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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

  • The Future is Bright, The Future is…

    6th May 15

    Posted by Agathe Guerrier

    Posted in Uncategorized

    Authors: Three of BBH Strategy’s Under 30s – Melanie Arrow, Lucian Trestler and Shib Hussain

    People theorising about the future tend to fall into two camps: the “everything will stay the same-ers” and the “there’s massive change ahead-ers”. We youthful lot at BBH are no exception. When the APG asked the industry’s under 30s to finish the sentence “the future’s bright the future is…” for their Noisy Thinking event, one of us thought the answer would lie in what exists and the other thought that what exists would pretty rapidly evolve. To settle it, we asked a third person, but unhelpfully, he decided that his view sat exactly in the middle.

    To save ourselves awkward coalition negotiation talks, we’re turning to you, readers, asking you to decide. In a general election blog post special, un-edited and uncensored are the three sides of the debate for your reading pleasure. Who would you vote for?

     

    Melanie Arrow: Strategy Director and steadfast stay the same-er.

    The future is so radically indeterminate, so fast changing, so different, so obtuse, so totally beyond our grasp that it can’t be planned for. Today’s under 18s code, they programme, they hardwire and they delete the phone app – because who uses phones as phones anymore anyway? In fact, somewhere between 40% and 65% of jobs that children in primary school will do in the future haven’t been invented yet. In short, let’s give up now.

    Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 18.50.54

    But then, that’s not quite right is it? The future isn’t something to be viewed passively it is something to be invented. So, the real question for us Strategists is not what the future is, but how can strategy master it?

    As I see it, strategy has one core strength – one role to rule them all, as it were – and it’s something I believe transcends now and future, no matter how complex that future is, because it represents something fundamentally true about the role of brands in our society.

    Strategists make sense of the new, they narrate, articulate and contextualise. They distil and reduce. They simplify the complex and help brands to establish themselves as simple digestible, meaningful constructs in people’s lives. We sit on the precipice between technology and humanity, tethering what is changing (tech) to what never does (emotions, desires, feelings).

    The key to our inventing the future, then, is the thing that has always made us strong: Answering how does this new thing help people? How can it entertain them? Why should they want to use it or be part of it? Because without making this connection back to humanity – technology and new things are nothing.

    So, to finish the sentence “the future is bright, the future is…” well, in truth, I have no idea, but I would bet on strategy to be able to simplify it.

     

    Lucian Trestler: Strategist and sincere somewhere in the middle-er

     Orange, 1994 – ‘In the future, you wont change what you say, just how you say it.’

    In the future a lot will be different BUT some things will be the same as they’ve always been. And some of these things will continue to be the fundamental tenets of planning. In my opinion, some of these things being;

    Unchanging man

    Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 18.51.11

    Hard to believe this will become any less important.

    What makes a great idea

    Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 18.51.21

    ‘At BBH we aim to deliver intelligence and magic. We don’t believe that an idea is great unless it’s delivered off the right strategy and we don’t consider a strategy worthwhile unless it leads to inspiring work. Intelligence AND magic are mutually reinforcing’.

    Understanding this process will continue to lead to great ideas.

    The art of creating power

    Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 18.51.30

    Sir Lawrence Freedman defines strategy as the art of creating power. Notably, not a science. And in order to do this it must be continuous. It must carry on after you get punched in the mouth. Strategy (over planning) is ‘the evolution of the big idea through changing circumstances’.  Changing circumstances being the operative phrase here.

    Consistency>Distinctiveness>Fame>Success

    Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 18.51.41

    “A brand cannot be distinctive if it is not consistent.” And communications will not increase a brand’s fame if they aren’t distinctive. Which is not great seeing as increasing brand fame is the most profitable objective for communications. And although this pattern is reflective of the findings of the marketing book du jour, ‘How Brands Grow’ by Byron Sharp, it is a pattern that has long been known by brands. Just look at the Catholic church.

    In summary, what we have learnt will not one day become useless when some one proclaims that ‘X is dead’.

    Quite the opposite.

    In an uncertain future, knowing how to apply certainty will make strategy more valuable than ever.

    Uncertainty + Certainty = Opportunity

     

    Shib Hussain: Strategist and dedicated massively different-er

    It’s expected that by 2020 more than seven billion people and businesses will be connected to the internet. In the face of so much change it would be foolish to assume that our clients businesses won’t change shape, some more radically than others.

