User Generated Content

August 20, 2009

People have opinions.

People have experiences.

Experiences may lead to an expression of an opinion. Depending on the experience, this opinion can be negative or positive.

Take, for example, my own personal experience of TalkTalk. When I moved my life over to the UK, I immediately began hunting for the best broadband and international call package deal with the phone providers. TalkTalk was the cheapest. Hands down – BT was incredibly expensive, and other providers had shoddy deals, so it was TalkTalk who prevailed.

Friends around me were of the opinion that TalkTalk should be avoided at all costs because of X, Y and Z.

I ignored them, I wanted to form my own opinion. Besides, money was tight, and TalkTalk were giving us a Go-Live date of three weeks time. 4 weeks, still no broadband. 8 weeks no broadband, but phone line had been set up. TalkTalk telephone customer service (outsourced to India) were so difficult to understand, and difficult to give any clear, solid answer. They skipped around the topic without confirming anything. Boy, was I regretting the choice to move to TalkTalk.

Then I discovered http://www.talktalkmembers.com/

A no-hold-back customer frequented Help forum, with official TalkTalk staff moderating and dealing with the queries. 150% more effective then actually talking to someone on the phone. Replies would generally be within an hour, you would receive clear feedback and understanding, and apologies, and the offer of compensation (as long as it was TalkTalk’s fault). Each initial first post would usually start with:

“TalkTalk customer service is appalling I have been let down repeatedly, I am never extending my contract and I will pay the cancellation fee to move to BT”

And the final post would usually be along the lines of:

“Oh thank you SO much, you provide an amazing service, so efficient thank you.”

I found out within 24 hours why my broadband would be delayed by another 3-4 weeks, that I would be offered compensation, and they were very sorry.

Fantastic.

It’s a relatively dangerous thing which TalkTalk are doing. The forums are open to public, so the faults in their services are wide open for any potentially new TalkTalk customer to see, and run away from. But TalkTalk have so much faith in their staff, that they know each issue will be resolved to a satisfactory level, and although their dirty laundry is aired for the world to see, it gets clean pretty damn quickly.

I would say 90% of people come away from the forums far happier then when they arrived.

user generated content

Other companies aren’t so sure of the idea.

I’m currently working with Company X (a rather large world-wide corporation) on the idea of user generated content, and whether the potential installation of a forum would be a beneficial idea or not. Then, there’s the topic of moderation of the forums. By “moderated” they mean: 24 hours a day moderation – with a huge amount of censorship. If any contributor even breathes something negative about Company X then it will be deleted. Freedom of speech is not allowed, and propaganda is rife.

Being the “social media expert” I informed them that this would be social media suicide. Not allowing forum members to voice their opinion would anger us mere mortals, and it would rapidly spread across the internet that “Company X” is not allowing members to post freely and openly on a public forum. Instead of being afraid of what users would post about them, they should embrace this chance to swiftly and easily connect with their users, allowing them to tackle and solve issues head-on.

This, by itself, would spread the word quickly across the internet how efficient “Company X” are in their customer relationship management.

Currently “Company X” hire two individuals to sit at computers all day, trawling through the internet for any mention of “Company X”. If this mention is in anyway negative, these people find a way to respond, or remove the offending comment. Really, they are that scared of their users.

To cut a very, very, long story short. “Company X” opted out of the forum, and any ability to add comments to blog posts, content that would be user generated was strictly prohibited from any part of any of “Company X”‘s multiple websites. It wasn’t worthwhile, they said, to spend time and energy to follow up with any of their millions of customers who may post comments or posts on their websites.

If they could censor free speech and opinions they would.

All I have to do is turn to any one of my friends and ask their opinion of “Company X” and whether their experience would lead them to recommend their services to me (I can sure that they have had some kind of experience with them). I don’t need to go on a website to find that out.

User generated content on a corporation’s website is not something to afraid of, but only include it if you can afford the time and man-power to moderate and respond. Do Not Censor.

People have an opinion as a result of an experience. Take this chance to change that negative opinion by giving them a positive experience.

(Part one is here)

I don’t hate interviews.

Infact, I really enjoy them. Not because – as a friend boasted recently – I get every single one I go for, but because I enjoy finding out how a company works, what the people are like, etc etc. I always consider them an opportunity, and it’s as much up to me whether I feel I would enjoy the role, as much as they think they would like me.

I once had a 4 hour interview for a usability role in a very famous online poker company, it followed two 1 hour-long telephone interviews. I was introduced to everyone, they fed me (crocodile was on the menu; I didn’t have it), I did some tests (same one twice as I was given the wrong instructions the first time), I was asked the same questions twice (the woman who interviewed me didn’t take a single note on paper), and given the guided tour of a very “Google-esque” office.

