Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Users are people too

I like to think of myself as a "user experience" professional. I advocate for "users" of a system, doing my best to understand their needs and build an experience that meets those needs.

Then today I read this post on Jeremiah Owyang's blog and it became super clear to me that I need to stop talking about "users."

While users may indeed be using a system or they may be a consumer of a website, these are just small parts of the bigger picture. As we start to adapt central identification standards, as we move toward a truly "user"-centric web, as as the web experience influences the product experience, we need to start thinking of our users, and our jobs, more holistically.

Those terms served us for awhile but I'd suggest that us UX professionals, we change our vocabulary here. Maybe UX should be called People Experience? Or Human Experience? Or maybe we should follow some of my former Razorship colleagues in NYC who simply called it "Experience."

After all, users are people too and when we think of them on these terms we may do an even better job at creating experiences that resonate more clearly.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gas and the Internet

Word on the street is, "this isn't our bubble," meaning that the technology sector isn't feeling the pain of this economic downturn as much as others (we had our turn, thank you). Interestingly, online commerce seems to have been boosted by the high price of gas.

A few weeks ago, I was vacationing on a small island outside of Seattle and wandered into a darling puppet store to buy some gifts for my son. Of course, I always want to know if good stores have websites (this one does) and got into an interesting conversation with its owner. Bottom line is this: May sales online increased dramatically, and the owner attributed it to high gas prices. People aren't traveling as much, but they can easily go online, he said.

Then today I read in Reuters that accordinng to Vinton Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google, "the ongoing energy price surge and economic slowdown may have a positive impact on the Internet business as people try to cut fuel use and improve efficiency."

It's an interesting place to be. No one wishes for higher gas prices (well maybe the oil companies do) or hard times for anyone. But if there's any good to come out of this for the tech sector, maybe it is that people will go online more.

Of course that means we better do right by them. This may be our chance to reach customers who would never or rarely shop online before. Are we ready for it? Did we build online experiences that go beyond a shopping cart and that provide meaningful data to both users and site owners? And if not, are we ready to take user experience seriously? This may not be our bubble but let's learn from it like we did when it was our own.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Birth announcements via twitter

For those who asked (and yes I have been asked), I did in fact announce the birth of my son on twitter. It took me seven hours (please forgive me, I did not have access to my cell phone during that time) but it was the best I could do. Here's the announcement:

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What I learned about community on maternity leave


It's been about three months since I've posted to this blog. I took a short leave to spend time with my new son, a.k.a. the cutest baby in the world. I tried not to think about work too much, but since community and social media is a personal love of mine, it was hard to turn off that part of my brain.

And so as we took our daily walk through our neighborhood, the baby nodding off in his stroller, I often thought about community. I did so probably because as I walked down the street, I ran into people who would simply strike up a conversation with me.

There were people who I knew and spoke with often, such as Don at Vivace (easily one of Seattle's best baristas) where we'd get our morning coffee. We saw him every day, and since I often talked to him, it was not odd to extend our conversation. Then there were the folks I knew who stopped to chat instead of saying just a quick hello. And finally there were the complete strangers who I ended up chatting with for 15 minutes.

Many times, people spoke to me because they wanted to share a story about their children or grandchildren, or maybe they were pregnant or thinking about having a child. It was a content discussion, and since we know that people gather to share stories on shared topics, that's not surprising.

What was surprising was that the baby served as a permission to strike up a conversation. It was, as if, my son became a social lubricant, sort of like a martini.

Which made me wonder: what is the equivalent to a social lubricant in an online community? Sure there's status, i.e. "I'm looking to meet friends." And yes friends introduce friends to each other. But there must be something more than that, something that's not just a point of commonality, but a permission. Is there a tool we could create to lubricate community?

I don't necessarily have the answer, but I will continue to ponder that question, because I think that if we can figure that out, online communities will become more compelling. If you have thoughts, I'd love to hear them.

Thanks, and good to be back.