Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why old rules don't count in a new (networked) world: Pirate Bay re-opens for business despite loss in court.

While I can't profess to know the in’s and out’s of "The Pirate Bay" case it really doesn't surprise me. The reason I say this is that all my research on user participation within the world "Second Life" over the last four years has illustrated intense cases of collaboration, which resists all forms of authority. It is the community that is the authority:

"Interaction in a ‘virtual’ sense has been uniquely smuggled into the design of technology. The implicit relationships between technology and participation have dealt with interaction as part of the technological experience of devices or alternately a by-product of the spatial field that technology itself has produced (Dourish 2006). The technological device is more often than not the dominant discourse within production fields and this dominance inadvertently neglects the users’ local level of participation (McCarthy and Wright 2004: 10-11 see Technology as experience). The user plays a unique role in co-producing the device or artifact and their interaction with it aligns context and meaning which is not present when the device is dormant. Therefore it is the ‘in situ’ use of the digital artifact, which potentially provides it with more meaning and illustrates the contextual grounding it needs to be significant. Importantly why the device exists is not necessarily the most significant context but instead what ‘uses’ or actions the device makes possible." (excerpt from Eryn Grant’s PhD Thesis)

To put this into perspective for this case, I believe the institutions of law need to look carefully at the community of users and what community interactions are making torrents possible. If they truly want to disable torrents they first must disable community collaboration. It is the human social technology, which is the driving force behind the tech conduit.

In the case of "The Pirate Bay" the community of users is tech savvy and has already shown an extreme resistance to the ideas of copy-write law by sharing music, books, movies, games and software. The design of mass international sharing of illegally distributed content means the end users are protected from enforcement from law agencies. There are just too many people to catch. The site itself has closed yet has re-opened on another url with all content available.

These old ways of copyright protection just aren't suited to the new network of collaborative sharing. The system needs to be changed to account for user behaviours, which consistently defies current rules and systems. Media industries need to be at the forefront of this change so they don't miss out on cashing in. If you can't beat 'em join 'em...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The "artful practices" of interaction: Garfinkel, Goffman and Sacks

The indexical system of interaction plays a central role in ethnomethodology and is a systematic method for illustrating, through conversation, the co-operative and contextual methods participants use to create meaning and organise experience. For Garfinkel (1984), indexical expressions are accomplishments that illustrate the complex organisation of everyday life what he would call ‘artful practices’. In many ways this system when interrogated systematically highlights the complexities in context and meaning that are underneath the majority of conversational sequences. The indexical scheme is one of organisation, centrally located in specific language systems that are culturally specific. On one level indexicality illustrates the management of local context and on another is demonstrates the maintenance of localised order. It is the turn by turn accounts in communication that illustrate the tacit knowledge’s that are at play in everyday experience.
Sacks (1995:163,333) shows the use of indexical expressions in everyday language through words such as ‘you’, ‘we’,’ they’ and ‘us’. Particularly these terms for Sacks are devices that illustrate the production of membership categories through language and are evidence of the machinery of social organisation (1995:40). These categories are produced with the implicit understanding that other members or non-members will know a lot about any given category; they are inference rich:

By that I mean a great deal of knowledge that members of a society have about the society is stored in terms of these categories. And by ‘stored in terms of’ I mean that much of the knowledge has some category term from this class as its subject. And the inference rich character of these categories constitutes another warrant for their occurrence in early parts of first conversations: When you get some category as an answer to a ‘which’- type, you can feel that you know a great deal about the person (Sacks 1995:40-1).

The inference rich character of indexical expressions illustrates a conditional application of context and knowledge to the maintenance of local order through conversational sequence. Sacks uses the term ‘you” to illustrate the complex nature of identifying the different meanings attributed to ‘you’ depending on the context in which it is used(1995: 348). ‘You’ can mean the person speaking, the person hearing (or everyone present) and such understandings are implied through the utterances relationship to the speaker and the hearer. Such that the speaker will not explain what ‘you’ means and the hearer will not tell how they come to understand who ‘you’ is, but the collaboration between the speaker and the hearer brings both parties to the same conclusions. Thus indexical expressions rely on the construction of categories and activities for that category to apply specific meaning. These expressions derive their context from the order, sequence and time in which they were given – meanings as such are never context free but context specific; the example of laughter as an indexical expression illustrates such properties (Garfinkel and Sacks 1986:160-1).

