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Understanding Users: DIY Research Options for Tech Companies

UX is increasingly an area for understanding the intersection of users, buyers, markets and tech solutions providers.  Here are great insights on how to engage users to improve your products and market knowledge on the cheap from Laura Klein.

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From the Stream: Lost and Found

Oh the holidays are here and I now know exactly what is going on in my hometown thanks to Facebook.  Well, maybe not exactly, but a good deal thanks to what I can get from my network via their status, invites, picture uploads and mocku-groups, at least for my home town Gaylord, MI.   For my Georgia readers Gaylord is a good deal like Helen with skiing.  Yup the things and people you find when you actively engage your network – apparently your past is central to that, at least on Facebook.

What are you looking for in a network? Do you actually participate? Do you just watch?

No matter what you do, Social networks continue to proliferate and continue to make it just a little harder to manage from my perspective regardless of the value they are providing.  I find that I can really only manage 2 networks and only do that sorta well, nevertheless I have a bunch of ID’s all over the place to make sure I keep my Spatially ID on most platforms.  Can’t have someone brand jack/squat on spatially.

For these other “land grab” networks, I participate mainly thanks to syndication tools for about another 6, but it really isn’t active participation more of an echo of other conversations.  I occasionally log on to the other networks to only to find out that I have effectively lost conversations, conversations which appeared to be fairly interesting, if I was able to keep up on it.  I even find that my two primary networks, Facebook and Twitter have stranded conversations as well.   So if you make a connection, ask a question and don’t follow up with the responses how does that impact your personal brand?

I wrote a little bit about this frustration a while back, but it continues to be a point of concern, as I push statuses and content which effectively ping out and are left lost when it comes to follow up.  So I’ve deployed some new tools to see if I can be just a little more responsive – Twinkle and Tweetlater.

The Right tool for the Right Job!

I’m sorta all tool out, tools I use, tools I test and tools I ultimately abandon, but I still keep trying to find the right application for a given micro-function or management function.  I’ve used several different iPhone interfaces for Twitter and Twinkle is perhaps the best iPhone client out there and has a geospatial feature which allows me to meet folks while I travel or at least better engage locals for places to eat and things to do.    What if marketers could leverage this for promotions?

Local promotions or interaction aren’t a far flung option with this tool, but it would require active use.  I recently used Twinkle recently to find a very small hole in the wall which I never would have found without the folks on my Twinkle/Twitter network.  Small important point –  this cool restaurant recommendation was in my hometown of Roswell, GA – I’ve lived here 4 years and the place was not findable on Urban Spoon.  The power of a geographic based network.

ANOTHER Network?

The challenge with Twinkle is I think I’m creating yet ANOTHER network – arrgghh!  Will this be another place I strand conversations?  Probably not, since it will be my main mobile interace.  The fact that I am creating a new network is ok, since it is location based – not just twitter.  To that end, I’ll deal with it since it is a great app and one I will actually communicate with, at least when I have my phone, which is like always, but I wish data portability was here in earnest – after all it is my data.

My key networks are Facebook and Twitter and twitter is my main interface for updates, so finding the right tools are important for me. 

Tweetlater has become a great tool to acknowledge folks which add me with a welcome message and a direct default message which allows them to find my blog and thanks them for the add.  This is a good thing, I think as I would NEVER acknowledge adds and only catch up say 2 times a month with reciprocal adds.  The other feature I use on Tweetlater is the keyword feature, I don’t use the public Welcome message any longer because it just pollutes Facebook stream.  It wouldn’t if it started with the @ symbol, since those are demoted to not be statuses, but that’s not how it works and typically not how humans speak. I will say that I am getting behind the eight ball on deleted direct messages, not on the Brogan scale, but behind.