It was incredibly draining and intimidating, and I couldn’t wait to be out of there. I was glad when I found out they had hired someone who had more experience than me. It was the only role I had gone for where they didn’t say that they thought “I would be bored.” Had I gone for the interview now, I would be upset that they hadn’t hired me, but at the time, it was too much for me.

So I learnt a lot from that experience, particularly when the recruiter never called me back to inform me I hadn’t got the position, and I had to call the woman who interviewed me directly.

I could write an entire blog on recruiters, I could also write a 3 part blog on that particular interview… maybe another time.

When I secured myself an interview in the 70-mile-away alley, I was excited. I knew things were coming to an end at my current position so I didn’t feel bad. We discussed Facebook, we discussed Twitter, we discussed my thesis about gender-bending. Luckily enough, I had done my research on who would be interviewing me, so I was able to ask educated questions about one of the interviewers research into affective-computing. We also brushed onto user experience topics, like user journeys, use cases, wireframes, sitemaps, card-sorting etc.

I knew about it all, but I had never really done a lot of it.

My current job had never bothered with any user experience, and only designed designs from 9 years ago, thinking they would still be in fashion today. This new company based in Poole, were ahead of the curve even, dealing with brand-new design concepts, and constantly striving to be on top of the latest techniques in design, marketing and usability. They were a London agency, only in Poole, Dorset, and beside the sea.

At the end of the interview, I was shown around the building, and then sent on my way. Things were promising when the recruiter reported back to me. I remember walking along the harbour after my first interview, and being able to see the Isle of Wight in the distance, I just knew I had to be here.

They offered me the job, and the 4 hour daily commute didn’t even deter my positive response.

I literally high-tailed it from my previous job, never had I been so glad that I was moving on. No more abuse. I would work somewhere where I would be respected. My work would actually get to be discussed without being repeatedly slapped down at the first hurdle.

I didn’t exactly slip right into the job, I certainly didn’t take to it like a fish to water, it took a few weeks for me to find my feet and understand the way in which things are done. It was scary and intimidating for my first few tasks. Due to how I had been treated in my last job, I was terrified of getting something wrong, and was extremely defensive whenever anyone questioned me. It took me 3 months to get out of that habit. It still happens every now and again.   I’m dealing with some amazing clients, and some incredibly talented people around me, as well as trying to keep my head above water.

The 4 hour commute wasn’t easy, it was a real killer. I didn’t get home till 10pm some nights, and I would be up at 6am the next day to go back into work. I felt like a zombie some days, and it was very difficult some days to complete work which was presentable. This was the career I wanted, so I was going to stick at it. My skills are random – which is what previous employers have struggled with. My new job also struggled a little too, they wanted to know where I fit into the company, and they are pushing me towards Information Architecture. Seems to be something which I can work at.

I have learnt that usability is definitely not the same when you’re out in the Real World.

It’s far more difficult, with a huge amount of random considerations that need to be accounted for. Clients have different needs, as well as different budgets, and that all needs to be taken into account when deciding whether or not to include a “use case” and how many “personas” need to be composed in order to fully represent the audience.

I’m not sure whether this is what I expected it to be, but I do know I am actually enjoying my role. My first job role to really enjoy, it’s challenging but doable, and I’m responsible for my own work as well as having other people to refer to. It also helps that my 4 hour daily commute has finished, and I’m now living 5 minutes away from work, so I actually have a life now.

So, what is a User Experience Designer?

In my case, a User Experience Designer designs the most optimal experience for users when navigating through a website.

What do I do?

I create (not necessarily in this order) personas, user journeys, concept maps (we call ontology diagrams), sitemaps, use cases, wireframes, interaction-pattern documents, and potentially a whole lot more. I am also involved in usability testing.

userlifexperience

I enjoy it because I’m easily bored, and so quickly distracted. There’s something new all the time, something challenging too. When I look back on my previous job in particular, it makes me embarrassed that a company like that still exists in this day and age, and that I worked for them! If I felt I wouldn’t be sued, I would post the name of the company up on this website, but to be careful I’ll keep quiet for now.

I’m still young-ish and I’ll experience miles more in my job-filled lifetime, and I’ll blog about those too.

I’m still working out my own life experience, and I have much more to do 🙂

User (Life) Experience

July 23, 2009

I am a User Experience Designer.

So what is this supposed to mean? What does it encompass? What does it involve? These are questions I frequently get when telling people what I do.

I could have had an educated guess 4/5 months ago as to what this would involve, and I was mostly correct. Mostly.

Now, after 4/5 months in my role now as a user experience designer, I’m starting to comprehend everything that it involves.

My usability based academic background has involved various topics, such as user journeys, the UCD process, wireframes, storyboards etc etc. I don’t think in academia you will ever fully 100% understand in what way these things work in the real world, and why they are important and in what order.

