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Everytime you make a PowerPoint, Edward Tufte Kills a Kitten

. Rod Rakic

(illustration courtesy of Mark Goetz)

I'll admit that until recently, I was aware of Edward Tufte's work, but only after having experienced Tufte, did I start to internalize what the man has to say...

Experience is the right word, because like much of the UX team here at Sears, I got the opportunity to attend of Professor Tufte's one day seminar on information design.

If there's one thing Professor Tufte is known for, is his hatred for how people use PowerPoint. He's gone as far as to say, "Powerpoint was a co-conspirator in the downing of the Columbia." He makes a compelling case how even engineers loose a few IQ points when faced with slides.

Tufte sees PowerPoint for what it is, a tool that can be used for good, or for evil.

I've found myself a student of Presentation Zen, and how Steve Jobs uses slides. That's because I believe most folks quickly blow past the point of diminishing returns, as they turn slides in to eye charts.

But Tufte goes the other way, extolling folks with point to make, to first start by creating a information dense "supergraphic," give them a handout, and let them freelance through the information before you have a conversation about the data that you've presented.

  • Paper has 10 the resolution of a computer screen

  • Each optic nerve (and most of us have two) has bandwidth of 10 megabyte Ethernet

  • HD video has a throughput of approximately 1 gigabit per minute

  • People are much better at scanning than drilling down

Which brings us to Tufte's pointed question, why are we all spending so much time staring at profoundly retarded charts?

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Privacy & Transparency, Part 1 of 3

. wandereye

Research the concept of "privacy," and you end up with a boat-load of interpretation and legal regulation issues, especially when the United States is concerned. Only recently did Google and Facebook as well as Sears were snared in the web, adding fire to an already boiling public issue. Namely, this is related to what "futurists" and others have called "convergence," which has continued to infringe upon foundational ideas of what privacy means to us today and what it will mean in the near future.

"Privacy" is sometimes regarded as untranslatable by linguists... (in Russian, privacy encompasses several words: уединение - solitude, секретность - secrecy, and частная жизнь - private life)... The term "privacy" means many things indifferent contexts. Different people, cultures, and nations have a wide variety of expectations about how much privacy a person is entitled to or what constitutes an invasion of privacy. (link)

In a most general sense, privacy world-wide is looked at as a human right (to "democratic" nations) that fosters development of self and community, enables artistic creativity and intellectual evolution, and gives us all a relative feeling of security and safety from "outside" forces (like the government or corporations).

There are many forms of privacy, broken down into context-related vernaculars like physical privacy, informational privacy, medical privacy, political privacy and so on. All of these take into account the relative positioning of an individual or group relative to an organization, institution, process, community or person.

Before the information explosion, we relied on cost as the primary protection of privacy: it was too expensive for anyone (except maybe the government) to assemble, store, cross-index and correlate the information.(link)

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." — United Nations Declaration of Human Rights

Internet privacy is the ability to control what information one reveals about oneself over the Internet, and to control who can access that information. These concerns include whether email can be stored or read by third parties without consent, or whether third parties can track the websites someone has visited. Another concern is whether websites collect, store, and possibly share personally identifiable information about users.(link) The FTC is getting heavily involved with Facebook and Google at the level of not just access, security and control (which I will speak to in the next post about "Transparency"). This goes beyond cookies, beacons, spiders and privacy policies.

It currently resides in places like my google dashboard (images), where I have been provided with ways to see and sort of edit or "clear" my personal search and browse history.

Facebook provided many call-outs pointing out their new "features" and "privacy policies" allowing me to control my privacy preferences for over 600 connections.

Too much control leads to less privacy in the end for reasons witnessed throughout history, which is why there are comissions and governments seeing the dangers of this new world so clearly at the moment.

"The real danger is the gradual erosion of individual liberties through the automation, integration, and interconnection of many small, separate record-keeping systems, each of which alone may seem innocuous, even benevolent, and wholly justifiable." — U.S. Privacy Protection Study Commission, 1977

Anyone old enough to have witnessed the birth of the fax machine or "PIN" numbers on their "ATM Cards", the many lawsuits pioneers like AOL and Compuserve went through, SPAM knows that privacy cannot be protected by technology alone. The same holds true for anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the Patriot Act, The Fourth Amendment, or has seen the movie The Conversation, read Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, or is a contributing member of 2600. Privacy rests solely on the "social norms" of the people who will be using the information that they can access.

