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August 2008
31 August 2008

The debate on open access to Interactions Magazine

Interactions 5
The September-October issue of Interactions Magazine has been published and is now shipping to all members of ACM’s Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI).

The rest of us can access some limited content online (three articles in the current issue).

Now that Interactions has become a highly valuable UX resource, thanks to the strong leadership by the editors Richard Anderson and Jon Kolko, this restriction seems out of date and self-defeating. At least to me.

Elizabeth Churchill and I wrote an article where we make the case for open access to the contents of Interactions Magazine, which has been published in the current magazine (and is also available online):

In their reaction, Richard and Jon leave the argument open and do not yet take a clear position on the matter:

Richard: I admire the thinking underlying both OLPC and agile development, just as I admire the thinking underlying the concept of open access to intellectual content, as discussed by Elizabeth Churchill. But just as OLPC and agile development have their limits, so, too, does open access. Indeed, I don’t see it as appropriate for interactions magazine, at least not yet.

Jon: The first two ideas are nonobvious attempts at solving obvious problems. The third – open access – might be a novel idea to a nonissue. It could be argued that interactions magazine should cost money because the content in it is worth something: The content has value. I suppose it could also be argued that the magazine should be free so that value can be shared by the masses. To which argument do you subscribe?

Richard: Neither. The content in interactions is worth something – it has great value, but that alone doesn’t mean that the magazine should cost money. And though you and I are working to broaden the scope and readership of the magazine, it isn’t intended for the masses, and it can be argued that we can extend the reach of the magazine more effectively if it does cost money. Open access to interactions content might become appropriate. Indeed, we’ve already begun to increase access in a couple of ways. My point is that wicked problems don’t have simple solutions, an argument Don Norman makes in this issue.

What about you? Please join the debate by adding your comments at the end of either one of the articles (yes, commenting is enabled!).

And if you can access the contents, make sure to read the rest of the magazine, which is again a treasure trove.

29 August 2008

Mobile citizens, mobile consumers

Ofcom
Ofcom, , the UK communications regulator, today published an initial consultation document assessing how the mobile sector delivers on the needs of UK citizens and consumers and posing questions about the future of competition and regulatory policy.

Ofcom’s aims for the sector are to ensure that:

  • consumers get the best choice and value for money whilst being protected from inappropriate practices like mis-selling;
  • the industry continues to thrive and innovate, to the benefit of consumers, driven by vibrant competition; and
  • regulation evolves to reflect the changing needs of citizens, consumers and the industry.

The consultation is part of Ofcom’s work to ensure that regulation reflects the reality of the converging market and considers how regulation should evolve as choice of mobile and fixed services expands.

- Press release
Consultation page
Interaction executive summary
Full consultation document (pdf, 1.3 mb, 166 pages)
Mobile communications blog
BBC article on the matter

(via Jack Schofield)

27 August 2008

Ethnographic research informed Intel’s Classmate PC

Classmate PC
The design of Intel’s new Classmate PC with its full touchscreen support, is based on observations and research collected about the way that the computers are used in real-world classroom settings., reports ars technica.

In a video published by Intel on its YouTube channel, one of the company’s ethnographers describes some of the background research behind the new design of the device, which is aimed primarily for education in emerging markets.

Intel looked closely at how students collaborate and move around in classroom environments. The new tablet feature was implemented so that the device would be more conducive to what Intel calls “micromobility”. Intel wants students to be able to carry around Classmate PCs in much the same way that they currently carry around paper and pencil.

We want to offer more choices to meet the diversity of student learning needs across the world,” said Intel Emerging Markets Platform Group manager Lila Ibrahim in a statement. “Our ethnographic research has shown us that students responded well to tablet and touch screen technology. The creativity, interactivity and user-friendliness of the new design will enhance the learning experiences for these children. This is important for both emerging and mature markets where technology is increasing being seen as a key tool in encouraging learning and facilitating teaching.”

27 August 2008

Brazil: digital inclusion, but how?

Aprendiz
While hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on digital inclusion projects in Latin America, many of the programs start and end with the technology, writes CNET News (as part of its ongoing series exploring computing in Latin America).

[Cafe] Aprendiz [in Sao Paulo, Brazil] is not your typical digital inclusion center, but it does embrace most important characteristics of the successful ones. It has at least three key elements beyond the technology itself: a clear curriculum, community support, and a model of sustainability.

