Web futures: consumer
behaviours and business
Leeds, 28th April 2009
So today I’m sketching out a few things that are going to be critical in designing products for
consumers and developing businesses in a networked, web world.
I’m going to talk for about 40 mins... ﬁrstly around consumers and trends we’ve identiﬁed
that we believe are signiﬁcant and ways in which people are creating services and products to
meets those trends. Then I’m going to talk about just three signiﬁcant business trends
before ending on ways to think about building businesses that live in a networked world.
I’m James Boardwell and I principally do social research - research and analysis on what
people do and why. I do this to help design better things. Having been a lecturer and then a
producer and research manager at the BBC (looking at Future Media) I now work at...
Rattle, where I’m one of a team of only four. Rattle is a specialist agency, researching and
designing and building around the “social web”.
Examples of what we do include social web apps, like this ‘alpha’ service for BBC News using
twitter to deliver a breaking news service that people can follow in the spaces where they
Or this service for the Science Museum Outreach team that enables teams of schools around
the country to communicate about the projects they are working on.
We also build things where we are the clients. This is Folksy (folksy.com) the UK’s biggest
handmade / craft / design marketplace. Launched in summer 2008 it has had over 30, 000
items listed by over 5, 000 sellers. There’s an interesting backstory to why we did this built
around some consumer research... I’ll talk about that later if I have time.
Muddy is another service we have built, again, built on research we did that identiﬁed a
‘need’. Muddy indexes and categorises content, providing structure, so you can create better
navigation / user experience and also things like Topic Pages around people, places, events.
It launches as a full product next week. The original client was the BBC.
All our work starts from research. Mostly is starts from research with people, but not
We don’t design for this:
This is the broadcast model - one to many. This is TV. We are not native to this world.
We design for this:
This is the network model, this is the web. And whilst it may not look very special it’s really,
really quite profound. We are native to this.
I want to start by looking at people, consumers, and the things that they do in the hope that
some of these things will create some synaptic trigger relevant to your business and what you
The 3c consumer was coined by Trendwatching (trendwatching.com) a few years ago. Look it
up, it’s a neat concept and one which we look to when designing services.
Fundamentally it’s about the desire for consumers now to be connected (to you, other people,
the concept), creative (allow them to have some input and tailor things how they want to) and
do this with other people, as part of a community, however loosely deﬁned.
You can see the 3c consumer everywhere now. This is just one random example of how the
3c consumer is implicated in on the ground policy initiatives, in this case helping to identify
problems that the council can ﬁx (because the council don’t have eyes in the backs of their
head but they have an active audience of citizens who everyday inhabit the territory that the
council is tasked with maintaining. So, why not help them to help you?
This is a more ‘consumer’ example. The Walkers Favourite campaign has been a remarkable
success and succeeded in tapping into the 3c consumer Pysche because the call-to-action is
simple, they didn’t try and impose a rigid structure to the campaign, rather they let people
‘self-organise’ around it and they did...
Albeit loosely. But those loose bits add up to something quite signiﬁcant. Walkers is now all
over the web, in the places where their consumers are. And their consumers feel INVOLVED
and CONNECTED to Walkers now because the competition is genuine, they’re not treating
their audience as simpletons, but as a team of helpers.
This youtube clip is great. Look up gamesdojo who is one of many giving a critical review of
each new ﬂavour and uploading it to Youtube. He went to the eort to upload it to youtube
and share it! This guy is a PASSIONATE USER. He’s the Man.
Personalisation / Privacy
Paying for stuff
I like the 3c concept. I want my own. So I made one for today. The “3p consumer”.
We’re familiar with personalisation, it’s all around us. Increasingly your products and
services are going to have to reﬂect the kind of personalisation, the kind of EXPRESSION that
the web has shown people want.
Platforms may be generic but the way you express yourself on the web is ﬂuid, malleable, the
same as your identity. Your ipod may remain the same (for a year or so) but the tunes don’t.
Ditto the future of your product or service.
Moo (moo.com) have built a service on Personalisation. What they do isn’t rocket science,
they print stu. The clever bit comes in allowing people access to ways to personalise what
they print. That’s clever and that’s mainly achieved through teaming up with services that
With personlisation comes issues of privacy. Expression involves sharing and sharing
involves letting go. How you manage this will be critical. I’m not going to dwell on this for
now but sufice to say it’s not just a legal issue, it’s how you interface with your consumers
how you allow them to manage their privacy so that they feel in CONTROL. You only have to
see how Facebook have mishandled this to see how it can potentially wreck a business
This is really important and the “P” I’m going to concentrate on. Managing how others see
you online matters. Presencing is about ‘locating’ in the broadest sense, it’s about locating
you as an individual, your identity through comments you might make on a blog or on instant
messenger and it’s also increasingly about locating you on maps, representing your
geographical activity (many symbian / smartphones now use triangulation and GPS to locate
you and services like Google now provide ways for you to expose this data to a network of
What’s particularly interesting about presencing is our desire to do it. How your audience
and how your business presences itself is going to be really important in how you engage
with your market as it’s a more immediate and personal form of engagement than say
posters or TV or banner ads.