    The one’s setting the pace are already elevating their brands to offer more than their core product, becoming multi-layered businesses that service multiple customer needs in order to unlock further revenue opportunities and / or to lock them into said brand. Simply put they are becoming star shaped. A central brand proposition, surrounded by complimentary services.

    Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 18.51.54

    It would be naive to assume every client business will move this way, of course this is much more suited to some business categories that others. We’ve all seen the Charmin toilet finder app after all.

    Similarly to future facing clients, future facing agency models are becoming more star shaped too.

    Gone are the days of silos such as ‘digital’, ‘crm’, ‘atl’ – agencies either add value across the full customer journey or they’ll lose out to competitors who are wise enough to see that an agency’s responsibility doesn’t start and end when the campaign / site/ app/ promotion is delivered.

    Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 18.52.06

    This is something we’re seeing great success with at BBH, the full service mix is what clients need and want to service their complex (and often confusing) business models.

    Finally it begs the question for staff.

    What is the ideal agency staffer?

    I’ve always been a hater of labels such as creative, planner or, worse, creative strategist.

    In a world where ideas will be more complex and multi-layered, staff need to understand the whole value chain to and be able to create solutions that range from new service models through to  tactical ads.

    Sure, we’ll have specialist skills, but the future agency pioneers won’t take on silo’d tasks, they’ll be able to see identify the right problem and suggest the right solution, without defaulting to however their agency makes money – admit it, we’ve all been there.

    So, what can we do prepare for this future where we’re expected to do more (probably for less) and with more stakeholders and more complex businesses?

    Skill up.

    I suggest hanging out with those you normally don’t in your agency. Make friends with tech. Have a coffee with UX. Go for lunch with the data analysts. You’re going to need those guys more and more going forward.

     

  • Media Innovation: Lessons from the The Silk Road.

    26th September 13

    bbhlabs_silkroad

    One of the more innovative corners of the Web, is a dark and somewhat unscrupulous place. That does not mean that it cannot contain a wealth of innovative thinking, once you scratch the surface.

    Since it’s launch in 2011, The SIlk Road has pushed the value of bitcoins (the digital currency underpinning its operation.) by over 200 fold, to today’s worth which is over $100 USD. Since the rise of the Internet, no other online marketplace can boast so high a demand, that it lifts a digital currency to become the world’s most valuable. Aside from its huge product demand, there are a number of innovations on The Silk Road that will likely be adopted by the rest of online retailers in the coming years.

    US Senator Chuck Schumer summed up the site nicely as “the most brazen attempt to peddle drugs online that we have ever seen… by light-years.” He demanded that the website be shut down in 2011, but the Drug Enforcement Administration has yet to find a way to do so.

    To an outsider, how such a site still exists may not make sense: the buyer and seller are anonymous, they sell illegal drugs, and do so with an online currency. However, the mechanics to make this work so seamlessly are in fact, light years ahead of their time.

    The transaction process on The Silk Road is one of the most innovative systems on the Internet today and the population’s trust in the economy allows for an extremely simple system.

    Here is the user experience of a transaction:
    A buyer decides to make a purchase, they notify the seller of the quantity and their bitcoins are transferred from their wallet to The Silk Road. Their bitcoins are then held with The Silk Road, which acts as an escrow agent for the transaction. The bitcoins are only released to the seller after the buyer has received the product and leaves a review on the seller’s page.

    This very simple mechanic of mandating product reviews is an extremely smart step when dealing with a black market because the market becomes more intelligent with every single transaction. This mandate naturally lessens the risk of scammers and builds the trust in the market that it requires to operate. Quite simply, The sellers with the better products get the best reviews and buyers shop with more confidence.

    Online retailers like Etsy, Airbnb and Craigslist could benefit from implementing The Silk Road’s review-dependent transaction system. A major barrier for small vendors is garnering enough trust, which usually takes years and several purchases to gain. Although notorious for it’s drug-trafficking, beneath the pavement of the Silk Road lie a number of amazing innovations. happening in this surreal environment that we can all learn from.

  • Social Coding: Git with it.