Not only is laughter produced in an orderly fashion, but it appears that an occasion of laughing together is an activity in its own right, an achievement of various methodic procedures (Jefferson, Sacks et al. 1987:158)

Laughter has to be placed sequentially within a conversation in order to understand the meaning with which it is given as a turn to an utterance (Jefferson, Sacks et al. 1987). It is a strategic method for affiliating or disaffiliating with a topic or person in a conversation and is a tool for aligning conversation, topics and people in particular ways without using explicit language. Laughing is never context free, but must be understood in terms of the sequence in which it is heard, that is what came before and after the opportunity to laugh.

Inference mechanisms and indexical systems are important to the systematic ordering of conversation and progress toward social order that is driven though language systems; the devices of control are locally represented through conversation in the ways participants construct their own categories and reference points for others to agree or disagree.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Revisiting Goffman's Interaction Order (Just For Fun!)

Goffman’s (1982) Interaction Order is a probing but thoughtful paper and probably the most complete reference to his conceptual model of the interaction order, as it explicitly takes into account his motivations and impetus for practice – something he regularly hides in the majority of his academic writing. Perhaps this is because, at the time, there was contention over his initiative that this piece is so explanatory.

My concern over the years has been to promote acceptance of this face to face domain as an analytically viable one – a domain which may be titled, for want of a better name, the interaction order – a domain whose preferred method is microanalysis. My colleagues have not been overwhelmed by the case. (Goffman 1982: 2)

The Interaction order is a name given to a body of theory that was developed over a substantial period of time in Goffman’s career, but in itself it raises many questions about the design of face to face interaction and the order in which that interaction is achieved.

Face to face interaction is an inclusive reference point for Goffman who believed that spatial and temporal zones of interaction had to be taken into account to make analytical sense. The contextual implications of activities occurring ‘secondary’ to conversational interaction are central to Goffman’s argument; surrounding actions may impact on how interaction takes place. He did not presume context but forced the issue of context to interactional discourses (1981:188-91). In addition, the interaction order was a world beyond speakers and participation was not the sole requirement for membership in conversation. His position called for a greater understanding of the socially situated experiences of daily life, of cognitive states and bodily orientations(Goffman 1966).

The interaction order for Goffman is not at the will of dominant social structures, in fact he took great care to describe many processes where the social structures were dependant on face to face encounters (1982: 8-9). He felt that sociological discourse was confusing ritualised interactions with structures of power and authority in western culture. Those sociological inquiries of race, gender and hierarchy in conversation were negating the experience of face to face conversations. While he noted the importance of such fields of study he suggested that the local order of face to face interaction must be the primary goal before other issues (such as authority or power structures). His main concern was that the micro interaction would become lost in the macro discourse and local regularities of face to face communication would inadvertently be interpreted as part of macro discourse. His suggestion was to seek the micro study first, then progress to the macro discourse and marry the two concepts later.

Perhaps for Goffman it is the order, not the interaction itself that analytically means more. The presence of the interaction order is to illuminate the ‘what’ in interaction; what does a particular gathering, a particular conversation, a particular celebration allow for? What does the structure of interaction, as a collaborative activity, permit its participants to do? The interaction order provides a multitude of resources to ask questions of and provide answers to the above.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Positioning Ludic Experience in Web 2.0

The correlation between digital interactions and ludic experiences is important to a broader concept of play in urban settings (Stevens 2007). Games and play are designed into everyday life often through the structure of public space where ludic interactions are formalised through cultural spaces. For this to work an assumption must be present; public space, playing games and interactions with others (through games) is a requisite to life. This inevitably transforms social interaction, particularly less formal interactions that connect people with a mutual anticipation of ‘everyday’ ludic pleasure, where even the simplest interactions form the basis of joy, play and connection between people. Fun and play are contained within the idea of ludic activity which is described below:

Fundamental to the notion of ludic activities is an attitude of engagement in the exploration and production of meaning. Thus systems that promote ludic pursuits should provide resources for people to appropriate, rather than content for consumption or tools that structure the performance of defined tasks
(Gaver, Bowers et al. 2004 )