Twitter is one of the pre-eminent forms through which our expression of presencing takes
shape. Twitter is mundane, often banal and BECAUSE of that it’s REALLY FUCKING POWERFUL.
People have dismissed it for being dull, a vanity / solipsistic medium but that misses the
point. It’s a critical form of expression because it is so very HERE AND NOW.
Presencing humans is interesting but presencing non-humans (objects, products, things) is
just as important. The activity of things will be increasingly important to telling stories about
your business and your products (and in fact could become part of the service you oer, a
central part of your brand).
This is a screengrab from a project that a wonderful company called Stamen did called Cab
It tracked taxi’s in NYC and o the back of that told stories, found relevant touchpoints into
Hardware + Data + Web
= Personal Informatics
This stu is an example of personal informatics... data which tells stories. And as I’ve alluded
to it doesn’t have to be about people...
It’s about everything around us. The city is like a big computer. Each object is connected.
Some are more connected than others. Some have voices which we can hear through wiring
them up to the www. This is botnaicals. It’s a plant which tweets when it needs watering.
Why? Partly because it can. Partly because it helps to know when we should water it. Partly
because on aggregate these things start to say things about us, the world. Imagine if your
garden was hooked up like this, if it could say what needed attention, when dierent htings
were growing, what was in bloom, what was dying. Your garden would live not just in (my
case) a suburb of Shefield but would be connected to the wider world. I could see which
same plants were blooming elsewhere I could be a better gardener, but the real beneﬁt would
just be to hear my garden talking. HELLO GARDEN.
e.g. BIG things
It’s not just plants. Tom Taylor allowed Tower Bridge to be better connected and gave it a
voice we cold hear. Not it tells anyone who wants to know wherever they are in the world,
what it’s doing.
Why? Because it can, because commuters like to know (over 1, 300 follow tower bridge),
because the stories it tells are small but they are also BIG, they have signiﬁcance because it’s
the Tower Bridge, it’s key node for London.
Making it useful
Tom Taylor (again) likes bringing dead things to life. Here he does this by telling you what of
the things above are near you, when you put a postcode or address in the website (or your
phone) and it maps these. It’s bloody handy. And whilst ‘cats’ may not be a key thing to be
near, it’s actually kind of nice to know they’re there.
This is the future. You can see it now.
Taking digital out into the
And another way to bring dead things to life is through that old (dead) media of print. Tom’s
colleague Russell (see the reallyinterestinggroup.com) had the idea to put the things he found
on the web his friends had written into a newspaper. Because he likes reading newspapers.
They have value and an ‘aordance’ that means in some contexts (on the bus, tube, loo) they
are far more useful than a screen. And there is ‘social currency’ in seeing your stu in print
and seeing it on the kitchen table.. you reach new audiences.
This is a really well crafted newspaper btw. And the logistical work that goes into it is non-
trivial. They’re developing this further and taking breathing new life into the internet (and
potentially giving newspaper printers a lease of life).
Paying for stuff
What I’ve hopefully sketched out, above are “new contexts”, new ways that people are
engaging with things. And people will pay for these things.
This may come as a shock. Monetising the internet is not something many people have
managed to do, despite the hype. But people are paying for SERVICES and not (usually)
CONTENT. They’re paying for things that provide a service for a SPECIFIC NEED / CONTEXT.
This is hugely important. Niche things PAY. I’ll say more about this later.
The platform that is critical for leveraging new contexts is of course The Mobile.
1. web never had a built in micro-payments system, mobiles do.
2. mobiles are context aware and we pay for things in the right context... at a screen our
need states are limited (e.g. work, porn!)
design for a
I just want to end this section by pointing to an obvious point really which is:
DESIGN YOUR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES TO FIT NEEDS AND DESIGN THEM TO BE SHARED. To
do this you need to think more critically about WHO you are trying to engage....
Think about different use
Research tends to think of people in terms of attitudinal ‘types’, “tribes”. This is useful.
However, equally as important is looking at the activity of engagement (peer group,
publishing, performative, private etc.).
This diagram is just one way to think through developing (social, web) services and
campaigns. Here people are seen in terms of the level of engagement. Not all people will
engage and it’s how you identify your passionate users and their needs and create feedback
loops from these users back out to everyone else that is crucial.