I may turn it back on, I just don’t know yet…

A Value Network

Clearly there is value to a person or brand being present online, but it requires that you engage.  Lost folks, friends and even randoms are part of your network and provide you access and knowledge that you just don’t have alone – the wisdom of crowds indeed.   To that end, I continue to proactively manage my Twitter network and random into 10 or 15 folks a week as I try to change up the twitter stream a little every week, some folks I know just keeping adding – not sure how that works.   I would like to highlight 1 of the randoms I personally added in the last week was @debraseifert – her tweets were protected, which always adds a little interest for me – so I added her on sheer luck.  Her follow up response was super interesting to my add and shows that she is fairly particular in her network usage:

So it appears that Debra actively tends to her network a bit more than most, but it’s her network right?  So I’m not sure how long I’ll be conversing with Debra based on the type of tweet I put out there, but I will say she has some very interesting content which is shared with her network.  I clearly glad I randomed into her on twitter, so that’s one of the clear bonuses you find sometimes.  Luck appears to play a part in at least some of this network thing, but so does what each person is looking for in their network.  @BarbaraNixon recently decided that my conversations weren’t that quality or could have been lost responses regardless – your network has a choice and will continue to change.

There are two more adds this week which require a little acknowledgment, first is @Twitter_Tips, always a little suspect of such user names, but her auto-tweet was entertaining and interesting, she provided me links to some Twitter jokes on her blog and the photo below, which was listed as her favorite twitter pic – very cool item to share, so I also added her as @SarahJL, which appears to be her personal account – Two cool adds thanks to Tweetlater, one manual and the other automated.

Two hands at last light by controltheweb.

The other apparent Tweetlater, SocialToo or other automated tool user I wanted to highlight was the one below which immediately got an unfollow since I don’t thing advertsing FREE stuff for online riches is very credible, below is automated response to my automated DM via Tweetlater:

Who’s are these?

Social networks aren’t just good for getting input, keeping in touch, finding lost folks and generally goofing around at work, they also improve productivity and generally save time.   I recently had to pack a bunch of gear in my van, so I actually had to move stuff around.  During the reswizzle of the van, I found a stack of live music that wasn’t mine.  I literally had no idea who’s it could have been since a bunch of people stopped by the tailgate from other cities so it could be any of 15 or 20 folks – some that I had phone numbers for, some I didn’t.  I definitely didn’t have all their emails either, so I used Twitter.

I put a snippet online and within the day the shows were claimed, as show below.  I invested less than 10 seconds, found the owner and got to interact with a couple of folks along the way, not just folks who could have left them, but folks which couldn’t have possibly left them.

(identity protected, but only enough for those that don’t know claire strowd)

Found things to do

The use of Tweetlater and the auto welcome message which was published to my facebook status was the catalyst for a long time friend to invite me to lunch on Friday when he was in town.  Of course his response was completely out of context, but it was just the needed ping for him to engage.  My travel goofed that up so I went and caught up with him in Columbus, GA with Dave and a bunch of Nuns.  It’s been almost 2 years since we caught up in person, so it was a very useful tool since it continues to ping my networks.  I was also able to get an update on the good things he and the organization he works for, the Adrian Dominican Sisters.  Those crazy Nuns in Adrian continue to amaze me with the good things they do, as does Chris.

photo by you.

Pragmatic Networking

The more my network grows, the more it seems to deliver increased value and interesting iterations which enrich my life.  In somewhat of a counter intuitive fashion the larger the network gets the more it provides streamlined communications and develops key relationships. No matter how many networks you use the value is ultimately determined by how you use it.  If you listen, learn and engage you just might find more than you thought.  I think I’ll keep doing this whole social media thing, since with FB’s offer of $500M for Twitter it has to be staying around.

Aside – did you notice a couple of forced brand references?  Well, that’s because I’ve been added to frickin alltop @, towards the bottom. YEAH.  So apparently what was a brand piece a month, needs to be 60% of my writing.  I’m ok with that.  I’ll do a formal notice shortly, but this is clearly something to be thankful for.

Peace, Love, Justice and Activism: An Interview

I had an opportunity to recently connect with one of the most cool folks in my life, Chris Matthias.  Chris is one of those folks who still battles windmills, instills confidence in whomever he meets and ultimately he is out there trying to make a difference.  After hanging out and again seeing his passion to make the world a better place, I thought it was important to share with y’all what he does and hopefully provide you access to a new channel for making a difference you might not have been aware of.

Chris was kind enough to spend the time to work with me and get an interview in place so you can hear in his own voice why it is important to contribute and generally do good things when and where you can.

Q: What is the organization you work for?