    3rd October 12

    It is quite obvious that we here at Labs are huge fans of both the open source community, and idea of social-coding platforms. It would go without saying that being fans of such a community is not enough, one would argue that we should not only be an observer, but also a participant. That being said, we looked at a few of the internal projects and experiments we have worked on and felt that at this point we should share bit of code with the rest of the Internet.

    What began as an exploration in Processing quickly became a prototype and finally a solid bit of code that is a complete application. We called it The GIF-A-MATRON, and it is a processing application that interprets the brightness of the webcam’s image and translates it to dots that yerli porno scale based on that image creating abstract interpretation. In the background the application detects a vistor’s motion and secretly captures three frames, two seconds apart and creates an animated GIF. The GIF is then send via PHP to a destination tumblr site for all to see.

    Once we showed it around to a few folks, people instantly liked it. The next logical step was to release it as source for others to build upon, and interpret into what ever they see fit. It’s primary function is something like a animated gif generating photo booth, but we are interested to see where it goes from here. Feel free to grab the source from our Github page. If you do add a twist, let us know, we would love to see what you do with it.

  • ’tis the season to be truthy

    27th March 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Uncategorized

    Author: James Mitchell, Strategist, BBH & BBH Labs

    “I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, and no heart.” – Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report

    In 2006, Stephen Colbert promised (parodically) to “not tell the news to you, but feel the news, at you.” He coined the term truthiness, a quality applied to something that has a sense of truth, that is true enough to serve its purpose, without actually being factually accurate. It was just a swipe at lazy newscasting, but Colbert had it right – in modern culture the truths we tell ourselves are the ones that best make us feel something. Advertising has long known that, and has told actual truths about its products, wrapped in representational ‘life truths’ that spin off of it. These are narratives, and all parties in the situation know it. So far, so good.

    In my second BBH interview in 2010, Planning Director Ed Booty asked me, “do you think people have had enough of the real?” The concensus we got to was that people could never have enough of the real, but that media forces have worked to inflate people’s expectations of what the real can deliver. Remember: this was at time when Endemol’s solution to the stagnation of ‘reality show’ Big Brother was to put ever more abrasive and conflicting characters into the mix, and people had begun to call it out as a circus. Since then, the response from entertainment has been a whole string of programmes with a new definition of truth: The Hills, Jersey Shore, Geordie Shore, The Only Way Is Essex. Watching them is like reading The National Enquirer; within their own ecosystem they are true, and they offer the most value when you read them as true. Deep down, you know them to be false, but the spectacle tacitly asks you to suspend that to get some value from them. They are truthy. The old masters of this form, the wrestling (“sports entertainment”) industry have a term for this – kayfabe. Successfully engaging with kayfabe can be a lot of fun.

    img credit: wwe.com
    Note: Not an actual undertaker
    The combination of the extremes of fiction and the rawness of reality have left us wanting the impossible – a fantastical truth. At the same time, ever since Cluetrain we’ve come to realise that our collective ability to dismantle a narrative is potent, and hungry. A tough gig for anyone who wants to tell their truth in the most engaging way possible. Remember when James Frey got ripped into A Million Little Pieces by Oprah? It turns out that parts of his story were just that, a story, and it was unforgivable.

    Even when the cause is ‘just’, the scent of manipulation is hard to deoderise. In the past month, we’ve seen KONY 2012 explode and be exploded – partly from speculation about the company’s finances, partly from questions about the appropriateness of the solutions they offered to the problem, but in equal part from the sheer slickness of the manipulation. It was too glossy for the message it was trying to put across, too much like an episode of MTV’s Made, rather than a call to action. The response to this criticism might be “that’s the format our target audience responds to, so that’s what we have to use,” but the savagery of the counterattack suggests that young people still respond to message as much as medium.

    Then there’s Apple. When public radio show This American Life chose to broadcast an excerpt of monologist Mike Daisey’s show The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs in January, they got their highest-ever ratings in the show’s 17-year history. That’s because Mike’s monologue is the story of his experiences in Chinese tech factories, including Foxconn, one of Apple’s biggest suppliers. Because it describes the working practices that go into making the tech we use even as we consume blogs like this one. The narrative arc and the expertly crafted pathos could only come from a practiced storyteller – and therein came the problem, because Daisey used  a storyteller’s toolbox – deletion, distortion and assumption – to the point where the story just wasn’t true any more. It was a cobbling together of things that happened to Daisey, things that used to happen but don’t any more, things he’d heard about from others but had no proof of, and simple fabrication. And Daisey has been eviscerated by much of his audience. This American Life has never felt so mortally wounded – to the point where Ira Glass and his team produced an entire episode called simply Retraction, and pulled the original from the podcast feeds.

