdam!

Comment » | Building Blocks, Dashboards & Portals, Information Architecture

Ethics and Design Podcast: Part Deux

June 30th, 2008 — 4:30pm

The I.A. Pod­cast (by Jeff Parks of I.A. Con­sul­tants and Box­e­san­dAr­rows pod­cast fame) just pub­lished the sec­ond of two inter­views dis­cussing research on ethics, design, social media, and con­flict.
Play and down­load the sec­ond inter­view here.
Sub­scribe to the iTunes and feed­burner feeds for the I.A. Pod­cast here.
These pod­casts are based on the Design­ing Eth­i­cal Expe­ri­ences series I’m writ­ing for UXMat­ters: watch for pub­li­ca­tion of the final arti­cle later this sum­mer.
Thanks again, Jeff!

Comment » | Ethics & Design, Social Media, User Experience (UX)

Understanding Juicy Rationalizations: How Designers Make Ethical Choices

June 23rd, 2008 — 5:35pm

Under­stand­ing Juicy Ratio­nal­iza­tions, part 3 of the Design­ing Eth­i­cal Expe­ri­ences series, just went live at UXMat­ters.
Here’s the teaser:
From “The Big Chill“
Michael: “I don’t know any­one who could get through the day with­out two or three juicy ratio­nal­iza­tions.“
“They’re more impor­tant than sex.“
Sam: “Ah, come on. Nothing’s more impor­tant than sex.“
Michael: “Oh yeah? Ever gone a week with­out a ratio­nal­iza­tion?“

Design­ers ratio­nal­ize their choices just as much as every­one else. But we also play a unique role in shap­ing the human world by cre­at­ing the expres­sive and func­tional tools many peo­ple use in their daily lives. Our deci­sions about what is and is not eth­i­cal directly impact the lives of a tremen­dous num­ber of peo­ple we will never know. Bet­ter under­stand­ing of the choices we make as design­ers can help us cre­ate more eth­i­cal user expe­ri­ences for our­selves and for every­one.

Under­stand­ing Juicy Ratio­nal­iza­tions is the first of a pair of arti­cles focused on the ways that indi­vid­ual design­ers make eth­i­cal choices, and how we can improve our choices. This sec­ond pair of arti­cles is a bit of eye-opening win­dow into how peo­ple make many of the choices in our daily lives — not just design deci­sions. Or, at least it was for me… Read­ers will see con­nec­tions much broader than sim­ply choices we explic­itly think of as ‘eth­i­cal’ and / or design related.
The final install­ment in the Design­ing Eth­i­cal Expe­ri­ences series is titled Man­ag­ing the Imp of the Per­verse; watch for it some­time soon.
With the pub­li­ca­tion of these next two arti­cles, the Design­ing Eth­i­cal Expe­ri­ences series con­sists of two sets of matched pairs of arti­cles; the first arti­cle in each pair fram­ing a prob­lem­atic real-life sit­u­a­tion design­ers will face, and the sec­ond sug­gest­ing some ways to resolve these chal­lenges eth­i­cally.
The first pair of arti­cles — Social Media and the Con­flicted Future and Some Prac­ti­cal Sug­ges­tions for Design­ing Eth­i­cal Expe­ri­ences — looked at broad cul­tural and tech­nol­ogy trends like social media and DIY / co-creation, sug­gest­ing ways to dis­cover and man­age likely eth­i­cal con­flicts within the design process.
It’s a nice sym­met­ri­cal struc­ture, if you dig that sort of thing.  (And what archi­tect doesn’t?)
For com­muters / multi-taskers / peo­ple who pre­fer lis­ten­ing to read­ing, Jeff Parks inter­viewed me on the con­tents of this sec­ond set of arti­cles, which he will pub­lish shortly as a pod­cast.
Thanks again to the edi­to­r­ial team at UXMat­ters for sup­port­ing my explo­ration of this very impor­tant topic for the future of expe­ri­ence design. In an age when every­one can lever­age professional-grade adver­tis­ing the likes of Spo­tun­ner, the eth­i­cal­ity of the expres­sive tools and frame­works design­ers cre­ate is a ques­tion of crit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance for us all.