I suppose that’s why I decided to forgo the unrelated job offers after my under-grad, and stuck around for something that was low-paid but extremely related to my degree. If I was going to make a career out of my life, I had to sacrifice the job that was quite well paid and easily accessible to me, to something that was 1 hour 30 minutes away from me, and paid less. Relevance was key to me when I eagerly walked out of college with my degree in my hand.

A year in a junior web designer / developer role, with a key focus on usability practices really increased my attractiveness to potential future employers. I gained XHTML, CSS, Javascript skills as well as general layout, usability and design skills in that position without even realising I was learning. I went from thinking that CSS was a music band, to being able to code an entire site using it. My gentle prod for a salary raise went unnoticed, and a two month job hunt yielded nothing of interest or suitability. My main desire was to work in a primarily usability role, with web design / developing as a secondary role, most roles were the opposite way around.

Thus began the UK job hunt.

Seems the UK was further ahead than Ireland for general web design practices and put actual money into making sure websites were usable, some companies hired in-house usability experts to ensure that their website was consistently usable. Some companies existed purely for selling their usability testing services, agencies hired usability experts to work on projects and to provide depth in respond-to-tender briefs.

A couple of flights later, I had secured a job role in Camberley, UK. The interview had gone well, I had ensured I understood all of what the role encompassed and within 6 weeks of me moving across the water, I started my first day. Really, I should have seen the warning signs when they gave me a title of “Design Engineer.” My inexperience showed as I was excited at being titled something which sounded so professional and important, when really it showed they had no idea what my skills were.

The next warning sign was obvious when they asked me to learn everything about Google AdWords in the two weeks before I was to start. Again, being inexperienced and eager, I did it.

When I started, it transpired I was head of all things Google! AdWords, AdSense and Analytics. For in-house, for clients, for the bosses friends. Nothing like the usability role I had been promised during my interview and conversations with the recruiter.

False advertising, but in this case, I couldn’t take it back to the shop to return it.

returns

Instead, I knuckled down, inhaled anything AdWords related that came my way, determined to make the best out of my situation. The designs I did deal with were created using tables, not CSS or web standard XHTML. One website I worked on for 6 weeks, 1 week away from being published the plug was pulled. Three months went by; probation time. Having not put a foot wrong, and having learnt an amazing amount of information in a short time, I was convinced they didn’t have a bad word to say about me. Sitting downstairs in the bosses “Mobile Boardroom” (tatty old camper van), I was informed I had been late to start work too many times over the past three months, and consequently, would not pass my probation this time. My next probation meeting was in another three months time.

Upset, but determined to improve, I soildered on.

A friend in work informed me that in the three months I had been late three times. Two of which I had genuine excuses for. I had worked through my lunch on these days, and during the past three months I had stayed late many a time. In my mind, this is not something worth failing my probation for.

I could now see clearly that the end was indeed nigh, and I needed to look quickly if I was only guaranteed a position for three months. The operations manager began to take a particular disliking to me, being obtuse and argumentative, my reasoning was ignored and overlooked, my work was continuously sent back. There were times I would cry as soon as I got into my car when I left work. Being defensive without wanting to appear as though I was being defensive was hard work. Continuously being knocked back when I would put so much effort into my work, was soul destroying.

Hundreds of sneaky recruiter phone calls later, one seemed to come along that was right up my alley, only this alley was 70 miles away from me.

(Part Two is here)

As those of you who have been waiting patiently for the results of my research, well, you shall finally be rewarded!

As I will be submitting this to a journal in the hopes of being published, I cannot post up my entire document, however, I will summarise very briefly a few points here:

Title: Gender-bending in virtual worlds: Investigating need for achievement between goal-orientated and non goal-orientated environments.

Abstract

The aim of this study was to examine a potential relationship between gender-bending online and Need for Achievement (nAch in goal-orientated (World of Warcraft) and none goal-orientated environments (Second Life). Gender-bending has existed online since the creation of MUDs (Multi-user Dungeons) and chat-rooms (Donath, 1998).

There were two stages to this study. Firstly, participants took part in informal interviews (n=6) to accumulate rich data involving their motivations behind gender-bending. Secondly, participants (n=253) responded to an online questionnaire to find out their motivations behind why they gender-bend, and to find out their level of Need for Achievement.

Findings show women in a goal-orientated virtual environment with high nAch are more likely to gender-bend then women with lower nAch. Findings also showed that that men who gender-bend have lower nAch than men who do not gender-bend in a goal orientated environment. There was no difference in nAch scores between individuals who do and who do not gender-bend in a non-goal orientated environment. Findings implicate that reasons for gender-bending differ between environments types, additional research is warranted into investigating and discovering further motivators for this behaviour.