I work for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, a congregation of Roman Catholic Sisters who abide in my home town of Adrian, Michigan.

Q: What are the key themes y’all are working for?

Key themes? The office that I work for is called Global Mission, Justice and Peace. Everything that we do is rooted in the vision of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, which is a crossroads of Catholic Social Teaching, the Dominican Charism, and the issues that the sisters are most actively engaged in. We have what we call corporate stances. These are positions that we have taken on certain issues, which become a mandate for my day to day work. Things like the Death Penalty, Nuclear Weapons, and the War in Iraq. We’re against all three by the way.

Q: Peace and Justice, really – how does one get a career in that?

I’ve had a long relationship with the Adrian Dominicans. I attended one of their sponsored institutions for college,  Siena Heights University. As a student, I took a great interest in any action that was happening in the peace and justice arena. In my senior year, I did an internship in the office in which I now work and the sisters and I developed a great rapport.

After that I moved to Boston, once I graduated and continued to work for organizations in the non-profit sector, or human services.  I returned home for a short time, and just before I was going to leave again their was a want add for the office where I’d interned!   Needless to say, I didn’t get on the train.

Q: Where has peace and justice taken you?

Hmmm. Well, I suppose there are several ways to answer that one. First the concrete….

My work in peace and justice has taken me to a lot of demonstrations. Of course in Adrian, but also to demonstrations in Washington DC as well as Fort Benning Georgia to work on closing the School of the Americas/WHINSEC. But it isn’t all demonstrating. There is a lot of coalition building and colaborating with different groups. For example this summer I went to Philidelphia for the Convention for the Common Good, where progressive Catholics gathered to create discuss which issues they were most dedicated to raising during and beyond the election season.

I’ve also gone and did some modest travel – I went to the UN in New York to learn about what the Dominican Family does as an NGO which was a great opportunity.  I also did some international work in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

In the more abstract, my work in peace and justice has taken me deeper into community with the people in my life, both familiar and unfamiliar. I know that sounds a little strange, but this is what I mean: when one’s work is focusing on injustice and inequity, we are forced to take a pretty serious dose of self examination, to make sure that we are challenging ourselves to be more just and more equitable in how we interact with our families, significant others, neighbors, our food supply, the people who produce the goods that we buy, how we spend money, what we consume, what we speak.

Q: Dude, are you a trustafarian or something?  How can you make it all work?

Far from it.  That would certainly make things much easier. The way that I approach it is to live within my means. Which I get right about 85 percent of the time.  I think that there is a big trade off when it comes to money.  Some of my friends make a lot more money than I do, but what they do to get it is nothing that they believe in.   But they get a sizable paycheck and that’s the reward. They eat at nicer restaurants than I do, they wear more expensive shoes, and can take more elaborate vacations.

Don’t get me wrong, I envy that sometimes. But most of the time it’s very easy to just be happy. The poor have their own wealth–each other.  When I lay down at night I fall right to sleep. Living in right relationships = a good life.

Q: How can folks help?

Every issue is a justice issue, and no one can handle them all. One of the things that is continuously referenced in my work circles is an interconnectedness of the issues. Human Trafficking might seem worlds away from making a choice not to but a Hummer (If that’s an option for you) but they both have to do with exercising privilege at the expense of others. So I say that the first step is start where you are.

What are problems facing your community? Go to a meeting, set up an action. You don’t have to have a Live Earth concert to do some good…Do a park clean up. Buy your food at the farmers’ market, turn off the TV and go outside. Play card games instead of video games. The way I see things, peace and justice are about healthy connecting. Injustice is a result of isolation, and selfishness. By starting small, there is a much better chance that you can stick to it, and then get into the bigger issues.

Q: I hear all that, but if there was just 1 thing everyone should do if they can’t actively travel or don’t have the cash to donate, what would that be?

Compost. I know that doesn’t seem like it’s going to save the world from AIDS, nuclear war, or global warming, however, it does mean that we actively recognize that this is a closed system we’re living in here. Recognize your part in it, and do well by it.  Life will sprout up from it.

Q:How can they follow up with you and your organization?

Visit our website @ or check out my blog, The Happy Activist. I don’t have that many readers right now, so if I get a few, maybe I’ll be held more accountable to write more.

