Why I care what you had for lunch

There is an excellent article, I’m So Totally, Digitally, Close To You, about ambient intimacy in the New York Times Magazine this weekend, and I’m honoured to have been able to contribute a few words via a fascinating chat with the author, Clive Thompson. (This is the second time I’ve gotten my name mentioned in the NYT can you believe! but this is the first time they’ve spelt it correctly).

Unsurprisingly, the comments to this article are scattered with the standard ‘who cares what you had for lunch’, ‘you guys are way too into yourselves’ and ‘you don’t pay enough attention to real life’ type responses. All of which, in their own way, are quite understandable and some of them (particularly the ‘you don’t pay proper attention to your real life’ can often be all too true).

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about why I think these ‘lunch’ type tweets are important. I’ve decided there are at least three reasons why I care what you had for lunch.

They are:

  1. I see your Tweet in my Twitter stream and I think of you. It keeps you present in my life. I like that.
  2. I feel like I’m more present in your life because I know more about the small details – like what you had for lunch – that I wouldn’t know if you didn’t share it with me. It makes me feel closer to you.
  3. I learn more about you (if I didn’t know you well before we started trading Tweets). Perhaps I learn that you’re a vegetarian, or I learn which restaurants are your favourites. I get to know you more.

Twitter means that I stay in a constant state of connectedness with you, in a constant handshake, constantly doing small talk… and this is actually incredibly valuable to me for reasons that go *way* beyond touchy feely.

How so?

Well, I am in the fortunate situation of being connected to quite a few very clever people on Twitter, and by staying in this perpetual handshake with them, it means that when I *need* something from them, I’m able to put out the question without having to do that small talk dance that we usually need to do.

You know when you need to ask for a favour? First you need to identify the right person to ask, then contact them, do some polite small talk and catching up, then finally, to the favour, which they may or may not be able to help you with.

Compare to Twitter – I have a question/problem I need solved – I put it out to my Twitter network, and – often within moments – I have answers, problems solved.

Similarly, I’ll answer questions and hopefully help solve problems for others as well.

Despite the fact that I’m listening (reading, really) what you and many others had for lunch, Twitter is still an incredibly efficient way to problem solve, it’s a remarkably rapid and rich resource. Far beyond anything I’ve experienced in the past. For example, as a freelancer, Twitter is now my IT help desk, and I’ve never had one better.

I do love the touchy feely ‘friendship’ side of Twitter – the ‘intimacy’ aspect is very valuable to me (although I do also love seeing my friends in real life whenever it is possible!), but the thing that continues to make my jaw drop with Twitter is the access that I have to distributed expertise and opinion. I use it regularly in my personal and professional life now and hope never to be without it.

Meanwhile. I’m off to have dinner. We’re having pizza tonight ;)

Try Google Docs for survey or recruitment forms

Just a quick note to recommended using Google Docs ‘forms’ as a free tool to manage surveys and recruitment. (Choose New, then Form).

We recently wanted to invite people to participate in user research for the drupal.org redesign project – as a part of this we had a short screener we wanted to run people through so that we can target research appropriately in the coming months (and also get some interesting stats – more on that soon!).

Initially I was planning to use Ethnio, as it is purpose built for this, looks pretty and has a kind of nice DHTML ‘not-popup’. I couldn’t get it working though, so then turned to the ever trusty Survey Monkey, but… eh, so ugly! At the last minute I thought of Google Docs and that’s where we stayed.

Super easy to set up, and a nice clean looking interface out of the box, plus no worries being charged for having too many responses. Easy peasy.

We have since almost 900 responses in a just few days and it seems to have held up nicely.

So, if you are looking for a nice tool to use as a screener or a questionnaire and you’re not too fussed about customising the look and feel, I’d heartily recommend Google Docs.

Disclaimer, disclaimer etc. I’m sure Ethnio works beautifully for lots of people. I tried to get it working for several days without luck and by the time support got back to me, we had hundreds of survey responses to the Google version. I’m also sure you can make Survey Monkey look grand, but I don’t know how and didn’t want to spend the time finding out.

Contemplating Open Source UX

There are many reasons why I am tremendously excited about being involved in the redesign project for Drupal.org, not the least of which is that – for a change – I’m actually allowed to talk to you all about the project as we go. Afterall, it’s an open source project – we don’t care so much for confidentiality and Intellectual Property, what we care about here is being open and being part of the community.

Exciting yes? but also somewhat terrifying! What an amazing (and enormous!) community to try to become a part of! As Mark said in our keynote at Drupalcon – it feels like being the new kid at school – will we make friends?!  But one of the things I’m really thinking hard about is how to harness their amazingness in the best way for this project?

Back in the olden days I was a project manager, so I have a great appreciation for an approach that works to limit the amount of feedback that you take into a project – how much, how often etc. Trying to get ‘consolidated’ feedback has traditionally been the goal, so that we can move through the design process as efficiently and calmly as possible.

As a part of our plan we have already factored in ‘community feedback’ to the iterations of the prototype that we’ll be releasing from very early in the design lifecycle – the community *will* be involved in this project, albeit in a somewhat structured way.

But, against all of my project management instincts, I am itching to get as much community involvement in this project as I possibly can! To encourage the entire community to think about things like experience strategies, and information architecture and  user centred design.

I am tempted to set up a Twitter group (@drupalredesign perhaps) where we can all tweet little brainbursts we have about the redesign. To set up a Flickr group where we can all post annotated screenshots of stuff we like, stuff that’s broken. To blog about half finished ideas I’m having about strategies and solutions we’re working on.

This is all ridiculously dangerous from a expectation management perspective – there is no way on earth that we could make any assurances about taking everything into consideration, answering every suggestion or issue raised, solving all of the problems…. (don’t let me start coining a project management buzzword that involves ambiance!)

And yet… it’s also ridiculously exciting.

Already, from blogging about the gaming / karma issue, I’m now talking to someone out in Drupal land who is already working on a module we might be able to use. I wonder whether we would have made that connection otherwise.

Eh. I almost feel as though it is inevitable. We have to open up completely, and just see what happens.

I’m almost certain some expectation management/ community disasters will ensue, but hopefully also some amazingness. I’m sure you’ll hear all about it as we go!

What say you? Am I having a moment of insanity? Or shall we open the floodgates and see what happens?