The implication is that campaigns, services, products are now in perpetual “beta”, they are
continually evolving the engagement with the audience. No more the big TV ad and then the
monitoring of that campaign for ‘eectiveness’. You’re now “always on”. ;)
We’ve got a heap of other “engagement models” and ways to think about audiences
I’m just going to mention three trends which we come across a lot and which we believe are
having a huge impact on business, particularly B2C.
The Long Tail. You’ll have heard of this and if you haven’t pls see:
http://thelongtail.com and the associated book
The crux is that while once business depended on the BIG sellers, the ‘head’ of the power
curve, now with the web we can sell everything as we don;t need expensive high street
stores. Our inventory is potentially unlimited (for e.g. Amazon, play.com). The “transactional
cost” of selling an ‘unpopular’ item is the same as a popular item. But the margins on
unpopular items can be far far higher. This seems counter-intuitive but if you have someone
who wants Deliverance on DVD they really want it and they’ll pay for it. In this way the Long
Tail becomes potentially more lucrative than the ‘head’ (now often a place for loss leading
items to drive sales into the Long Tail). Businesses are being built in the Long Tail (loveﬁlm,
Lulu, Amazon, Play.com, Apple’s App Store). See niche as a Good Thing.
Bringing consumers into
the design process
Your consumers are now far more connected. They share reviews, stories, pictures and you
are often unwittingly part of that. Your consumers are smart, they know your stu at least as
well as you (OK, perhaps consumers of prescription drugs don’t but hey).
There are a growing number of examples of businesses drawing on their consumers to help
with new product development, testing and “marketing”.
Lego realised back in 2000 that there were a legion of fans of lego creating their own
products (putting ‘technology’ in, designing new forms) and oering quality feedback that
Lego was not tapping into. They decided to act. The business had been stagnating. They
invested money in a programme to bring the customer into the design process and this
proved to be hugely successful - a new raft of ‘technical’ products for (young and old) ‘adults’
was created (mindstorms) and the business was re-born. Marin bikes in the US do the same.
Seeing your consumers (or at least some of them) as part of the business can oer huge
beneﬁts (but it has to be done carefully and it has to be ‘genuine’).
More on Lego here:
Data is key to business
For many businesses their data is becoming at least as valuable as their products and is
starting to form the basis for new services or at least for others to build services which they
can beneﬁt from. Amazon did this with their afiliate market - opening up the book data (and
platform) to create a marketplace. Now this doesn’t apply to resource monopolies obviously
(diamond mines have other things to worry about) but ‘data’ has value. Dopplr (dopplr.com)
is a service built on your travel data (your put in your travel plans and it matches them with
others in your network). But this travel data, when ‘meshed’ in aggregate is very powerful.
You can see popular places, routes, means of travel. The data says something about you
(presencing) and it also oers ways to connect to other services, for example hotel bookings
(Mr and Mrs Smith have a tie-in with Dopplr, it ﬁts their brand / market well).
So, look at what data you have... at the least opening up your data for non-commercial use
may allow others to build better ways to access your services (the Odeon website used to be
awful and a keen developer took their data and built a highly usable way to ﬁnd out what was
showing. Odeon took him to court. They should have employed him (he’s now one of the
best developers in the country!)).
How do you ‘monetise’ it?
By no means fool proof ideas these - if they were I would be on a beach in the Caribbean.
Develop product - service
I’m only going to talk about one broad idea here. And that is the notion of “Product Service
The ultimate example here is ipod + itunes. But there are a myriad of other examples, such as
the lo-ﬁ Match Attax cards + binder. I buy the trading cards for my kids every week. The
cards are the products. The service / platform in many ways is the binder they put the cards
Integrating your service into products and vice versa means you have a payment platform.
Another product - service
The Nike+ service which integrates with the ipod is another good example. But the iPhone
and the App store is another, as is potentially the ereader, the Kindle, and the content
delivery system for that.
What are your Product Service Propositions?
paid for services
personalisation niche markets
“product service propositions”
This is a re-cap. The talk in 15 words.
future is already here,
it’s just not evenly
This quote by William Gibson is overused but it’s overused for a reason, it’s really good. It
puts the emphasis on the niche, the ‘edges’ as a means to plan for the future. I’d suggest
that business always looks for ideas about how to cater for the edges as a means for surviving
in the mainstream, start to put a little bit of resource into the edge stu, start to play around
there. Other people are and if you don’t you may miss the next opportunity to extend the life
of your business (or that of your client).
Thank you for listening
Money man http://www.ﬂickr.com/photos/specialkrb/3357455954/