The kids are the future.

The kids are the future. I’m in Belgium for a few weeks and I’ve noticed some things about the kids:

SMS (instant messages over your mobile) is still really in. At a recent UPA meet I heard about some research in the UK that showed girls are likely to initiate first contact with a boy they fancy through SMS rather than in person. I guess it’s nothing else than an advanced note – the role of note-pasing in girls social lifes has been well documented. There are a lot of really interesting aspects to think about here: changing roles, technology influencing the social sphere, …

I heard the expression “sjatlief” for the first time, which I understand is a common term for a boyfriend you met through chatting, and is somehow different from a real boyfriend.

Maybe chatting, SMS and all those technologies are in a way very empowering for young girls? They use them in ways that are good for them. That ties in with the view of the active consumer, who makes cultural products his own, instead of just passively being influenced by, say, american TV programs.

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Ethnography and contextual design: Ha!

It’s funny how disciplines often are still separate and yet struggle with the same problems.

Contectual design is a fairly famous method for designing software that takes a very ethnographic approach. One of the problems they have is to communicate their findings to the team. The data they gather (like ethographers) is very rich, very detailed.

A spec of course can only communicate a limited amount of information. So what they do is they have group sessions where they work through the data, and like that get everyone familiar with it.

One of the things ethnographers struggle with is exactly the same: how to communicate their results. Ethnography is one of those academic disciplines that has a whole history behind it, and people tend to get stuck in that history.
They tend to believe that writing a text in a similar way the early anthropologists wrote their texts is the way to go. Ha! Ethnographers do recognise the problem, but most still seem to stick to gathering and analysing data, and then writing it up in a fairly classical manner.

To me it seems that the contextual design crowd has solved the communication problem a lot better. Sharing data with the whole team, having data analysis sessions, so the whole team gets soaked in data, and they all can go home and make decisions based on a real understanding of the subtleties of what’s going on.

During the last few years, I’ve felt the limitations of (my) writing specs to communicate with a team. Sure, specs are nessecary and useful, but on their own they’re just not enough. That’s one of the reasons why working together with people who live at the other side of the world can be hard.

Anyways, I’ll shut up now.

Enjoyment, efficiency, satisfaction and motivation.

I’m leaving the country and I had this huge pile of change to get rid of, so I asked the bank and they said: “If you count it yourself and put it in little bags we accept it.”

Efficiency: I started counting this huge pile of change with a fairly efficient method: I went through it and put every coin in a separate pile, which I would count later.

This was hugely frustrating.

Enjoyment: Then I found myself picking out certain types of coins, and counting them and putting them in the bags at the same time. This strategy takes more time because you have to shift through all the coins like four times. However, for some reason it was a lot more satisfying.

This was almost enjoyable.

Point being: task completion time and measures like that are not the only measurements that matter. Sometimes a slower interface is better if it provides more motivation (feedback, enjoyment), which counts for a lot. If I’m not motivated, I’ll chat to my co-workers, kill time on the web, and so on, and in the end it will take me longer and there will be more errors.

DSVR hosting

I moved to DSVR hosting about two months ago, so I could have my own (virtual) server to play around with. PHP, mySQL, JAVA servlets, mod_rewrite, complete control ove your apache httpd.conf file and all other config files, all the usual goodies you want. It’s £300 (about US$ 450) a year. I pay about £10 a month for extra bandwidth, but that’s the price of popularity, you get 3 gigs a month included. I’m on the virtual server 300 package.

I have complete access to my own server, loads of domain names, I can play around all I want and, and this is the killer, their tech support is really good.

£300 a year, great tech support.

Why this plug? I’m just impressed. Today one of their tech guys helped me fix what was a coding problem of mine, which was producing problems for their server (basically my script was writing about 20 files a minute to the server, it wasn’t a pretty sight.)

So if you have more than just a small personal site to host, and need to play around with server side stuff a lot, check them out. They’re good.