    Where does that leave the practice of marketing? Advertising deals in truthiness because it uses things that didn’t happen to get audiences to think of what could happen, and to feel the ‘truth’ of a brand’s world. And this was Mike Daisey’s defence on This American Life: “this isn’t about me lying to you or anyone else. This is about me doing everything I could to get the media to pay attention… Did I go too far in that effort? Maybe. That’s for others to judge.” The truth didn’t quite cut it, so youjizz he used made up facts in order to get to what he thought was a higher truth – the story of labour practice in other countries. And to be fair, it worked well enough to enchant the audiences on his tour, the normally journalistically rigorous This American Life, and everyone that listened to it – including the New York Times.

    But what these events teach us is the care we must use when we wield the power of story. That when you have an audience that wants life to be larger than life, they should know where and when the enlargements and the brightening of the colours is occurring. There have been calls for cosmetic adverts to have an “airbrushing watermark”. We don’t need to go that far for story: rather, we just have to watch where we’re putting the truthiness. We have to map the zones in the media space where absolute truth is expected – yes, spaces like facebook and twitter – and treat people with what they deserve there.

    But the biggest lesson of all lies further upstream. As marketers for brands, we’re usually telling stories about ourselves. So if we want to tell any story we can – all we have to do is make those facts be true by causing them to happen. If you’re Starbucks, don’t just talk about how friendly you are – get your employees to write customers’ names on their takeaway lattes. If you’re Johnnie Walker, don’t just talk about progress – put a real investment into the Keep Walking Project, and make progress happen.

    The people have spoken, and they’re not satisfied with truthiness. They don’t just want brands to tell them stories. They want brands to take part in the rewriting of reality, so that the stories they tell each other can be that much more amazing.

  • That’s right, we’re not from Texas

    6th March 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Uncategorized

    Three days to go until the geek world descends on Austin for SXSW Interactive which if the ‘super grid‘ is anything to go by, will be more overwhelming than anything that has gone before. With marketeers, developers and Googler’s pouring into Texas in unprecedented numbers, we can’t hope to give more than the briefest taste of what we’re looking forward to. Our mission, as in previous years, is to learn, to re-engage and to discover – Labs will be out in numbers speaking, interacting and seeking whatever edge SXSW has left to offer.

    SXSW is a great opportunity to connect with likeminded friends from around the world and meet other likeminds previously only known on twitter, google+ or blog comment threads. We’re excited to see Amber Case keynote an event of this scale, looking forward seeing old friends consider intent and the social web and we’ll be be queuing in the corridors to make sure we get a front seat at a stellar curation panel featuring Percolate, Longform and Maria Popova.

    The great thing about SXSW is that there is something for everyone – whether your appetite is for The New Aesthetic, architecture or even Nick Denton, you’re covered. The Panel Committee were strict on submissions from Labs this year, but we’re thrilled with what slipped through their net of rigour. We’d humbly suggest that Mad Max Vs Skynet: The Battle for the Future, presented by our very own
    brazzers Mel Exon and Google Creative Lab’s Tom Uglow, is a must see. Labs will also be represented in Austin with the launch of our on-the-ground project, Homeless Hotspots.

    As for Austin nights, it’s hard to know what level of blagging skills or extreme patience will be necessary to crash the numerous SXSW parties this year. This nice survival guide from GSD&M gives plenty of good tips, while we’ve enjoyed nights out at the Fray Cafe in years gone by. Great nights have been spent chewing the fat at a table next to one of Austin’s plentiful taco vans, and if things get weird, you can always head for the hills.

    So whatever your thing, you’ll find it in Austin and we’re looking forward to seeing you there. Let us know where you’ll be, what time to meet up at Lego Corner, what you’re looking forward to and, most importantly, where we can find the best breakfast burrito.

