I gave a presentation at Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto back in June, 2010. I’ve already written a post that explains my sides on China, but I still need to create one for Mexico. So stay posted! In the meantime, the abstract is below and here’s the slideshow.
Values in technology design and use: ethnography’s contribution
As a sociologist, I’ve been trained to ask macro questions about underlying social conditions. While illuminating for society at large, sociological findings do not always readily appear to be relevant for the technology industry and/or people outside of academia. As an ethnographer, I’ve been trained to ask more grounded questions about the everyday lives of people and how they experience underlying social conditions. Ethnographical insights can offer more tangible, immediate, and actionable analysis. As such, companies have started incorporating ethnographic research into their strategy, product design, and marketing.
My talk today is about how I came into my research at Nokia wanting to answer the question: how can ethnographers contribute to the product design process of a mobile device? Ethnographically grounded research for technology use is a method that aims to reveal users’ values, beliefs, and ideas. Nokia was one of the first mobile companies to concertedly hire ethnographers as part of its design process,
In the mid to late nineties, Nokia changed the mobile industry forever by creating affordable, user friendly phones. More than a decade later, the hardware mobile phone market is nearing saturation. With Nokia transitioning from a company that produces hardware to software, how can ethnographically driven research provide strategic insights for this shift?
I start off the presentation by reviewing the following projects I worked on while at Nokia.
1.) Farmville: (w. Liz Bales, Jofish Kaye): We did some preliminary surveying to gain insight into the most popular facebook game. I discuss my interest in how games like Farmville support less-meangingful social ties. I wrote a blog post about this: Playing FarmVille?: Casual Games maintaining Less-Meaningful Ties on Facebook
2) Inventive Leisure Practices (Jofish Kaye): I interviewed local hackers to better understand how they form communities around their practice. We see leisurely hacking communities as critical, yet understudied sites of innovation.
3.) If time permits, towards the end of my presentation I will also discuss a third project, The If I Can Dream House. (w/ Janet Go, Liz Bales) The If I Can Dream House is the first “post-reality entertainment” production. As the show is only available online through a 24/7, 60+ camera live stream and weekly Hulu releases, we wanted to better understand how audiences connect with this new form of interactive media.
In the second half of my talk, I discuss how working at Nokia these past three months have initiated a critical shift in my research practices from being an ethnographer in the clouds to an ethnographer on the ground.
I provide two examples of how I’ve reframed my research in terms of how values influence technology design and use.
1.) The first case is from my ongoing fieldwork in Mexico where I have spent over three years in a rural, migrant-sending village. I share my analysis on how my research on Mexican migration and migrants’ use of technologies in Mexico and in the US had led me to believe that Nokia already has an American market with a strong brand connection with unfulfilled technology needs.
2.) The second case is my ongoing dissertation work in China where I discuss how my future fieldwork will include four central themes: gaming and leisure, value clashes, social connections, and communication. I will also be interviewing Chinese entrepreneurs of failed copy-cat social networking technologies. Here’s the post that explains in greater detail my slides about social connections in China: Privacy and The Anonymous user in China: Importance of understanding multiple cultural orientations towards guanxi/social connections