In the next part of this series I will dive into examples of tactics and strategies employed currently by corporations and organizations with a particular focus on what I see as a promising leader. Transparency, when applied with consideration and human participation on a global scale, can allow for security and free speech at the same time. Transparency can work in harmony ... (sing along with me) with privacy.

"The greater strengths of weaker ties"

. Dennis Schleicher

The Facebook Era: Tapping Online Social Networks to Build Better Products, Reach new Audiences, and Sell More Stuff by Clara Shih

I enjoyed the book and am looking forward to hearing her speak tomorrow at the Sears Headquarters at Hoffman Estates tomorrow. The most important concept for me was what I term "the greater strengths of weaker ties." In that I am referring to these weaker ties that Shih talks about in the new "modes of interaction" and "new categories of lower commitment relationships." Our cultural invention of these new types of modes is amazing. This is the basis of what I see for her "Democratization of Business" in which people not only have a voice that is heard, but the power to act and own their own online identities. It isn't B2C is it B+C.

Quotes from the book that I thought most important. Or what I call 5 star ideas.

(pix) “Bringing together social networking with enterprise applications represents the next phase in this evolution.”

(px) “… mashing up business with consumer social networking sites.”

(pxi) “In an age where traditional advertising influence is dropping like a rock, we have looked to social networking as an opportunity to become relevant in our customers’ conversations, in their communities, where they want to be.”

(p7) Trends in Social Business – “flatter organizations, stronger offline communities, more small businesses, greater collaboration across organizations, and tighter integration with mobile devices.”

(p17) “You gain from the new technology only if you use it to accomplish something that was not possible before.”

(p23) “Over time, technology is shifting from “command and control” to distributed, engaging, and empowering to the individual. Information, communication, and tools on the web have given individuals not only a voice, but also the power to act and to own their own online identities.”

(p41) “Why not use the social graph as our filter to make sense of the abundance of information on the web.”

(p43) “By inventing more casual modes of interaction and thereby making possible new categories of lower-commitment relationships, social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, and LinkedIn are fundamentally changing how we live, work, and relate to one another as human beings.”

(p45) “Facebook is CRM for the masses. It is fun and intuitive, visual, active, searchable, and self-updating.”

(p47) On status messages – “It has become acceptable because social networking sites reduce the cost of both sending and processing information.”

(p50) “One of the reasons why Facebook has been so successful compared with it’s predecessors is the focus on suppporing offline networks over online-only relationships.”

(p54) On reciprocity rings – “The reason this works is that the cost of helping is generally miniscule compared with the benefit of being helped.”

(56) On asking favors on the network “… your entire network is given an opportunity without the obligation to respond, which frees you to make more requests more often because you are not expending any social capital with any one individual contact.”

(p90) Why do customers participate? “The person is not expressing anything unique about herself by being a customer advocate for Company X because everyone else on Company X’s website is also a customer advocate. . . . Social networking sites give people a semipublic forum surrounded by friends where not everyone has the same interests are affiliations.”

(p191) “. . . these three components – visibility and notification, ability to organize connections, and casual ways to interact – have remarkable come together to define an entirely new class of interaction.”

(p203) “With the social networking revolution, we are brought closer than ever to becoming people-centric instead of technology-centric. The online social graph allows our relationships and business goals, rather than technology limitations, to drive business strategies and decisions.”


The Facebook Era by Clara Shih

Satisfied shoppers scan more

. Michelle Bohannon

The question on the table: how valuable is a bar-code scanning service such as RedLaser to consumers?

I looked at the RedLaser website and was immediately reminded of the existing Android barcode scanner application called ShopSavvy, which plugs into Google’s Mobile Product Search database. ShopSavvy was launched in October of last year and won the 2008 Android Developer Challenge. Here’s how it works -- you point your phone’s camera at any barcode and it will read it, provide a price and give you product information such as where you can find it online or at nearby stores. When looking at the stores the product is available at, not only is the price shown but the user can go directly to the stores website, see where the store is on a map, or call the store. ShopSavvy also allows you to save products to a wish list or set up a price alert to notify you when the price drops below a set amount.