  • Encapsulation, Tree Rings & Why the Future is Driven By the Past

    19th August 11

    Posted by Saneel Radia

    Posted in Uncategorized


    Author: David Bryant, Creative Strategist, Google

    ‘The future… doesn’t arrive all at once.’
    —Sid Mead, futurist, visionary, creator of Bladerunner

    Booting up a PC

    When we first boot up a PC, we take a step back in time.

    The very first instructions that a PC executes when powered up are, in computing terms, ancient history. Called the Instruction Set, they were etched into the modern PC’s chip by its distant ancestor decades ago, like hieroglyphics on a pyramid chamber wall. And like hieroglyphics, they are understood by the very few.

    The next step a PC takes is to invoke its Microcode. Microcode is fascinating. When a PC first flips on, it is phenomenally stupid. It has no memory, no instructions to execute and isn’t even aware of what devices it is connected to.

    It’s a little like the film Memento. The computer wakes with no memory and a few arcane instructions written onto its hand. These very few instructions tell it how to follow more instructions, and so on until the computer gradually becomes less stupid. It all starts with these microscopically small lines of code invoking the 1978 Instruction Set.

    The majority of the Microcode is written by the designers and engineers of the chip. So the PC starts to run code from a chip designed a few years ago, but running an instruction set from a time where Jimmy Carter is one year in, the Berlin wall is yet to come down, no-one has heard of the internet, and MC Hammer is 10 years away from being famous.

    Forward to the BIOS

    So the modern Microcode tells the PC to load the BIOS. Suddenly we leap forward in time to 2005, in the case of my home PC, to when the BIOS was written.

    Invoking the BIOS is a little like putting the PC into a coma state.
    The basic things like breathing and heart rate get started but that is all. In other words, there’s power on in the basement but nothing on in the control room. The BIOS also tells the PC where its arms and legs are (or where its keyboard and screen are), and how much memory it has and so on.

    Back to DOS

    Then the BIOS tells the PC to load DOS. Now we really jump back. Suddenly it’s 1982, I am 12 and Spandau Ballet’s ‘True’ is top of the charts.

    Actually DOS was written way back in the seventies and changed very little after about 1995. It’s a quick simple language that allows the PC to load a modern operating system like Windows 7. Hence its original name ‘QDOS’ which stood for ‘Quick and Dirty Operating System.’ That lasted until Bill Gates acquired it for Microsoft, and changed the letter ‘D’ to mean ‘Disk,’ presumably for commercial reasons.

    So DOS loads, sets a few environment variables, loads whatever version of Windows, and we’re transported to somewhere in the aughties. It’s taken us 45 seconds to come 30 years. But it’s not over yet.
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  • Launching a new D&AD Initiative: The White Pencil

    15th April 11

    Posted by Mel Exon

    Posted in Uncategorized

    Author: Rosie Arnold, Deputy Exec Creative Director, BBH and Deputy D&AD President

    On Tuesday night, D&AD launched a new initiative: The White Pencil Award. It is an ongoing award, but the first White Pencil will be awarded next year to a piece of creative thinking that best answers a brief that we’re giving to the whole creative community.
    porn movies The White Pencil is for a piece of creative work that changes the world for the better; the first organisation D&AD has chosen to support is Peace One Day. The brief is available here and, to the best of my knowledge, it is the first time the entire global creative community of designers, advertisers, digital, photographers etc has been give the same brief.

    Come on all you creatives out there: use your talent to change the world.

  • BDW Making Digital Work 4

    7th April 11

    Whenever Boulder Digital Works puts on an event they attract some of the best talent in the industry. The event is in Boulder, Colorado April 28-29 and you can click here to register.

    Below are some notes from the last BDW Event in New York which should give you a taste of what you might see in Colorado.

    The Education of Staff and Clients
    Edward Boches, Chief Innovation Officer at Mullen described how he got his agency and clients migrating over to social media platforms like Twitter. Before the “Trash Talk from Section Twitter” Mullen had around ten people on Twitter and a handful of clients using the platform. After inviting all their staff and clients to participate, Mullen surged to 350+ people on Twitter and half their clients using the platform. These clients now see Mullen as an expert in the space because they showed them how to use the platform.

    The Importance of Partnerships
    The trend in agency innovation is to increase dependence on partnerships. Agencies like Victors and Spoils and Co: depend on this model to survive but they also describe how one agency cannot be geographically everywhere to take advantage of all the available talent. This philosophy describes a completely different agency landscape where cooperation creates greatness.