If we are to give this expectation a name it may be “ludicity”– the expectation of play and fun in everyday life. Such ludic expectations are not fully understood by social theory as the pace of technology and digitised connections is much faster than the theorists behind it. Beyond ludicity, the ludic is a reference that explains the transformation of cultural needs and practices of daily life that are centered around play behaviors (Cardena and Littlewood 2006: 287). It is important as a grounding theory as it rationalises two important concepts making them invisible and seemingly less noteworthy; firstly it develops play as an ordinary and expected interaction criteria and secondly it re-classifies verbal communication as a domain of play. “In play…verbal messages become typically re-classified by simultaneous non verbal messages that involve a different logical typing – a higher degree of abstraction” (2006; 207). When such ludic practices are investigated in the light of new digital technologies (here games like Second Life are intended to be brought to mind), what degree of abstraction is occurring? The focus toward fun and pleasure is demonstrated in the discrete ways such behavior collapses what it is to be a producer and consumer confusing all popular understandings of authenticity. The boundaries of both are blurred until there is no true distinction between either, this has in recent times been named Web ‘2.0’, where the cultural influence is one that makes production and consumption fluid and rather sticky (Wesch 2007). Ultimately how does theory accommodate for such blurring points of culture, the negotiation of legitimacy and the rate that culture and values change. The ludic is an influence which describes this interactivity and collaboration but is not understood with a depth and clarity which would allow researchers to make any claims with certainty.

To be more specific how is the genre of ludic re-classifying communication systems in digital play environments and to what extent can they be explained as characteristic of such environments. It is fair to suggest that for the digital sphere, ludic - with its emphasis on play behaviour - has allowed the rise in “new abstractions” that make it popular as a medium of self amusement. That is, it provides a type of passport which enables play behaviours into domains like technology that traditionally are associated with scientific disciplines (Pinch 2006). The ludic has become an expectation of everyday in a cultural world that is determined by the connections between people. The six degrees of separation is not a tangible string of relations but a fluid line of social interactivity which allows participants to express the degree to which they are connected to one another and the novelty of those connections as they fit into the everyday life of participating individuals. More significantly the intensity of those ties and connections are determined by those who contribute in a mutually understood yet rarely vocalised agreement made tangible through informal participation patterns. It is these informal patterns that are the central question of this study – and it is the intention to formalise a basis of such interaction which conceptually and empirically addresses the nature of interaction in the digital as a contingent local production.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is Swine Flu Real Or Are We Wagging The dog?

I would like to take the time to reflect very briefly on the current influenza H1N1.

While the flu is a very nasty illness (there is no debate about that) I am beginning to wonder what the true purpose of swine flu really is. We know that the normal flu infects hundreds of thousands of people every year and that every year people die from it.

This has happened for longer than we all can remember.

In April the world became aware of this new strain H1N1- and the high death toll in Mexico was of particular concern or made concerning by the way the media reported the phenomenon. What they didn't tell us is that Mexico will always have higher death rates due to illness. This is because many Mexicans do not have access to medical services and will not go to the doctor or seek medical advice because it is outside of their economic capacity. In addition medicine is not available and culturally they will seek a herbal remedy first. Obviously many were taken by surprise by this particular nasty strain of flu. But that said - is the H1N1 strain really any different to other influenza strains. If any of us catch the flu - we will be quite sick - but a quick search of current American swine flu activity suggests that it is following a normal flu path (Check out the CDC website). In addition confirmed cases are being included with possible cases which suggests that most influenza cases are being counted under the H1N1 banner. WHY?

Wag The Dog?
I had a lecturer who used to always stress the case of the argument - he would say "If this is the case the who profits from this logic" I would like to ask the same thing about the swine flu - who is profiting from this logic? Is it the drug companies who are selling anti virals like hot cakes and working to produce vaccines? Or is it something else - I suggest we cast our minds back to April. We had the G20 Summit - that's pretty big deal and some ghastly economic news suggested the worst jobless rate in decades...

....hmmmm its just a thought. Maybe "they" figure that the fear of death (which in reality is not likely according to the CDC) is more healthy than the fear of poverty (which is more likely according to current unemployment levels).

You do the math...(I feel like someones pulling my leg)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Qualitative Research Underdone?