I clearly couldn’t have put it as well as he did, thanks for doing this Chris! I’m definitely thankful for the effort he puts in day in and day out, so give him a read or check out what local organizations you may be able to participate in.

Roads, Rail and Infrastructure: The economic opportunity

Not really political these days, but I find myself just a little more interested in politics than I have been for a while with the upcoming presidential election.  I actually haven’t had a sticker on my car since the first Clinton election which surprises me now that I think about it.  The key driver for my acute attention on this election is the economy.  The current market status is just a fun little thing to watch – evaporating value and continuous corrections.

Every good election seems to have an economic issue, wars not so much – kinda odd.  There have been two fairly interesting politically driven economies – Clinton’s internet stock bubble and Bush’s housing crisis.    Both which have helped bring us to where we are, for good or ill.   This $700B bailout has sparked more than a few interesting conversations in which I was a participant or witness over the last couple of weeks, so the economy is front and center for most of us.  I was recently reminded that we already put like $250B into the mortgage market already this year, but with the passing of the most recent allotment, I’m just a little curious of what it means.  A little positive motivation from President Bush to help me keep my head straight:

We have acted boldly to help prevent the crisis on Wall Street from becoming a crisis in communities across our country…our economy continues to face serious challenges.

Effort Free Growth

Each of the previous market growth markets – Internet and Housing, had little true production of goods and no real multi-industry impact.  Seemingly effortless growth, – stocks, real estate – passive financial growth.  If you look at the current optics of the market, it has essentially removed all the intangible/labor free wealth from the system.  The fiction and folklore around the current economy is fun to watch as well – everyone has ideas and suspicions.  Take the debates – everyone had perfectly focused talking points to promote their platforms, as long as they ask the right questions.

Plenty of non-answers or message moves throughout both debate, but one particular question effectively helped both debates go a little off message.  A single question from Jim Leherer on “what would the candidates change” based on the latest economic twist?  This question was also echoed in the VP debate.  You betcha – no one is giving up on anything for the United States voters.  None of candidates answered the question really can’t really blame them though.   That’s a tough thing to answer this close to the election date in such a competitive presidential race.  Effectively the candidates were asked to publicly modify their platforms in real-time on national television.  Nothing good comes from a direct answer, but Biden did admit a need to “slow things down”.  But the other three had no real talking points on this, so they just stayed on message. Energy, Engine, Maverick, Big Business, tax cuts below $250,000…..

Neither of the candidate’s platforms really do much for the economy, they do each have a “gap patch”, which will fix it for a while and allow them to get on with their presidency, but no long term benefit for the country.   The question I have is: “Why not go big and build a bunch of stuff too?”.  If the last couple of hurricanes weren’t enough of a clue – we may need a little Civilian Conservation Corp revival, not just to improve for disasters, but to build an infrastructure for growth.   You could give the initiative some cheesy name like Infrastructure 3.0, that way you can have a cool logo and t-shirts.  Gotta give some money to the apparel industry along the way, a single industry growth model doesn’t work.   Perhaps a plan which included the delivery of long term reusable/durable assets which make the nation’s infrastructure sounder and provides for the distribution of funds across economic strata and geographic boundaries. Cross-cutting economics might be one way to look at this.

From Productivity to Production

A geographic based development effort to optimize multi-industry growth and spawn regional economic growth through local/state projects.   Burgeoning economies, sustaining economies – ultimately build things.    Think the development of the TVA via the new deal.   The previous investment in infrastructure post depression was focused to enable the US to fully transcend an agrarian economy and to bridge the economy.  Perhaps the US now needs a new infrastructure that better supports the current information based economy which is in transition.  Perhaps we could put some folks to work building roads and enhancing the current high tech infrastructure for the future growth of our tertiary economy.

I’m not talking about a bridge to nowhere, but maybe some new bridges.  Infrastructure is on at least one candidates mind, Obama asserted that high speed internet infrastructure was important for the populous, but so are roads, rail and the environment.  A set of initiatives which focus on in country investment, energy conservation and better access might be what we need.