In my opinion, this benefit-driven application is VERY valuable to consumers. I would love it if my phone supported price checks on the fly, or if I could be notified when a particular product goes on sale. I attended an Android user testing session earlier this year and almost everyone mentioned how much they loved ShopSavvy. They thought it was fun to use (I heard the word “nifty” a few times) and they felt that they were “getting a good deal” while shopping. Additionally, I have heard ShopSavvy is now available on the iPhone.

RedLaser supports much of the same functionality as described above, but also says it can scan movies at the store and beam them to your TiVo, or scan items to add them to your grocery list. Personally, I would like to scan movies at the store and beam them to my TiVo ... then I wouldn’t need to worry about returning them ;-)



. Dennis Schleicher

Last week we had a book club meeting down in the local Argo tea (located on the first floor of the Sears Store.) In attendance was Pete Simon, Fred Leise, Nina Bieliauskas , Rod Rakic and myself Dennis Schleicher.

Here are some of the things I wrote down from the discussion

  • The big difference between the act of buying and the process of buying.

  • That people buy things for so many different reasons.

  • The aspect of buying as a social process and that sometimes we buy something just because other people buy it.

  • We talked about Syd Jerome’s in Chicago as a great buying experience. Fred talked about how much they know about you and why you bought what you did, even if it was a year ago. We thought it contrasted with companies today that try to buy that information and build that profile on the fly rather than earning it. Online it is so hard to know why someone bought something. One person reflected on for all that big online companies know about me/us – why isn’t it a better experience. Gift-buying really throws it off.

Here are some of the highlights from the book

(p12) “An anthropologist … asks of a woman buying a new dress, say, what self do you take up with this dress, who will you now become?”

(p28) “Shopping has melted into everything . . . “

(p70) “The hard part, he said, is helping stores configure data into passkeys that actually open our credit card cases and unlock our spending through improved store layout and sales training. It’s not that a guy walks past a fancy display. It’s how do you use the captured video to come up with a display that will stop him, you, me, cold in our tracks.”

(p70) “Seventy percent of what people spend in a mall, or a grocery store for that matter, they had no intention of buying when they walked in the door.”

(p88) “retailers [need to] define themselves by the customers they serve, not by the products [they sell].”

(p131) On the ton of UGC product reviews and forums where potential customers can ask questions – “This all represents a turning point in Sell Side history. We have become valuable selling assets.”

(p168) “The Internet, as O’Guinn later explained to me, is the ‘backyard fence’ across which we and fellow tribe members toast the brands we like and roast the one’s we don’t.”

(p173) On American Girl Place – “The observers saw something close to brand quintessence here. There’s interaction: an environment charged with energy and activity, a destination that exemplifies a successful “brandscape,” …”

(p194) On the supermarket as the great retailing change of the 20th century – “self-service, the ultimate death of the salesman . . .”

(p211) “How do we decide – when we resolve to clean out the attic and garage – that certain items are “junk” and others are collectibles . . . “

(p242) “… exploring the notion that it’s the buying process itself, not what is bought, that drives the compulsive to the mall.”

(p254) “… shopping online is both like and unlike shopping in a store. One thing they have in common is that what we say we do when shopping isn’t necessarily what we do when shopping.”

(p255) “Optimally . . . we want maximum flexibility of choice and ‘minimum decision complexity.’”

(p288) “the celebrated anthropologist Mary Douglas declared in their classic The World of Goods “It is extraordinary to discover that no one knows why people want goods.”

(p294) On McCracken and home visits to find out what’s important to people - :They should invite themselves into other people’s homes and ask about the things best loved, the things people keep on their walls and on the mantel. Ask where those things came from, how folks came to own them, and what meaning they hold in their lives.”

(p300) “So these things you didn’t buy but were attracted to, or the things you bought and didn’t return – they offered what, exactly? I asked Williams. She thought about that for a second. ‘I’d say they offered a sort of hopefulness.’ Aha, shoptimism!’ However momentarily,’ she added, ‘the things I bought and keep turned out to be somehow enhancing.”