What does this all mean?

Well, from my one-on-one interviews I found that:

World of Warcraft

  • These users gender-bend primarily for game achievement reasons
  • Secondarily they gender-bend because the character looks visually more appealing
  • Thirdly because the character looks stronger and then leaves the user feeling more powerful

Second Life

  • Second Life residents had more complex reasons for gender-bending
  • Exploratory reasons – some interviewees were transvestites, transgenders and whose sexual orientation was bi-sexual and these factors had strong defining reasons as to why they gender-bend online
  • Deceptive reasons – some interviewees wanted to protect their real-life identity by being something totally other online

The above results were very interesting but required far more research to fully understand the reasons for gender-bending online.

From my survey:

Need for Achievement (nAch) refers to an individual’s desire for accomplishment, mastering of skills, control, or high standards (McClelland, 1965).

Women who gender-bend in World of Warcraft had a higher need for achievement score then women who did not gender-bend in World of Warcraft.

  • The conclusions we can draw from this include that as playing as a male character is recognised as being more difficult then playing as a female character (Suler, 2004), women who play as male avatars have a higher need for achievement. The game is more challenging and they enjoy it more once they have successfully completed tasks as a male avatar.

Men who gender-bend in World of Warcraft have a lower need for achievement score then men who do gender-bend.

  • The conclusions we can draw from this are that as playing as a female avatar is recognised as being easier then playing as a male avatar (Suler, 2004), males who play as females have a less-challenging game. As individuals who score highly in need for achievement require a level of difficulty that they must master, means that playing as a female avatar for this purpose means that individuals will have a low need for achievement score.

There is no difference between need for achievement scores between individuals in Second Life

  • There is no goal to achieve in Second Life, therefore there is no beneficial reason to playing as a male or female avatar.

Phew, so there you have it, summarised version of my research! Long over-due. Results in June… wish me luck!

References:

McClelland, D.C. (1965) Toward a theory of motive acquisition. The American Psychologist, 20, 321-333.

Suler, J.R. (2004). Do boys (and girls) just wanna have fun? In A. Kunkel (Ed.), Gender communication (pp. 149-153). Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing.

WordPress iPhone app

March 5, 2009

What a wonderfully usable iPhone app that wordpress have managed to roll out.

I literally signed in about 60secs ago and I’m already writing a blog entry. This is how all applications should be- easy to interact with and minimum fuss and details.

As I have learned recently media ultimately needs to be engaging and wordpress app is a great example of that. When you’re on the go, it’s ideal for making quick blog posts which of course you can add to later if needs be!

Thesis update:
Thanks to everyone who took part again, I’m currently looking at all my results and I will report back in a few weeks about it!

Congratulations to t-girl85 who won the €50 amazon voucher!

Oh My God!

Oh My God!

Well, I have to say a massive thank you to all of you who have taken part in my survey!!

I have had a huge amount of responses, it has been incredible! I posted the survey on Sunday evening, and by yesterday I had nearly received all my required responses! I’m glad I decided to leave in some comment boxes, I have received numerous very interesting responses, people do have very interesting reasons, and very interesting thoughts about my survey.

I am still looking for participants, particularly those who do NOT gender-bend in either Second Life or World of Warcraft! If you fall into this, please fill out survey, or pass it on, I’ll still be keeping it open for a while yet!

I have been relentlessly abused in certain forums, but I have learnt lessons, and I have added changes to my survey upon suggestions, I’m not too proud to admit that things could be improved! I really enjoy doing research, I enjoy this line of education, I’ll be a student forever.

Keep reading, I’ll post updates as they come!

Now I need to starting analysing results… this is the difficult part!

Moli

So when I was working back in Dublin, I was working in a building called the Digital Hub, which housed many small, new media companies. Web design, production, film, radio, etc etc, and in amongst all these companies is one particular small company called Moli.

Moli is a social networking site for the smart person – you have one account, but you can have different profiles. So, if you are a Jack-of-all-Trades, like myself, this is a great and clever innovation. On mine, for example, I can have one main profile for me, as a person! Then I can also have a profile advertising my music, which I have also managed to set up a shop on, so people can actually purchase tracks! Then lastly, I have a profile promoting my freelance web design.

So, if I am speaking to different people about different things – for example Louis Walsh about my music – I can give him the link to my music site. If I am speaking to Google about usability and web design, I can give them a link to my web design profile!

In reality, I’m not really going to speak to those people, but you can see the benefits of having mulitple profiles in one account. It takes away the unnecessary need for multiple different social networking sites all because they provide different functions, Moli provides pretty much most, if not everything, that the majority of other social networking sites provide and more, and with everything all accessible in one account, you can’t really go wrong!!

Check it out!! It’s my tip of the summer 🙂