While these elements sound straightforward, they are often missing in programs that attempt to close the digital divide, whether here in Latin America or in the U.S. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on digital inclusion projects in Latin America, however critics say that too many of the programs start and end with the technology.

“The computer is just 10 percent of the cost of ensuring lower income people or schools use these tools and have access to the Internet” said Maria Eugenia Estenssoro, an Argentine senator from the country’s Coalicion Civica, an opposition party. […]

Among the most successful inclusion centers [in Brazil] are the ones that have a purpose–whether it is helping students with homework, providing job training for the unemployed, or helping the disabled to communicate.

The article includes some interesting insights on the emerging market strategies of Intel and Microsoft.

Read full story

27 August 2008

User participation in online conversation

Conversation
In this presentation, Bond Art + Science, a New York based digital services firm focused on strategy and user experience design, explores the state of the art in inviting users to participate in the conversation online.

In the past, user participation in editorial publications was limited to writing “letters to the editor.” On the web, users take an active role in shaping the message through their comments and debates.

Bond Art + Science looked at how traditional media and online publications invite, manage and benefit from user participation, and identified some best practices and common pitfalls:

  • How are users asked to register to contribute?
  • How do site moderators manage comments to ensure quality?
  • What are the best ways to treat user comments as content?

View slideshow

(via InfoDesign)

27 August 2008

Book – Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives

Born Digital
Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives
by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser
Basic Books, 2008
Hardcover, 288 pages

This new book, which grew out of the digital natives project at Harvard University’s Berkman Center, investigates “what it means to grow up in a mediated culture and the ways in which technology inflects issues like privacy, safety, intellectual property, media creation, and learning,” (as introduced by Danah Boyd). Here is the official abstract:

The most enduring change wrought by the digital revolution is neither the new business models nor the new search algorithms, but rather the massive generation gap between those who were born digital and those who were not. The first generation of “digital natives”-children who were born into and raised in the digital world-is now coming of age, and soon our world will be reshaped in their image. Our economy, our cultural life, even the shape of our family life will be forever transformed. But who are these digital natives? How are they different from older generations, and what is the world they’re creating going to look like?

In Born Digital, leading Internet and technology experts John Palfrey and Urs Gasser offer a sociological portrait of this exotic tribe of young people who can seem, even to those merely a generation older, both extraordinarily sophisticated and strangely narrow. Based on original research and advancing new theories, Born Digital explores a broad range of issues, from the highly philosophical to the purely practical: What does identity mean for young people who have dozens of online profiles and avatars? Should we worry about privacy issues? Or is privacy even a relevant value for digital natives? How does the concept of safety translate into an increasingly virtual world? Is “stranger-danger” a real problem, or a red herring?

John Palfrey is Clinical Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. He is a regular commentator on network news programs, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox News, NPR and BBC. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Urs Gasser is an associate professor of law at the University of St. Gallen, where he serves as the director of the Research Center for Information Law, as well as a faculty fellow of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. He has published and edited, respectively, six books and has written over fifty articles in books, law reviews, and professional journals. He lives in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

26 August 2008

CrunchGear visits Philips HomeLab

Privacy
The HomeLab at the Philips research center is a model home built to test and monitor real-world response to prototype technology. Thirty cameras and microphones record subjects as they use and interact with products for the home; then researches review the recordings to refine the products. The living room is currently configured to demonstrate ambX (pronounced “ambiex”), the successor to AmbiLight, which extends the accent lighting from around the television to throughout the room.

Read full story (with video)

26 August 2008

Dori Tunstall radio interview on anthropology and design

Elizabeth Tunstall
A few days ago Dori Tunstall, Associated Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois in Chicago, was recently interviewed on the Australian radio programme By Design.

What can designers learn from anthropologists?

Our guest today believes they can learn a great deal. In fact, she has married the two disciplines and is a leading exponent of what has come to be known as design anthropology.

She believes successful design begins with carefully observing human nature, whether it be how high-heeled shoes affect natural ways of walking or how participation in the design process empowers marginalised communities.

Listen to interview (starts at 39:52)

(via Culture Matters)

26 August 2008

Privacy in an age of terabytes and terror

Privacy
Scientific American magazine (SciAm) devotes the whole September issue to privacy in an age of rapidly developing technology.