    Creative Technologists are the new Rock Stars
    A number of speakers talked about Creative Technologists but Scott Pringle and Chloe Glottlieb really nailed the role in their presentations. Chloe talked about a book called ‘Program or be Programmed’ which seems to be the story of the day. Scott shared the importance of playing with technology, sharing that with creative teams and then combining that thinking to meet a client objective.

    Speed of Thought
    Tim Malbon of Made by Many shared the importance of agility and speed to get things to market and work with your users to refine. We love Tim’s approach to ideation through “sketch sessions” where people sit for an hour and sketch out ideas and then talk about the ideas with the team.

    What do you think?

    What’s the best way to educate clients on Social Media?

    How important are partnerships in your agency?

    Should Creative Technologists be the only people that know how to code?

  • Will Marketing Technology Remember Asimov’s First Law?

    4th April 11

    Posted by Saneel Radia

    Posted in Uncategorized


    Source: Glitschka Studios

    Author: Greg Andersen (@gandersen), CEO, BBH New York

    In the last couple of weeks I’ve read two specific articles that made me really stop and think about our future as a creative industry. The first was the March 26th New York Times article “In a New Web World, No Application is an Island”. It paints a picture of a silky smooth, boundary-less web full of open and interconnected apps thanks largely to HTML5. The creative palate and resulting experiences made possible by the likes of HTML5 are truly thrilling. The second article was “Nine jobs that humans may lose to robots”. On the list are occupations you’d expect to see left to machines, like soldiers and astronauts. But taking a step back and considering the all the advances in marketing technology I can’t help but wonder if advertising people, including creatives, will be appearing on that list when the article is inevitably written again in a few years time.

    To be clear, this isn’t an anti-technology rant. That would be odd on the BBH Labs blog and flies straight into the face of tons of BBH work and investments within the agency. Rather, it is one guy’s view of a potential future brought on by a lot of very well intentioned innovations and advances, marked in my mind by said excitement around HTML5.

    On the surface, what HTML5 offers to creativity and brand experiences is nothing short of amazing. Things like immediate video playback and better video tagging and search-ability will help to further accelerate content adoption and open exciting new creative uses of video. It also means that it will be easier to connect specific video content to other related content like articles, photos, data, etc. In short, HTML5 will make for brand experiences that can go both broader and deeper while maintaining a high quality user experience. Done well, these experiences will be good enough to be searched for and sought out…even if they are really just marketing.

    Another positive side of HTML5 is its openness; providing the ability to create vastly better experiences on the free range of the web not penned in by walled garden technology companies. But this also means an incredible open flow of MUCH richer user data around preferences and behaviors. In itself, that’s not a big deal. Agencies and marketers and media owners constantly seek out better information to make better things and better decisions. But marketing is mobil porno now also swamped with new marketing technologies to take advantage of this data. Coupled with tools for behavioral targeting, tools for social media monitoring, tools for conversion optimization, tools for automated bid optimization, tools for CRM marketing automation and tools that make it much easier for rich creative automation… I wonder what the role for us humans really is.

    The best brands and their creativity make people both do and feel. To accomplish that we must not lose humanity in marketing creativity regardless of what is possible technologically. Human creativity is a special thing and when applied to brands there is still something oddly reassuring knowing that behind most any piece of brand communication there is a human engaging another human through a discourse of persuasion.

    Asimov’s First Law states “a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Man, I hope he was talking about advertising people.

  • Why Quora’s design tension is the biggest challenge they face

    17th February 11

    Posted by Saneel Radia

    Posted in Uncategorized

    About a month ago, we posted an anti-Quora rant. It triggered quite a bit of discussion in the comments, one of which was even developed into a counter-post that argued Quora’s superiority in identifying intent over search engines. To round off the impromptu series, we’ve asked Shannon Bain to explain why it isn’t about Quora’s value or lack thereof. Below he explains that there’s a design tension at the heart of all this discussion about the Q&A platform we love to love and hate in equal measure.

