Posts Tagged ‘user experience’

Tweet-a-Prisoner: Social Media and Prisoners

A friend of mine called Mark Alexander is in prison, wrongly convicted of murdering his father. I know Mark from my IBM days, which means our mutual friends include the wonderful Andy Stanford-Clark and Matt Whitehead.

He’s been in prison for quite some months (good lord, they went fast :/ ), and we’ve primarily been staying in touch via a service called Email a Prisoner. You type your letter into an online form, pay 30p and hit ‘send’. It gets printed in the prison in question, popped into an envelope and delivered to the prisoner, who of course can reply by snail mail.

(Andy and I have been discussing related issues of latency — for  example, hearing bad news by phone one day and receiving a happy letter from before that news the next. I believe he may write about this shortly.)

Email A Prisoner is a nice service, and has been complemented by us visiting Mark, and by phone calls between Mark and Andy (in which Andy often ends up relaying greetings!). Still, these communication mechanisms are a world away from the fast-paced world of social media, even if Email A Prisoner does make things easier: as an expat living in the Netherlands, I have much more contact with my online British friends than the offline ones.

So I was absolutely delighted when Andy and Matt implemented Tweet A Prisoner! As you might imagine, it rather does what it says on the tin — Mark has a Twitter account (tap_MA), and with a bit of technological and social jiggery-pokery is able to update it from prison. Andy’s written an excellent explanation of how the system works.

I wanted to share a few words about the relevance of this to my EngD, where I focused on the redesign of digital experiences for non-digital contexts. As Andy observes in his write-up, in this case we were forced to use non-digital media for parts of the system, yet unless you’re Matt (i.e. the ‘social component’ of the system — the person who is so kind as to close the loop and upload tweets written by Mark) that’s effectively invisible. If I didn’t know Mark’s situation (or read the content of his posts!), I could easily assume he just happens not to log into Twitter on a daily basis.

I’ve yet to chat with Mark about his personal point of view, but this certainly gives him a new way to interact with a bunch of people: he can stay in touch with friends and ex-colleagues, and share his experiences more widely. I’m intrigued as to how his visceral experience of Twitter is changed by this rather unusual set-up.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a dearth of work on prisoner engagement and social media, but I wonder if this isn’t a topic for conversation: social media can help prisoners reconnect with healthier environments. Would that now have an impact in areas such as mental health and rates of recidivism?

On a personal note, I was absolutely thrilled when I saw the first set of Mark’s tweets. Thank you Andy and Matt!


Digital.Humanities@Oxford Summer School 2011

After visiting Dave de Roure for the afternoon yesterday, I found myself with the chance to attend the final talk of the day at the Digital Humanities Summer School. Ray and Lynne Siemens were speaking on “The Uneasy Pursuit of the Future of the Book” and “Building and Maintaining a Team Approach in a Rapidly-Advancing Area of Research and Development”.

I found Ray’s talk a nice alternative perspective on how we (do not) understand the properties of books as traditional artefacts, let alone electronic books or iPads and similar. I googled the speakers to try and see whether they’ve taken any work to the Hypertext conference as yet, but they have not: perhaps this is some fresh digital humanities blood to recruit 🙂

Ray also asked some very ‘Web Science’ questions, including a pondering about measuring the impact of the web is on how we read and experience information. I asked how he’d document the features of textual forms: he spoke about the ‘architecture’ of the book, and the meaning of aspects such as indexes and page numbers… lots of interesting subjective things going on here.

Meanwhile, Lynne spoke about mechanisms to conduct multidisciplinary work. Like Dave, for me the main takeaway was “Wow, I’m really privileged that such work is a relatively normal affair to me” — it was a good reminder that such work is not necessarily everyday, and that approaches to it are not obvious to everyone.

WebSci’11 videos online

The good organisers of WebSci’11 recorded the talks, which are now available online. ( is new to me: quite a slick site.)

My talk on Teasing Apart with Meta Analysis, an approach for understanding user experiences online, is here. Meanwhile, this past post describes the gist of it, and links to the paper and slides.

Enric Plaza at the WebSci summer school

The talk was entitled ‘The Web of Human Experience’: I spent a lot of my doctorate looking at User Experience issues, so this was always going to interest me 🙂

Enric was interested in the reuse of other people’s experiences in the context of ‘case-based reasoning’ (learning from experience). Examples of relevant experiences include: a restaurant review; a music playlist; a ‘how to’ guide. The web is a good platform for sharing this kind of content, of course, but he felt that despite the a wealth of experience online, it isn’t modelled explicitly on the web. Additionally, we don’t necessarily understand how people browse, filter and use results.

Queries are, of course, deeply context-dependent: the answer to the question “Which are Barcelona’s airports?” depends on your purpose and community of practice — do you want to know about the tiny budget airport that’s miles out of town?

Similarly, queries such as “Which hotels in London have a room on these dates?” need different results depending on context: a business traveller is probably interested in the availability of wifi, while a family planning their vacation may be more interested in proximity to attractions and friendliness of staff. (I was a little surprised he didn’t touch on software agents as a possible approach here.)

He also spoke about implicit knowledge, which caught my attention as it links with my previous work. I think his meaning was different to my own, though: I  believe that by ‘implicit knowledge’ he meant knowledge embedded within a community, knowledge that only becomes explicit when multiple people share their indvidual insights.

So, if people constantly trawl the web in search of people’s experiences solving given problems, how can we represent, organise and reuse such content? I don’t think this is a universal problem: for instance, sites such as Tripadvisor provide pretty decent structures as a starting point when planning one’s travels. On the other hand, there really is a lot of unstructured information out there… maybe I need a software agent after all.

Teasing Apart with Meta Analysis

I’m presenting Teasing Apart with Meta Analysis (TAMA) at WebSci’11 today: this post is a very brief summary, plus links to further information.

In a nutshell, TAMA is a method for understanding user experiences. It grew from Teasing Apart, Piecing Together (TAPT), a method I built during my EngD. TAPT is about analysis and then redesign of experiences across contexts: for example, moving from traditional to mobile web, or from physical to digital spaces. The evidence showed that the first phase of TAPT — Teasing Apart — is a very strong way to elicit information on people’s subjective experiences, particularly emotional and social aspects. As well as yielding rich data, it also turned out to be rapid to apply.

This led to the question: can we use the Teasing Apart phase of TAPT for analysis in its own right, rather than analysis leading towards redesign?

Some meta analysis materials

Some meta analysis materials

The answer is yes. In my WebSci paper I report on the method and results of a case study conducted last year: we ran two focus groups with users of two geosocial networks (Gowalla and geocaching).

Quick summary: just as with TAPT, using Teasing Apart in TAMA yields rich and relevant data on user experiences, and is quick to apply (lending itself to repeated use — good for corroborating results). It’s a flexible tool: it has been used with focus groups, directly by researchers, and by individual anonymous participants. The meta analysis approach is likewise flexible.

Interested in reading more? Here are a few links:

This post was about the TAMA method and not the results of the case study, which examined experiences with geosocial networks. I’ll be presenting those results at this year’s MobileHCI conference, in the Please Enjoy workshop on playful interactions. I shall blog it at the time of that conference, but if you’re intrigued to know more beforehand, that paper is also online!