Privacy in an age of terabytes and terror
Introduction to SciAm’s issue on Privacy. Our jittery state since 9/11, coupled with the Internet revolution, is shifting the boundaries between public interest and “the right to be let alone”.

How loss of privacy may mean loss of security
Keynote essay by Esther Dyson
Many issues posing as questions of privacy can turn out to be matters of security, health policy, insurance or self-presentation. It is useful to clarify those issues before focusing on privacy itself.

Internet eavesdropping: a brave new world of wiretapping
As telephone conversations have moved to the Internet, so have those who want to listen in. But the technology needed to do so would entail a dangerous expansion of the government’s surveillance powers.

Tougher laws needed to protect your genetic privacy
In spite of recent legislation, tougher laws are needed to prevent insurers and employers from discriminating on the basis of genetic tests.

Beyond fingerprinting: is biometrics the best bet for fighting identity theft?
Security systems based on anatomical and behavioral characteristics may offer the best defense against identity theft.

Digital surveillance: tools of the spy trade
Night-vision cameras, biometric sensors and other gadgets already give snoops access to private spaces. Coming soon: palm-size “bug-bots”.

How RFID tags could be used to track unsuspecting people
A privacy activist argues that the devices pose new security risks to those who carry them, often unwittingly.

Data fusion: the ups and downs of all-encompassing digital profiles
Mashing everyone’s personal data, from credit card bills to cell phone logs, into one all-encompassing digital dossier is the stuff of an Orwellian nightmare. But it is not as easy as most people assume.

Cryptography: how to keep your secrets safe
A versatile assortment of computational techniques can protect the privacy of your information and online activities to essentially any degree and nuance you desire.

Do social networks bring the end of privacy?
Young people share the most intimate details of personal life on social-networking Web sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, portending a realignment of the public and the private.

Does an advertiser know you clicked on this story?
Facebook, Yahoo, and Google come under fire for allowing advertisers to follow online consumer behavior to create targeted messages.

International report: what impact is technology having on privacy around the world?
ScientificAmerican.com, with help from our international colleagues, highlights privacy and security issues in China, Japan, the Middle East, Russia and the U.K.

How I stole someone’s identity
The author asked some of his acquaintances for permission to break into their online banking accounts. The goal was simple: get into their online accounts using the information about them, their families and acquaintances that is freely available online.

Pedophile-proof chat rooms?
Can Lancaster University’s Isis Project keep children safe online without invading our privacy?

Industry roundtable: experts discuss improving online security
Experts from Sun, Adobe, Microsoft and MacAfee discuss how to protect against more numerous and sophisticated attacks by hackers; security professionals call for upgraded technology, along with more attention to human and legal factors.

(via Bruno Giussani)

25 August 2008

The song of context

Speedbird
Adam Greenfield has written a truly excellent post — in fact more like a short essay — on the difference between location and context, calling the first one positivist and the second one phenomenological.

“But it [the positivist tradition] stands in stark contrast to the phenomenological take on things, which is premised on the instability and subjectivity of the things we perceive, and on the irreducible importance of these perceptions as they register on the lived body, i.e. you, now, here, in your own skin, heir to your own history of experience. On the phenomenological side of the house, all of the grandeur resides in the act of interpretation – which is always somebody’s interpretation, crucially inflected by their situation. […]

The phenomenological approach – and this is the worldview that stands, either explicitly or otherwise, behind the entire field subsuming design and user research and ethnography, at least as those things are practiced by the people I know – insists that the world in its richness cannot be reduced to datasets. Or not, anyway, without doing fatal damage to everything that truly matters.

But Dourish [“What We Talk About When We Talk About Context?“, Paul Dourish, 2004] argues (persuasively, I think) that this is the wrong question. For him, this mysterious thing context is something that only be arrived at through interaction – “an achievement, rather than an observation; an outcome, rather than a premise.” It’s relational in the deepest sense of the word, a state of being that arises out of the shared performance and understanding of two or more parties (actors, agents, what have you).

And why do we want to characterize this state of being in the first place? “[T]o be able to use the context in order to discriminate or elaborate the meaning of the user’s activity.” That’s it.”

This is highly recommended reading. Thank you, Adam.

Read full story

25 August 2008

A treatment room with a view

Treatment
In “A Treatment Room With a View”, the Wall Street Journal covers patient-centred efforts in health care.

