Magazine article Information Outlook

Observing Technology Changes in the Real World: This Past Year Has Been a Banner Year for Observing Some Seismic Shifts in Our Users' Context, Technologies and Adoption Phase

Magazine article Information Outlook

Observing Technology Changes in the Real World: This Past Year Has Been a Banner Year for Observing Some Seismic Shifts in Our Users' Context, Technologies and Adoption Phase

Article excerpt

I've long been an advocate of just observing human behavior in the real world and playing with technologies in the consumer space as a way of keeping up, understanding change and sensing the future. People often just nod, but sometimes they ask, "How?" So, I thought I'd devote this month's column to a few short examples of how and where to watch user behavior.

This past year has been a banner year for observing some seismic shifts in our users' context, technologies and adoption phase. I believe that when stuff is reaching the general public's consciousness, we're obliged to take notice. I also think we can argue that many special librarians serve a specific segment of the marketplace--wealthier, computer literate, employed, better educated, etc.--that is more likely to adopt changes. So that's who we're watching--everyone, but especially our target users.

So let's do some quick highlights of the what, where, how and why. (The when is simply anytime!)

What?

A few events this year have provided us with some unique observation and conversation moments. For example:

* The 2008 Beijing Olympics. Were you not amazed by the real time streaming media at these games, event by event? According to some measurements, Yahoo beat NBC and MSNBC in audience. Incredible! So, what does that tell us about the penetration of Web video and streaming into the marketplace?

* eBooks from Amazon et al. Is this the tipping point year? Probably not, but it's getting close. How do they load their books? What titles? Have they tried newsfeeds? Anything work related yet?

* The Old iPhone and New G3 iPhone. We got gifted with the launch of the G3 iPhone, and I don't think sliced bread got this much word of mouth! Now we have the first Android phone based on Google's Open Handset Alliance. Believe me, this is a crossing-the-chasm level shift for North America. So ask folks you see, what downloads are on their phone? Music? Ringtones? Check out the Apple download center and see what's there.

* The U.S. 2008 election. This election is not just engaging (and I can't even vote in it!) but it's also fascinating from a technology point of view. When the history books are written, it's a sure bet that the role new technology played will be identified as a major factor in the outcome. I've signed on to services from both presidential candidates to follow how they use the tools for communication, fundraising, emergency spin, etc. It's fascinating.

* The recent Facebook and MySpace changes. In the past few months we've seen major design changes at the big social networking sites. You've seen what changed on your Facebook presence. Check out your "friends." What have they downloaded? What apps are interesting to them? Check out your wall and see alerts about what's new and hot. Observing human behavior doesn't always have to be in person!

* iPod--What's on your iPod? Share your songs and artists, too. It's only intrusive if you get too insistent. What are they using--their own CDs, LimeWire, iTunes, the public library? Just music or audiobooks, MTV, CNN, movies or TV shows, too? Are they original rippers from the Napster era, when it was an underground activity, or just when did they make the switch from disc? What do their kids/parents use?

Where?

Anywhere, really! I watch people in grocery stores as they are taking pictures of food boxes, surfing competitor prices on their iPhone, or texting the recipe to the kids and telling them to turn the oven on ("Now! …

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