Qualitative research has certainly made its own way into the domain of market research. It is seen as a robust and vibrant methodology which underpins a quantitative approach to consumer trends.
My understandings of qualitative research come from nine years perfecting the craft within academia – producing a set of rules for qualitative understandings of interactions within the digital field. Some people call this ‘Virtual Ethnography’ and while I have also used this phrase to espouse my skills – I am not sure that this is the correct name for the discipline (but that is another blog post all together).
For market research qualitative methods presents an altruistic approach to consumer data. I say altruistic it is seen as a poor cousin to numbers which are perceived as more truthful and closer to the trends and movements of brands and consumers. (I have nothing against numbers by the way.) It is often used to ‘back up’ inconsistencies in statistical data and offers itself as a saviour in the face of graphs which splash red all over the research findings. It also provides the consumer ‘verbatims’ to back up quant survey data and make the report more consumer savvy.
What must be said is that qualitative analysis is a strict and often misunderstood analytic tool. Qualitative methods are something beyond the focus group and in-depth interview – it is a method which allows researchers into the underlying context of any situation from the consumers’ perspective. What does their world look like and what assumptions are being made about their current motives and perceptions? There is a distinctive difference between data collection – which can be done by almost anyone and data analysis – which needs to embed itself in theory and application to be analytically critical of any research subject. With this in mind qualitative methodologies are only as good as the people behind the analysis, as is the case with quantitative methods. If we understand this relationship to be true, then we also must admit that qualitative methods must be as strong as its quantitative partner – and see that they can be intertwined in a symbiotic relationship to gather the most relevant information on any given topic.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Synthetic Interaction In Context: the social network debate

There seems to be a debate raging in relation to social networks recently – particularly surrounding their patronage or perhaps it’s more apt to say their end user “vigor”. Two stories in the press and subsequent blog discussions have grabbed my attention.

The first was a story suggesting if users had to pay to for Facebook or Twitter – they wouldn’t. Of course they wouldn’t! Paying for a social network like Facebook or Twitter is going back to the Web 1.0 archetype - and we’ve past all that. It’s the wrong question to be asking in the first place because it is suggesting a return to consumers of old. There may be a result from the survey – but it isn’t going to properly reflect the new directions of consumer movement. It’s quite obvious that they won’t pay for the use of social networks – especially because they are already free.

The second story floating around which does a rotation ever 6months or so is the dwindling popularity of perpetual worlds like Second Life in comparison to apps like Twitter. What we can say is that yes, SL has seen a downward turn in its media coverage in the last few yes – but we can’t base popularity on this media hype. Twitter is receiving a fever pitch of media coverage and an assumption is being drawn between media coverage and attendance of both sites. Having studies Second Life for four years and completed a PhD on the subject – I think its much better to look at the internal uses of such programs – that is how are the participants utilizing the social apps to integrate it into their everyday life. That’s when I believe you will see a vast difference between programs like SL and Twitter and Facebook. As it’s all about the process of synthetic interaction – and each interaction will have a differing context. And context is everything!

Research needs to properly address this context of synthetic interaction so that it embeds itself in the right story, asks the right questions and seeks to understand the everyday (synthetic) experience which makes the use of online social tools noteworthy. Consumers are not social dopes – they are the ones we as researchers should be watching intently for the next move. How are they transforming their world?

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Ludic Intervention into Everyday Life

The ludic intervention into everyday life has been a gradual feature of mundane routines and expectations of experience. The word gradual used decisively to describe a feature of ‘fun’ that has inadvertently become a central design in the day to day life of individuals living in a 2.0 culture.
What does this mean? Well, ludic describes an expectation of interactivity, collaboration and play that is not merely the domain of children or playgrounds or toys (although it includes them) but describes interception points between people through digital tools that in the past were built to support entertainment platforms.
“Fundamental to the notion of ludic activities is an attitude of engagement in the exploration and production of meaning. Thus systems that promote ludic pursuits should provide resources for people to appropriate, rather than content for consumption or tools that structure the performance of defined tasks”
The Drift Table: Designing for Ludic Engagement(Gaver et al 2004)

Thus the ludic is not merely an expectation of amusement but a rule based on connections that express ones attachments and drivers of practice in the logic that Bourdieu gave; where consumers are provided with certain cultural competencies giving them symbolic power over values within that culture. However in the same breath the ludic collapses the dominant theory of what is means to be a producer and consumer confusing all popular understandings of authenticity as Bourdieu would have understood it. The 2.0 cultural influences is one that makes production and consumption fluid and rather sticky. Ultimately how does theory accommodate for the multiple interception points of culture, the negotiation of legitimacy and the rate that culture and values change.

The ludic is an influence that describes this interactivity and collaboration alongside a disruption in the production of everyday culture and meaning. It relies on the participants (that’s you and me!) to produce their own distinctions of value without a central canon. It allows a sociological understanding and explanation of 2.0 influences and how those influences are changing the participation patterns of everyday life to a read/write practise.