“Submitting to chemotherapy, radiation treatments, MRIs, CT scans and the like can be bad enough. But often, dreary, windowless rooms and corridors only worsen the experience.

Now, some institutions hope that by making these areas more appealing, they can ease patients’ stress, fear and feelings of helplessness, and perhaps influence a patient’s outcome for the better. […]

Many of the innovations stem from the nascent field of “evidence-based design,” which ties design decisions to research on how the physical environment can influence well-being and promote healing. That includes practical design elements meant to improve safety, as well as the use of purely aesthetic features such as waterfalls, gardens and artwork.”

Read full story

via Mark Hurst

24 August 2008

Draping the city in data and dodging augmented urban spam

Urban nerds
Russell Davies is concerned that “we’ll end up blundering into cities plastered with the equivalent of flash banners and microsites.”

“Technologists are busying themselves turning buildings into displays, or at least draping them with informatics (whether physically or via various forms of augmented reality.) It’s all really exciting, thoughtful, stuff with tons of thrilling prototypes and sketches, it reminds me of early webiness. Because, unless I’m missing something, there’s not a lot of sophisticated thinking about how this intersects with commerce, marketing and advertising. (And I’m very willing to believe I’m missing something, this is why this is a bit of a voyage of discovery. And I just noticed today that Adam Greenfield’s talking about it here.) The city is already festooned with persuasion, screens are already talking to phones and animating transport systems but it’s not being done by thoughtful UI experts it’s being done by poster contractors at the behest of advertising agencies.” […]

“Is there some connection to the (admittedly unformed) notion of pre-experience design? How cool would it be if the data that’s draped around the city leaks back into communications, and if those communications helped to explain and contextualise that data.”

Read full story

(via AHOi)

24 August 2008

Mobile telephony makes a difference in livelihoods

Microfinance
MobileActive reports on how farmers in emerging markets are using mobile phones to improve their livelihoods:

Agriculture is what keeps economies in most developing countries alive. However, farmers in many countries face major challenges. In an age of global markets, they are forced to enhance production, improve the quality of their yield, and access markets within short timeframes. Small-scale farmers especially have traditionally been deprived of weather and crop information, have been at the mercy of middlemen, and have lacked timely market price information to negotiate the best deal. This has chancged with the a connect people advent of widespread telephony that connects farmers wiith markets, weather, and other data.

Governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and international donors are taking advantage of this technology revolution to help farmers access market information. They are convinced that low-cost access to agricultural prices could yield enormous payoffs.

Although illiteracy is still a big issue in the use of this technology, the author reflects on what the future might bring:

“It may very well be that as phones become more like small computers able to access the web and deliver email without being out of reach and data costs continue to decline, even small scale farmers will eventually begin to be able to take advantage of more sophisticated data delivery. Projects could, for example, send detailed information via email to farmers as opposed to the short text that SMS allows.”

Read full story

24 August 2008

Home electronics go wireless

France Telecom Livebox
The International Herald Tribune reports that leading consumer technology companies “are revamping their audio and video equipment for a future centered around the Internet, a world in which televisions, stereos, computers – even kitchen appliances like dishwashers and refrigerators – can communicate with each other over a wireless home network.”

For consumers, the development of wireless home networks will require a shift in thinking, as the lines between computing, home entertainment and communications continue to blur.

“The main challenge in our business is consumer awareness,” said Hans van’t Riet, a senior director for Philips’s Streamium line of wireless audio components, which transmit music over home WLAN networks. “Research shows this is a great idea. We just have a marketing challenge.”

Well, that’s a dubious comment: people don’t buy it so it is a marketing challenge. Curious what research he is referring to.

Read full story

24 August 2008

Cities are all about difficulty

Adam Greenfield
The PICNIC conference website has posted a short but intriguing interview with Adam Greenfield, Nokia’s new head of design direction. An excerpt about the urban experience, technology and solitude:

“You know, I believe that cities are all about difficulty. They’re about waiting: for the bus, for the light to change, for your order of Chinese take-out to be ready. They’re about frustration: about parking tickets, dogshit, potholes and noisy neighbors. They’re about the unavoidable physical and psychic proximity of other human beings competing for the same limited pool of resources….the fear of crime, and its actuality. These challenges have conditioned the experience of place for as long as we’ve gathered together in settlements large and dense enough to be called cities.

