Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mike Oren on Miscellaneous Topics: Service Design, Google Music, and Google+

It has been awhile since I've written a post, myself, on this blog. First, I want to thank all of my students who have posted so far--there have been some truly exceptional posts and the posts have been fairly solid in general. It's a fun and interesting challenge teaching a combination survey (wide range of topics covered, primarily at the surface level), project-based (in-depth hands-on work), seminar-style (open ended, discussion-based, and collecting guest speakers) course where all of the students are remote.

I imagine this can be equally challenging for students, even given the lack of required readings, since (as many of you have discovered) some outside reading is often required to do well on aspects of the class (the survey component is to make sure you have the base knowledge to find the resources you need to do the work). To be honest, it wasn't until Robert sent me an e-mail this weekend that it really struck me that what I am doing with this course is at all odd or different--I have taken courses with all of these components, but they were all separate. I know I have always said the course can easily be split in three, which I would do if the resources were available for three courses on these topics; however, I had always thought about that in terms of just the sheer amount of information I try to pack into the class, but I can see how that can be the case for the delivery method as well.

The class, when first taught in 2009, was not originally setup to be as much of the mixture it has become--while I'm reusing a decent amount of the slide content, I am also adding a lot of new content, activities, former HCI 521 (cognitive aspects of human-computer interaction), etc. to the mix. While part of the content mixture makes for the current format of the course--521 was designed as a survey course and the original 596 was designed as a predominantly project oriented course (with a heavy dose of theory, which I'm thankful I was allowed to maintain and even expand--my original draft for the 2011 course, cut the theoretical discussion due to the practitioner focus but when the lectures on situated action and phenomenology didn't bomb, I reintegrated them with some modifications).

One thing I have been pondering with the course though is why I see very little discussion during the lectures on Adobe Connect. In classes where I've monitored just the discussion feed or have taught a course in a chat room as an experiment, the side/back chatter is pretty dominant. Here, unless I specifically pause for comments, I rarely see much going on in the chat. Is this being done simply out of politeness/respect? Are there chats going on but private ones? In some ways it does make things nice because this way I don't have to parse the chat for things to share vs. random (but often related) talk but on the other hand, I wonder what conversations are being left out. In my own experience, much of the back chatter in these online discussions of live class sessions tend to be related--links being shared, personal experiences being exchanged, etc. Another possibility is that there's just simply an overload going on--am I simply presenting too many divergent topics too quickly? Transitions are something I'm acutely aware of--integrating the topics I am is often like throwing paint at a wall, some of it may form into a unified splotch while other things will appear far removed as little drops. My hope though is that everybody is getting something useful out of the course. I should also add, that some topics people ask to be covered in more detail, I purposely avoid as there are other courses that are setup to cover them (e.g. graphic design, research methods/full user research cycle, etc.)

Switching gears to my original intent for the post... I was chatting with a friend of mine who work for IDEO, which as I've mentioned in class does quite a bit of work on service design (they are one of just a few companies in the US that do this kind of work). She shared some of her favorite examples with me (from the Boston office where she works--although she was not on these projects), and I thought I'd pass them along as great case studies of the service design process and what can be accomplished. The first is one I think we can all have opinions on: TSA Checkpoints. The second, she wasn't sure if it was (strictly speaking) a service design project, but it does have some aspects of it: Bedsider. I should note that both of these examples take the more traditional service design approach rather than the information flow focus of Glushko's take, which I prescribe to more as I feel the equal focus on the backend data processing and flow has a lot of potential to really improve service quality and reliability (although it won't be as readily noticeable by users/customers). I am keeping a summary of these cases out of this post, both due to the current length and to allow a student to write up a blog post about one or both of them (note: it should be more than a summary--add some analysis or synthesize it with user experience design in some way).

Jumping into another unrelated topic... I received an invitation to join Google Music last Thursday. I managed to finish getting all of my DRM-free music on to the cloud by the end of the weekend, but during that time I tested it out on a decent (but by no means great) Internet connection, only to find it useless due to the apparent lack of buffering--the song was choppy and just didn't really play. I also tested it on my iPhone, but it apparently doesn't currently work on the iPhone (I have yet to test it on the iPad, but I am expecting a similar problem). It's still in limited beta, so these issues aren't terribly surprising. The interface itself is pretty slick and seems to work well--and with an Android phone, this could definitely be the media killer "app" (a solution just as, or possibly even more elegant than iTunes integration with the iPhone/iPod for music). I'm really not fully sold on this yet, but so far I like it much better than Amazon's Cloud Player, which I've also tried. I'm curious what everybody thinks about possible use cases for Google Music and general usefulness of cloud music players in general.

Final topic: I know we talks about this in class, but I have to rave, again, about Google Plus. Even the integrated chat feature ties in with the social circles--so not everybody is allowed to chat with you; however, I would actually prefer if there were settings where I could choose to allow certain circles to chat with me at various times (e.g. family and friends view me as offline during business hours; business contacts, who are not also friends, view me as offline when I'm on vacation; different status messages for different groups--e.g. my chat status for friends might be links to a funny video, but to work colleagues an intranet page about a major policy change). I also discovered that Sparks was not the semi-random social area around common interests that I thought it was (I had not viewed any demo videos)--it's apparently just a means of finding articles/photos/videos to share, which is not nearly as interesting to me (not sure if I'll ever use it again beyond my quick test). Shared messages also appear to lack a character limit, or (at the very least) are not arbitrarily low (e.g. a thousand characters can be typed). There was also a critical lesson learned from Google Wave--notifications from Google+ appear across all Google properties via the navigation bar, where a small status icon shows a number (for notifications on Google+)--the bar also has a share button built into it. While it is hard to truly evaluate Google+ until I get more of my contacts on to it, so far what I've seen has been vastly superior to any of the other social networking sites out there (for me, circles makes a huge difference). There are also a decent number of research questions that Google+ inspires and a lot of possibilities for digital social networkings future that could allow it to more closely mirror real social networks.

Note: The post title is intended for when I share this on Google Reader and ifttt.com automatically shares it to Twitter. Today, I had shared a post entitled "I wrote a book" and that's how it gets shared on Twitter (I had not written the book, of course). The book is recommended for folks new to UX: Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web (by the blogger at Ignore the Code). As a fun post, if anybody wants to discuss the usability of blog titles/news headlines then this would make a great case to include.


  1. Hi Mike,

    I think there's a lot to respond to in your post. However, I wanted to address one point quickly -- that of lack of discussion while you are speaking in lectures.

    Personally, I tend to, as you describe, keep chatting while you are talking to a minimal out of the very respect you mention. I guess it's a habit from on-campus class attendance.


  2. Thomas,

    Thanks, that's kind of what I assumed, but I wasn't sure. I should note that I don't see the back chatter as rude--especially if it's expanding upon the topics of the course. I'm also ok with (some) deviant conversations, since I feel networking and socializing is an important part of the college experience, and I understand that there's no place, attached to the university (outside of the classroom) that distant students can really do that.

  3. Hello Mike,

    I agree with Thomas and have felt the same way with respect to discussions. Summer courses tend to have content thrown at you and it is sometimes difficult to absorb everything. I tend to try and catch as much as possible while reading through the chat and watching any slides/videos presented.
    I also think the lack of discussion in the classroom has an impact on the low chat. It is certainly faster to get a point across through verbal communication than it is to type it out and have it make sense.



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