    *** *** ***
    Author: Shannon Bain, Principal Designer at XING AG, Hamburg, Germany

    Source: Quora.com

    Quora is still getting a lot of press, both positive and negative, much of it in the form of a debate about its value. Is Quora a good, valuable information service or is it simply a platform for SV self-aggrandizement? As far as I’m concerned, we’ll never get an answer to this question (mainly because it’s actually both). What we should be looking at instead is what the negative reactions tell us about the dangers of designing for social content creation on a platform that’s primarily positioned as a knowledge resource.

    Quora is officially “a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it”. So it’s a Q&A platform, but a fundamentally social one. This puts Quora in a tricky position because there’s an underlying tension between the product’s official proposition and the activity it must “afford” through its design to be a successful social product.

    Quora’s Q&A focus primes knowledge-sharing expectations in users. But a reality of social functionality design is that you must always “afford” user display: give users the domain-appropriate means to show-off, shine, look good, whatever. Display is a powerful and perfectly valid motivator of social activity, even if we like to pretend it’s not. In this case, it incentivizes good questions and smart answers. And since Quora is effectively a community talking to itself (it’s by us pros, for us pros), there’s no way to avoid display even if you (foolishly) wanted to.

    So here’s the tension: when we’re primed with strong knowledge-sharing expectations, but are faced with brazen self-promotion instead, we get annoyed–– even when it results in good content and drives a lot of our own activity. The product’s official, expectation-priming proposition is so clearly about altruistic knowledge-sharing, we can’t help but feel weird about the selfish display activity necessarily afforded by the platform.

    To understand why, we need to look at the product’s framing, the norms in play, and users’ perceived motivations. A product’s frame is the big interaction type that structures it, guides design and primes user expectations. For Quora, it’s a Question & Answer frame. One way frames work is by embedding norms, the informal rules and conventions coordinating and smoothing our daily activities and interactions. When you hear about a Q&A platform, it’s partially your grasp of the frame’s norms that give you that immediate, high-level understanding of what’s supposed to happen. There are at least two roles (Questioner and Answerer) whose interactions are temporally structured (Qs before As) and whose performances can be judged as appropriate or inappropriate (e.g. did the Answerer actually address the question).

    It’s the last bit that’s interesting here. Norms can provide the means of evaluating performance appropriateness. But they often say more than just what behavior is appropriate or inappropriate. They can also say what motivations are appropriate and, more importantly in this case, inappropriate. They determine the frame’s legitimate behaviors and motivations. For us, the interesting Q&A performance norms are about knowledge sharing, and, specifically, the inappropriateness of knowledge flaunting.

    But on a platform essentially dependent on user effort, display is a powerful incentive you can’t ignore. It’s also unavoidable in the product’s strategic “by us, for us” positioning. So, the product necessarily affords transgression of the official Q&A frame’s “no flaunting” norm.

    Elsewhere, I’ve argued that in addition to display there are two other big reasons people use social functionality: knowledge and connection. If you think of these as defining a space within which a piece of social functionality can be plotted according to how it mixes the elements, you can visually represent the mismatch between Quora’s “explicit” position and it’s “afforded” position.

    Notice I’ve also included the “enforced” position. This represents the backlash apparently being enacted by some members against transgressions of the no-flaunting norm. My impression is that it’s even stricter and less display-lenient than the official position.

    I can think of three approaches to mitigating the mismatch:

    • Shift official positioning… bad idea.
    • Monitor and enforce an officially “elevated” layer of user-admins. This is probably too Wikipedia-like and counter the communitarian, party-line rhetoric of SV and Quora.
    • Structurally and functionally foster the definition and communication of member-negotiated, product-specific norms for appropriate display on Quora.

    The last one gets my vote. Display is necessary for Quora to succeed and is going to happen no matter what. Indeed, as the backlash suggests, product-specific norms for legitimate display are already being negotiated. Why not improve the tools for negotiating, communicating, and enforcing legitimate means of display. For example, beyond the current sanctioning (voting) and elevation of “quality” performances, consider a menu of user-applied content tags – e.g. “flaunting”, “advertisement”, etc. Or socially reward users that review and rehabilitate tagged content, possibly even elevating them via a light status sex sikis porno system. There are a lot of design possibilities in this direction. And though there’s a real potential for gamesmanship, it’s still  my favorite option. It’s not about iron hand enforcement of official rules. It’s about giving users the tools to define, enforce and communicate what they collectively decide are the normative bounds of performance on the platform.

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