And as it happens, with our networked, ambient, pervasive informatic technology, we now have (or think we have) the means to address some of these frustrations. In economic terms, these technologies both lower the information costs people face in trying to make the right decisions, and lower the opportunity cost of having made them.

So you don’t head out to the bus stop until the bus stop tells you a bus is a minute away, and you don’t walk down the street where more than some threshold number of muggings happen – in fact, by default it doesn’t even show up on your maps – and you don’t eat at the restaurant whose forty-eight recent health code violations cause its name to flash red in your address book. And all these decisions are made possible because networked informatics have effectively rendered the obscure and the hidden transparent to inquiry. And there’s no doubt that life is thusly made just that little bit better.

But there’s a cost – there’s always a cost. Serendipity, solitude, anonymity, most of what we now recognize as the makings of urban savoir faire: it all goes by the wayside. And yes, we’re richer and safer and maybe even happier with the advent of the services and systems I’m so interested in, but by the same token we’re that much poorer for the loss of these intangibles. It’s a complicated trade-off, and I believe in most places it’s one we’re making without really examining what’s at stake”.

Read interview

Meanwhile Greenfield posted on his own blog about the difference between context-aware applications and location-based services.

Referring to the prototypes by designer Mac Funamizu, Greenfield writes:

“The device’s capabilities and available interface modalities at any given moment are largely if not entirely determined by the other networked objects around it. If you pair the device with a text, it’s a reader; at the checkstand, it provides a friendly POS interface; aimed at the skyline, it augments reality.

Why this argument is so self-evident to longterm IxD folks and so relatively hard for anyone else to grok is, I believe, a function of the fact that we already take for granted the (rather significant) assumption from which it proceeds: that the greater part of the places and things we find in the world will be provided with the ability to speak and account for themselves. That they’ll constitute a coherent environment, an ontome of self-describing networked objects, and that we’ll find having some means of handling the information flowing off of them very useful indeed. […]

The second thing Mac got right is more subtle, and it’s a line about the evolution of mobile devices that I think is deeply correct. It’s that the device is of almost no importance in and of itself, that its importance to the person using it lies in the fact that it’s a convenient aperture to the open services available in the environment, locally as well as globally.

Mac happens to have interpreted this metaphor particularly literally, but there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s certainly a defensible choice. The business lesson that drops out of it, though – and of course I would think this – is that the crafting of an impeccable user experience is virtually the only differentiator left to a would-be player in this market, with clear implications for allocation of organizational effort and resources.”

Read full story (and clarification)

24 August 2008

The future of the desktop

Minority Report
Nova Spivack, founder and CEO of Twine, reflects in an smart foresight article on ReadWriteWeb on the future of the desktop, now that everything is moving to “the cloud”.

Here are his predictions:

  • The desktop of the future is going to be a hosted web service
  • The browser is going to swallow up the desktop
  • The focus of the desktop will shift from information to attention
  • Users are going to shift from acting as librarians to acting as daytraders
  • The Webtop will be more social and will leverage and integrate collective intelligence
  • The desktop of the future is going to have powerful semantic search and social search capabilities built-in
  • Interactive shared spaces will replace folders
  • The portable desktop
  • The smart desktop
  • Federated, open policies and permissions
  • The personal cloud
  • The WebOS
  • Who is most likely to own the future desktop?

Read full story

24 August 2008

Design for emotion and flow

Funnel
Trevor van Gorp explains how psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “flow” can help you design emotional web experiences by cutting through information overload to engage users.

Here are some basic website traits that will help to encourage flow.

  • Clear navigation: Make it easy for the user to know where they are, where they can go, and where they’ve been, by including signposts such as breadcrumbs, effective page titles, and visited link indicators.
  • Immediate Feedback: Make sure all navigation, such as links, buttons, and menus provide quick and effective feedback. Offer feedback for all user actions. When this isn’t possible, provide an indicator to hold the user’s attention while waiting (e.g., progress bar).
  • Balance the Perception of Challenge With the User’s Skill: Since user skill levels differ, it’s up to you to balance the complexity of the visual design with the number of tasks and features people can use. Consider whether they are likely surfing experientially for fun or completing an important task. Tailor your sites to your audience’s scenario of use: more visually rich for experiential use and less so for goal-directed use.

Read full story

24 August 2008

Donald Norman’s new book on sociable design

Donald Norman
Donald Norman has just posted a few excerpts from his draft book manuscript tentatively entitled “Sociable Design” for comments and reactions.