Comment » | Ethics & Design, Social Media, User Experience (UX)

Speaking at EuroIA 2008 In Amsterdam

June 20th, 2008 — 11:37am

I’m happy to announce I’m speak­ing at EuroIA 2008 in Ams­ter­dam, Sep­tem­ber 26 — 27. My ses­sion is titled ‘Frame­works Are the Future of IA’. If the excit­ing title isn’t enough to sell you on attend­ing (what’s more com­pelling than a case study on an open struc­tural design frame­work for self-assembled user expe­ri­ences and infor­ma­tion spaces…?), here’s a descrip­tion:
The Web is shift­ing to a DIY (Do It Your­self) model of user expe­ri­ence cre­ation, where peo­ple assem­ble indi­vid­ual com­bi­na­tions of con­tent and func­tion­al­ity gath­ered from many sources to meet their par­tic­u­lar needs. The DIY model for cre­at­ing user expe­ri­ences offers many ben­e­fits in pub­lic and con­sumer set­tings, and also inside the enter­prise. But over time, it suf­fers many of the same prob­lems that his­tor­i­cally made por­tals unus­able and inef­fec­tive, includ­ing con­gested designs, poorly planned growth, and inabil­ity to accom­mo­date changes in struc­ture and use.
This case study demon­strates a sim­ple design frame­work of stan­dard­ized infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture build­ing blocks that is directly applic­a­ble to por­tals and the DIY model for cre­at­ing user expe­ri­ences, in two ways. First, the build­ing blocks frame­work can help main­tain find­abil­ity, usabil­ity and user expe­ri­ence qual­ity in por­tal and DIY set­tings by effec­tively guid­ing growth and change. Sec­ond, it is an exam­ple of the chang­ing role of IA in the DIY world, where we now define the frame­works and tem­plates other peo­ple choose from when cre­at­ing their own tools and user expe­ri­ences.
Using many screen­shots and design doc­u­ments, the case study will fol­low changes in the audi­ences, struc­tures, and con­tents of a suite of enter­prise por­tals con­structed for users in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, oper­at­ing units, and man­age­r­ial lev­els of a major global cor­po­ra­tion. Par­tic­i­pants will see how the build­ing blocks pro­vided an effec­tive frame­work for the design, expan­sion, and inte­gra­tion of nearly a dozen dis­tinct por­tals assem­bled from a com­mon library of func­tion­al­ity and con­tent.
This case study will also explore the build­ing blocks as an exam­ple of the design frame­works IA’s will cre­ate in the DIY future. We will dis­cuss the goals and design prin­ci­ples that inspired the build­ing blocks sys­tem, and review its evo­lu­tion over time.
The con­fer­ence pro­gram includes some very inter­est­ing ses­sions, and Adam Green­field (of Every­ware reknown) is the keynote.
Ams­ter­dam is lovely in Sep­tem­ber, but if you need more rea­son to come and say hello, Pic­nic 08 — with a stel­lar lineup of speak­ers — is just before EuroIA.

1 comment » | Building Blocks, Information Architecture, Social Media, User Experience (UX)

Hybrids: Architectures For The Ecology of Co-Creation

March 21st, 2008 — 4:38pm

Com­mon mod­els for par­tic­i­pa­tion in social and con­trib­u­tory media invari­ably set ‘con­tent cre­ators’ — the group of peo­ple who pro­vide orig­i­nal mate­r­ial — at the top of an implied or explicit scale of com­par­a­tive value. Bradley Horowitz’s Con­tent Pro­duc­tion Pyra­mid is one exam­ple, Forrester’s Social Techno­graph­ics Lad­der is another. In these mod­els, value — usu­ally to poten­tial mar­keters or adver­tis­ers exter­nal to the domain in ques­tion — is usu­ally mea­sured in terms of the level of involve­ment of the dif­fer­ent groups present, whether con­sumers, syn­the­siz­ers, or cre­ators.
By the num­bers, these mod­els are accu­rate: the vast major­ity of the con­tent in social media comes from a small slice of the pop­u­la­tion. And for busi­nesses, con­tent cre­ators offer greater poten­tial to com­mer­cial­ize / mon­e­tize / trade influ­ence.
It’s time to evolve these mod­els a bit, to bet­ter align them with the sweep­ing DIY cul­tural and tech­no­log­i­cal shift hap­pen­ing offline in the real world, as well as online.
The DIY shift man­i­fests in many ways:

The essen­tial fea­ture of the DIY shift is co-creation: the pres­ence of many more peo­ple in *all aspects* of cre­ation and pro­duc­tion, whether of soft­ware, goods, ideas, etc. Co-creation encom­passes more than straight­for­ward on-line con­tent cre­ation — such as shar­ing a photo, or writ­ing a blog post — acknowl­edged by the archi­tec­ture of par­tic­i­pa­tion, user-generated con­tent (and ugly term…), crowd-sourcing, and col­lec­tive and con­trib­u­tory media mod­els.
Co-creation includes active shap­ing of struc­ture, pat­tern, rules, and mech­a­nisms, that sup­port sim­ple con­tent cre­ation. This requires activ­ity and involve­ment from roles we often label edi­tor, builder, designer, or archi­tect, depend­ing on the con­text. The pyra­mid and lad­der mod­els either implic­itly col­lapse these per­spec­tives into the gen­eral cat­e­gory of ‘cre­ator’, which obscures very impor­tant dis­tinc­tions between them, or leaves them out entirely (I’m not sure which). It is pos­si­ble to plot these more nuanced cre­ative roles on the gen­eral con­tin­uüm of ‘level of involve­ment’, and I often do this when I talk about the future of design in the DIY world.
A bet­ter model for this world is the ecol­ogy of co-creation, which rec­og­nizes that the key dif­fer­ence between indus­trial pro­duc­tion mod­els and the DIY future is that the walls sep­a­rat­ing tra­di­tional cre­ators from con­sumers have fallen, and all par­ties inter­con­nect. Judge­ments of value in ecolo­gies take on very dif­fer­ent mean­ings: Con­sider the dif­fer­ing but all vitally impor­tant roles of pro­duc­ers, con­sumers, and decom­posers in a liv­ing ecosys­tem.
What will an ecol­ogy of co-creation look like in prac­ti­cal / oper­a­tional form? In The Bot­tom Is Not Enough, Kevin Kelly offers, “…now that crowd-sourcing and social webs are all the rage, it’s worth repeat­ing: the bot­tom is not enough. You need a bit of top-down as well.“
An ecol­ogy of co-creation that com­bines top-down archi­tec­ture and design with bottom-up con­tri­bu­tion and par­tic­i­pa­tion will take the form of a delib­er­ate hybrid.
I’ll quote Kelly again (at some length):
Here’s how I sum it up:  The bottom-up hive mind will always take us much fur­ther than even seems pos­si­ble. It keeps sur­pris­ing us in this regard. Given enough time, dumb things can be smarter than we think.
At that same time, the bottom-up hive mind will never take us to our end goal. We are too impa­tient. So we add design and top down con­trol to get where we want to go.
The sys­tems we keep will be hybrid cre­ations. They will have a strong root­stock of peer-to-peer gen­er­a­tion, grafted below highly refined strains of con­trol­ling func­tions.  Sturdy, robust foun­da­tions of user-made con­tent and crowd-sourced inno­va­tion will feed very small sliv­ers of lead­er­ship agility. Pure plays of 100% smart mobs or 100% smart elites will be rare.
The real art of busi­ness and orga­ni­za­tions in the net­work econ­omy will not be in har­ness­ing the crowd of “every­body” (sim­ple!) but in find­ing the appro­pri­ate hybrid mix of bot­tom and top for each niche, at the right time. The mix of control/no-control will shift as a sys­tem grows and matures.
[Side note: Metaphors for achiev­ing the appro­pri­ate mix of control/no-control for a sys­tem will likely include chore­o­graph­ing, cul­ti­vat­ing, tun­ing, con­duct­ing, and shep­herd­ing, in con­trast to our cur­rent direc­tive fram­ings such as dri­ving, direct­ing, or man­ag­ing.]
Knowl­edge at Whar­ton echoes Kelly, in their recent arti­cle The Experts vs. the Ama­teurs: A Tug of War over the Future of Media
A tug of war over the future of media may be brew­ing between so-called user-generated con­tent — includ­ing ama­teurs who pro­duce blogs, video and audio for pub­lic con­sump­tion — and pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ists, movie mak­ers and record labels, along with the deep-pocketed com­pa­nies that back them. The likely out­come: a hybrid approach built around entirely new busi­ness mod­els, say experts at Whar­ton.
No one has quite fig­ured out what these new busi­ness mod­els will look like, though exper­i­men­ta­tion is under way with many new ven­tures from star­tups and exist­ing orga­ni­za­tions.
The BBC is putting hybridiza­tion and tun­ing into effect now, albeit in lim­ited ways that do not reflect a dra­matic shift of busi­ness model.
In Value of cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism Peter Hor­rocks writes:
Where the BBC is host­ing debate we will want the infor­ma­tion gen­er­ated to be edi­to­ri­ally valu­able. Sim­ply hav­ing suf­fi­cient resource to be able to mod­er­ate the vol­ume of debate we now receive is an issue in itself.
And the fact that we are hav­ing to apply sig­nif­i­cant resource to a facil­ity that is con­tributed reg­u­larly by only a small per­cent­age of our audi­ences is some­thing we have to bear in mind. Although of course a higher pro­por­tion read forums or ben­e­fit indi­rectly from how it feeds into our jour­nal­ism. So we may have to loosen our grip and be less wor­ried about the range of views expressed, with very clear label­ing about the BBC’s edi­to­r­ial non-endorsement of such con­tent. But there are obvi­ous risks.
We need to be able to extract real edi­to­r­ial value from such con­tri­bu­tions more eas­ily. We are explor­ing as many tech­no­log­i­cal solu­tions as we can for fil­ter­ing the con­tent, look­ing for intel­li­gent soft­ware that can help jour­nal­ists find the nuggets and ways in which the audi­ence itself can help us to cope with the vol­ume and sift it.
What does all this mean for design(ers)? Stay tuned for part two…