A new growth grid which helps optimize transportation and encourages investment in new places, local places could provide a significant improvement to the economy overall.  Basically if we could build an upgraded grid of interstate roads, rail, wireless, and internet bandwidth rural and urban areas alike would benefit.   The system would have improved routing based on current population distributions, mass transit extensions would ultimately be funded by states/private sector would provide for basic sustainability.  A more sustainable impact on the environment and a sustainable economy, for say 15-25 years.   What the US needs now is a little eminent domain, steel production and construction.

I ain’t no Economist, but…

When you hear the word depression, crisis and meltdown – something’s just a little off with the current model.  We might want to find a way to lessen the consumption, limit emissions and improve distribution. The current infrastructure and capacity was optimized for fulfilling demand as forecasted in let’s say the 50’s or 60’s and things have changed a little.

A Potential Opportunity

So there are probably 4 things which could be laid out by who ever wins which could significantly improve the economic balance of the our free market economy.  Balance between the public and private sector is the key, so the government funds it, private sector builds, localities monitor and maintain, and everyone benefits.

Funding: The funding of the activity will need to come from something, so it’s imports and export taxes/tariffs, it’s ok America is on sale and if you really need a new coach bag, you will pay the additional 4-7%.  The Euro and Pound have all kinds of room to absorb the price, as does nearly every other currency.   Other trickle down funding opportunities:

  • The incremental income tax driven by lower unemployment
  • Small business growth in new grid cross road communities
  • More government employees will be needed to support the infrastructure (police, road commission, telco, maintenance)
  • New local development to drive local taxes
  • Project bubbles for in localities on use and sales tax.

Hopefully this redistribution of tax dollars into the economy will help Hockey mom’s and hard workin American’s everywhere.  We can dream….

The Road System

We certainly do have enough roads, but most need a bunch of work and we might be able to improve commutes, increase safety and provide for an improved transportation systems for goods delivery and ultimately lessening the overall impact to local and national environs, plus you get some new bridges and new places for the tertiary economy to develop.  Who knows, maybe the next generation of bridge graffiti will be cooler to look at while your taking the train in an hour from the city, rather than commuting 12 miles in an hour.  But if you have to drive, maybe you can go 12 miles in say 20 minutes – that might be nice.


Well.. we certainly aren’t a compact set of nations like Europe which makes it a good deal easier to develop a strategic local and extended rail system, but the movement of goods, vacationers and business people via rail could accelerate extended industries like metals and aerospace while improving the environment.  No really aerospace, Boeing makes train fuselages, so this isn’t just about construction workers, engineers make out too with this plan. Putting our money here is definitely a long strategy for the movement of people, but it would provide states the opportunity to build into a new modern infrastructure for the movement of goods.  New distribution centers could develop and helping establish new growth areas economically, which don’t have the opportunity now.   Along with roads, this could help move folks and industry to less dense areas, a non-obvious eco-friendly side effect of rail and new crossroads.

Internet and Wireless

So hows that new iPhone 3G working for you?  Ok for some, not ok for others, we are a little light on coverage for the cool stuff.   You could develop as part of the road and rail activities big crazy pipes which run parallel and an extend the next generation wireless network which could further distribute IP connectivity and support for the next wave in commerce. You could also run some new energy delivery through the same network while were at it, perhaps a wind farm or two along the way.

Dream big, don’t just fix it

Wow – that’s gonna cost a lot and take a bunch of time, more than most president’s got, but the results would be immediate as folks ramp up the staff to accommodate so it just might work.  You probably also noticed that a couple of points of tax/tariff will work, but it could be enough of a hit to move some jobs back to the US, which based on fuel prices alone appears to be already happening.  You betcha we gotta do something to make sure it’s funded appropriately.  😉

So what would a maverick do?  Lease the rail?  So you could subsidize the effort by letting folks bid on say the 6 new government internet backbones, which parallel to the new train and interstate road system.   Heck – it’s all for rent!  I have no idea if the strategic multipurpose development on single set of eminent domain swaths can re-distribute population, optimize distribution models, improve the environment and provide bottom up economic growth, but you have to dream big, which I hope the next president does when elected. It’s not like I’m a economist or even that political, but this seems like a big election for some reason.  Make sure you vote.