Introduction

Whether designing the rooftop of a building or the rear end of a home or business appliance, sociable design considers how the design will impact everyone: not just the one, intended person standing in front, but also all the rest of society that interacts. One person uses a computer: the rest of us are at the other side of the desk or counter, peering at the ugly rear end, with wires spilling over like entrails. The residents of a building may never see its roof, but those who live in adjoining buildings may spend their entire workday peering at ugly asphalt, shafts and ventilating equipment.

Support for groups is the hallmark of sociable technology. Groups are almost always involved in activities, even when the other people are not visible. All design has a social component: support for this social component, support for groups must always be a consideration.

Sociable design is not just saying “please” and “thank you.” It is not just providing technical support. It is also providing convivial working spaces, plus the time to make use of them.

Sociable technology must support the four themes of communication, presentation, support for groups, and troubleshooting. How these are handled determines whether or not we will find interaction to be sociable. People learn social skills. Machines have to have them designed into them. Sometimes even worse than machines, however, are services, where even though we are often interacting with people, the service activities are dictated by formal rule books of procedures and processes, and the people we interact with can be as frustrated and confused as we are. This too is a design issue.

Design of both machines and services should be thought of as a social activity, one where there is much concern paid to the social nature of the interaction. All products have a social component. This is especially true of communication products, whether websites, personal digests (blog), audio and video postings mean to be shared, or mail digests, mailing lists, and text messaging on cellphones. Social networks are by definition social. But where the social impact is obvious, designers are forewarned. The interesting cases happen where the social side is not so obvious.

The psychology of waiting lines

Waiting is an inescapable part of life, but that doesn’t mean we enjoy it. But if the lines are truly inescapable, what can be done to make them less painful? Although there is a good deal of practical knowledge, usually known within the heads of corporate managers, very little has been published about the topic. One paper provides the classic treatment: David Maister’s The Psychology of Waiting Lines (1985). Maister suggested several principles for increasing the pleasantness of waiting. Although his paper provides an excellent start, it was published in 1985 and there have been considerable advances in our knowledge since then.

In the PDF file, The Psychology of Waiting Lines, I bring the study of waiting lines up to date, following the spirit of Maister’s original publication, but with considerable revision in light of modern findings. I suggest eight design principles, starting with the “emotions dominate” and ending with the principle that “memory of an event is more important than the experience.” Examples of design solutions include double buffering, providing clear conceptual models of the events with continual feedback, providing positive memories and even why one might deliberately induce waits. These principles apply to all services, not just waiting in lines. Details will vary from situation to situation, industry to industry, but the fundamentals are, in truth, the fundamentals of sociable design for waiting lines, for products, and for service.

24 August 2008

Pew report: New breed of ‘net newsers’ shape US media habits

Latest news
A new generation of well-educated, technically-savvy young web users are shaping the media habits of the US, with one in 20 Americans saying they do not watch TV on a typical day and a sharp decline in newspaper readership, according to new research.

The biennial Pew Research Center report on changing news audiences described 13% of the US public as “net newsers” – web users under 35 who read more political blogs than watch national news coverage, rely heavily on web-based news during the day and have a strong interest in technology and technology news.

Yahoo, MSN and CNN were the three most popular web news destinations, though users gave many of the leading mainstream media websites low credibility ratings.

Read full story

24 August 2008

Participate in developing The Economist online

Behind the curtain
The Economist is enlisting the “collective power of [its] readers” to improve its online resources, and has created “Behind the curtain“, a blog to “give our readers a way to engage in what we build and how we build it, and help to make our idea a better one.”

For a while now at The Economist, we’ve been wrestling with how we can better engage with our readers to develop our website. We’ve had lots of ideas, and acted on a few. We’ve introduced new research initiatives, put up a site feedback form (you can find a link to our form at the top and bottom right of nearly every page of Economist.com), done user testing on new site features and designs and explored all the usual things a business explores to try to understand how it can better serve the needs of its customers. But no amount of earnest study quite delivers what we are looking for. What we really want to do is to strike up a conversation with you. […]

Our idea is about the collective power of our readers, which is why we feel the need to start this conversation with you. Because the place we want to get to can only be reached if we all share the same idea about where it is we want to go. And no doubt, our idea will change – and change for the better – along the way.