1 comment » | Social Media

Video of My BlogTalk Presentation

March 11th, 2008 — 2:26pm

Video of my BlogTalk pre­sen­ta­tion ‘What hap­pens when every­one designs social media? Prac­ti­cal sug­ges­tions for han­dling new eth­i­cal dilem­mas’ is avail­able from Ustream.tv. The res­o­lu­tion is low (it was shot with a web­cam) but the audio is good: fol­low along with the slides on your own for the full expe­ri­ence.

More videos of BlogTalk ses­sions here.

Comment » | Ethics & Design, Networks and Systems, User Experience (UX)

Blogtalk 2008 slides available

March 3rd, 2008 — 7:12am

My slides from Blogtalk 2008 are avail­able online now: I went through a lot of ideas quickly, so this is a good way to fol­low along at your own pace…
FYI: This ver­sion of the deck includes pre­sen­ters notes — I’ll upload a (larger!) view-only ver­sion once I’m back from hol­i­day in lovely Éire.

Comments Off | Ideas, Networks and Systems, User Experience (UX)

'Designing Ethical Experiences: Social Media and the Conflicted Future' is live at UXMatters

February 12th, 2008 — 3:43pm

UXMat­ters just pub­lished part 1 of a two part series I’m writ­ing on ethics and design titled, Design­ing Eth­i­cal Expe­ri­ences: Social Media and the Con­flicted Future.
Here’s an excerpt, to whet your appetites for a prac­ti­cal take on what’s often seen as a philo­soph­i­cal sub­ject.
Ques­tions of ethics and con­flict can seem far removed from the daily work of user expe­ri­ence (UX) design­ers who are try­ing to develop insight into people’s needs, under­stand their out­looks, and design with empa­thy for their con­cerns. In fact, the con­verse is true: When con­flicts between busi­nesses and customers–or any groups of stakeholders–remain unre­solved, UX prac­ti­tion­ers fre­quently find them­selves fac­ing eth­i­cal dilem­mas, search­ing for design com­pro­mises that sat­isfy com­pet­ing camps. This dynamic is the essen­tial pat­tern by which con­flicts in goals and per­spec­tives become eth­i­cal con­cerns for UX design­ers. Unchecked, it can lead to the cre­ation of uneth­i­cal expe­ri­ences that are hos­tile to users–the very peo­ple most design­ers work hard to benefit–and dam­ag­ing to the rep­u­ta­tions and brand iden­ti­ties of the busi­nesses respon­si­ble.
Stay tuned for part two, which will share a set of sug­ges­tions for how design can man­age con­flict and work toward the cre­ation of eth­i­cal inte­grated expe­ri­ences. Mean­while, let us know what you think of the ideas here, or at the UXMat­ters site.

Comment » | Ideas, User Experience (UX)

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