The theory underpins why social networks are so important for business development and consumer relations. Understanding what is happening and how that can be accessed on a day to day local level – will allow you the tools to communicate with that “ludic soul” of the consumer.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

When no news is bad news...

When no news is bad news....
I have had many clients recently turn a downward glance at the use of blogs and online communities as new methods for getting in touch with their broad consumers or audience base.
The worry is that their consumers will start saying bad things, and many companies understand that there are a lot of ‘bad’ things to say about their products or brand. They believe that providing consumers with a platform to voice their thoughts and opinions will lead to a mass ‘consumer blah’ of negative comments which other potential consumers will read and thus create a cycle of brand and consumer alienation - I have problems with this on two levels.
1. On a pure business level – if you know that something is wrong why try and hide it? The way the communication networks operate– if your consumers have a real problem with you they will tell as many people as they can through whatever means they have available. Take the recent virgin Atlantic Airlines example – bad airline food got a real bad rap . Virgin’s response was not to defend the bad food...but admit poor service quality in a unique way.

2. If you don’t know what’s wrong how can you fix it? Developing and collaborating within your own online community (alongside consumers) gives you the authority to change the things you don’t do well and respond to your consumer’s wants and needs. It shows them you do really do care about what they think and they can see you taking action.

The moral here: sometimes bad news is good news for business!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

When service is easy...

I like doing things the easy way and am always pleasantly surprised when companies offer great service that's quick and easy. This has happened twice in two days:

1. Applying for my Velocity rewards card with Virgin Blue

2. Getting a doctor to visit after hours and on Sunday for free!

In both cases finding information on the Internet was easy and my first point of call:

Virgin Blue intercepted me as I was booking my flight - and offered double points if I joined. So I did - the ease of use, the transfer of my information from one site to another made the process quick and simple. I even had to call Virgin where he had my info waiting seemed - after 30seconds I had redeemed my points. I booked my flight - applied for velocity rewards and spoke to a human in under 5 minutes.

A sick child on a Sunday with a high temp and sore ear was the other problem. My partner looked at me with scepticism when I suggested the after hours doctor - His reasons - it would cost a fortune and did such a service really exist. Yes it does (The Family Care Friendly Society!) After locating them online a quick call got a doctor out to a sick 2yr old in under 3 hours. Yes there was some waiting time - but the whole process of finding the service and dealing with the operator (to get a doctor to visit my home for free on a Sunday )took...yes you guessed it...5 minutes. Who makes this possible? My regular doctor who subscribes to the service and takes the extra effort to provide his clients with the best service everyday!

Service is really important - we live in a service society - innovation in communication has created an expectation of swift networks - The faster people can network and create easy pathways between one another leads to greater expectations of service. Your customers expect YOU to organise it for them. It doesn't mean you have to know a lot about technology but you need to understand your customers pathways, their expectations and communication habits - and thats all part of market research!

It might cost you a little more - but the reward is customer loyalty.

Friday, January 30, 2009

I have recently begun a new career diversion. Having completed my PhD and spent 10 years trolling the university landscape I realised that I needed a job that wasn’t based on the weeks of a semester’s duration. I am in the real world – with a real job, a grown up hair cut and wearing semi professional clothes. And you know it’s not too bad except for the 8:30 to 5:30 business hours (but I am working on that!).

My new role is in market research - online market research - which is good.

It’s on the edge exactly where market research needs to be. And I feel like a quazi pioneer making up my own rules as the boundaries aren’t set for innovation in market research sector.
Online research tools are the new thing – yet I believe that such research needs to be place firmly in context. It has to be done (the research) with some forethought about how such tools are actually going to benefit the client and research objective. It isn’t a carrot to dangle in front of every client in an attempt to show how “cutting edge” your company is.
So how do you go about understanding such context, what are the question’s you should ask to determine if online tools are necessary?

1. Look at your client carefully – is the use of these online tools going to excite them into seeing the capacity of such a strategy. If it isn’t I probably wouldn’t bother.
2. Is the research objective going to benefit from online tools? Are the participants geographically dispersed? Are they a time poor sector that usually doesn’t respond to invitations to research even when the incentives are extremely high?
3. Are you dealing with the consumer 2.0 – the savvy group who walk, talk and live online – the always connected, meta networked group who aren’t even a demographic!
4. Are your deadlines tight – and can you benefit from using a fast programme of research you can churn over in a nick of time.

If you answered yes to any of the above go on be brave !