Friday, April 15, 2005

What does it mean for user research, for design, for consumer industry generally, for social scientists, and indeed, for "users" themselves, when "users" appear to be collecting data about themselves? For instance, here and here. Both appear to be the products of conventional user research: "what's in your bag" studies are very common. But what I mean by the initial question is this: is this the same kind of data that commercial user research produces? is it "useful" in the same way? The first is an epistemological (or at least, a methodological) question: about the status of these kinds of sites as knowledge. The second is, I'd say, a political question: how are these, or any user research studies used? To what ends?

Companies like this might disagree, but I think that people collecting data on themselves and on their worlds—as in the links above, blogs, Flickr accounts generally, art like this—is fundmentally different. Which is to say, I think they are politically different. But that doesn't mean Flickr sites, for instance, can't and won't be used as user research, or that they shouldn't be; in fact, it is just this openness of ends, the fact that the data collected could be used by anyone for any purposes, which creates the fundamental difference I mention above.

p.s. Since being alerted by Rick to a claim going around that Flickr users who tag their photos with brand names are "brand evangelists" I've been looking at a lot of these "brand images" on Flickr (e.g. look at the Wal-mart tag on Flickr).

If Flickr users are "brand evangelists" then James Agee and Walker Evans were poverty evangelists and Susan Sontag was a torture and AIDS evangelist and Durkheim was a suicide evangelist and Foucault was a prison and madness evangelist and Andrea Dworkin (RIP) was a sex evangelist.

Evangelists have one interest, often dissembled in the appearance of their day to day evangelist practices. This is not what's going on in Flickr, even though some of the individual activities might be described as evangelistic (I'm sure, for instance, that there are a lot of microsoft and red stripe and wal-mart white collar employees who tag photos with their company's brands). For one, this takes no account of the collective activities and effects of Flickr, of all the photos there, all the tags, the groups, and therefore, this account misses the incalcuably diverse effects which Flickr potentialises, the incalcuably diverse interests it potentially serves.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Pavis Centre for Social and Cultural Research invites you to


"What’s Foreign in Cultural Studies? or,
On English as a Chinese language"

Meaghan Morris

Meaghan Morris is Chair Professor of Cultural Studies and Coordinator of the Kwan Fong Cultural Research and Development Programme at Lingnan University, Hong Kong . Her most recent books include New Keywords: a Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society (co-ed with Tony Bennett and Lawrence Grossberg) and “Race” Panic and the Memory of Migration (co-ed. with Brett de Bary). She is Senior Editor of Traces: a Multilingual Journal of Cultural Theory and Translation, and in 2004 was elected Chair of the international Association for Cultural Studies.

4.30 pm - 6.00pm

Tuesday 17th May 2005

Berrill Lecture Theatre,

Walton Hall, Milton Keynes

Tea will be served from 4.00pm in the Berrill Tea Bar followed by discussion and a reception

All Welcome, Admission Free

There will be a webcast of the lecture and the relevant link will be added to the Pavis Centre web page in due course. For further information please contact Karen Ho at K.D.Ho [at] open [dot] ac [dot] uk

Directions to the Walton Hall campus can be found at this website address.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Frontseat/Backseat - a workshop

On friday I attended a full day seminar called 'Frontseat/Backseat' organised by Mark Perry at Brunel University. He invited an interesting group of researchers at different stages in their careers and projects to discuss data and analytical techniques for projects predicated in and around private and public transport (specifically cars, taxis and buses).

A quick overview of the speakers: Oskar Juhlin, the director of the Mobility Lab at the Interactive Institute in Stockholm, talked about the mobile technology design for transport systems, including music sharing, games and inter-vehicle communication systems. Carsten Sorenson from the Information Systems Deptment at the LSE introduced his work on ICT's and the management of knowledge and the work of his two Phd students - Daniele and Sylvia. Daniele Pica is in the final months of his research on contextualizing mobile informatics, the concept of location and the implications for Police organizations. Silvia Elaluf-Calderwood is in the middle of her fieldwork researching the mobile personal and working lives of London Black cab drivers. Eric Laurier presented some preliminary video data from his Habitable cars project at the Institute of Geography in Edinburgh. Allyson Noble from the Napier University in Edinburgh is also interested in buses and is conducting her PhD research on Lothian city routes asking, "What can we know about the local character of the city from the vantage point of the bus?" Finally John Paul Bichard, a digital artist and mad paddler is now associated with Oskar's work in Stockholm. I worked with him during the UTdays.

Interestingly everyone presented their data in some multi-media form. Whilst it was not the focus of the day the challenges of methodological approaches using video, photos, annotated images, drawings etc were raised in nearly every presentation.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Saturday, April 02, 2005

A small personal mobile phone gripe.

Scene 1: My sony ericsson K700i flatlines last weekend. Prior to its sudden demise it corrupted a number of incoming and outgoing texts and then blanked, never to return. An obvious (major) software issue.

Scene 2: I take the dead object to the T-Mobile repair shop on Oxford Street. No I didn't drop it. No it doesn't have liquid damage. It's a software issue. Yes it is under warranty. Yes I have been a customer for five years. Yes they will check it over to determine the problem. No there are no replacement phones available. When will it be fixed? In two hours more will be known and it might be fixed. Pop back in then. But I'm not intending on shopping for two hours. Can they call me? [Fortunately I have an old handset so am still mobile. Others in line were not so lucky.] No they don't do that. You have to come back in to the store.

Scene 3: I cannot return to the shop until two days later. Yes, it was a software issue. No they couldn't fix it. So they sent it to the manufacturer for repair. Can I have a replacement? No. When will it be back? Maybe Wednesday or Thursday next week. Best come in Saturday. It should be back by then. But that is another week. Can you call me? No we don't do that. But you're a phone company that exists to provide a communication service. Can I call you? No. You have to come back into the store.

I asked if they understood the irony of the situation. They said yes.

- kat