They Call it Surfing for a Reason


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In the spring of 2007, I co-lead a project that explored Internet access on mobile devices. At that time, uptake for mobile Internet content in the U.S. was dismally low. Recruiting participants that engaged with the mobile Internet for more than a few minutes once or twice a week proved extremely challenging. In order to collect the type of data needed to inform the design process and improve the user experience, we designed a PC Internet deprivation research study. Eight lucky participants used only their mobile phone to access the Internet for four days.

I co-wrote this case-study about the project with Mirjana Spasojevic of the Nokia Research Lab in Palo Alto and Pekka Isomursu of Nokia Design and presented it recently at CHI in Florence, Italy. The case study describes details of the research methodology as well as design insights and implications for development of mobile applications and services.

A lot has changed in the year since this study; the release of the iPhone in June of 2007 and Google’s Android platform in November 2007 were watershed moments for the mobile Internet – improving the experience and opening up opportunities for usage that simply didn’t exist before.

Despite these advances, I still believe most Internet experiences on mobile devices are broken and compromised, overburdened by interaction models and metaphors from the PC that simply don’t work on small devices. Yet so much of how we understand the Internet – and computing – is based on the PC legacy.

What has been exciting me most about mobile these days is that exact challenge… figuring out what metaphors and models to keep and what to leave behind as we try to prism Internet content through a myriad of devices.

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  • Joint research study for understanding internet access on mobile phones The paper discusses the research methodology we used, the research findings and the design implicaitons. Today I am going to talk about the methodology we used: deprivation and two design implications that resulted from the study.
  • Watershed moments for the mobile Internet. Opened up opportunities for usage that didn’t exist before.
  • This pie chart paints a pretty accurate picture of some of the challenges we faced at the onset of the project a lot of people own phones Not many use them to access the internet And the ones who do, don’t do it very often.
  • User experience is painful Previous research experience Users tend to focus on the pain in contextual interviews Difficult to get them to talk about the interface and how they would want that experience to be different. In addition, in the US, carriers are the set point for many user’s mobile web experience. Carriers have a lot of control over the content users can access - the content is what they see as they enter the experience. Apathetic about the experience.
  • People are tethered to their PC PC at home Pc at work Mobile Internet Dilemma = go through the pain of the mobile internet experience or wait until I have a PC
  • All these factor lead up to low engagement It was hdifficult to recruit people who used the mobile internet with any kind of regularity.
  • We felt we needed engaged use in order to understand how to make the experience better.
  • Inspired by a PC deprivation study conducted by Conifer Research in Chicago for Yahoo! We know that people Love and need the internet. What would happen if we forced mobile internet engagement through PC internet deprivation. Would it get us the research data that we needed
  • Part of a larger study carried out in hong kong We designed a 8 mobile internet users based in the US We tried to find users who had Nseries phones but couldn’t find them Data collection
  • Information architecture
  • “ I usually wait and check either at home or at work.” People’s perception of the internet experience is shaped through their experience ON THE PC. We recognized that when people think of the internet, it’s really difficult for them to think of it outside of the PC experience. The mobile phone isn’t a PC.
  • “ I usually wait and check either at home or at work.” People’s perception of the internet experience is shaped through their experience ON THE PC. We recognized that when people think of the internet, it’s really difficult for them to think of it outside of the PC experience. The mobile phone isn’t a PC.
  • They Call it Surfing for a Reason

    1. 1. They call it “surfing” for a reason: Identifying mobile Internet needs through PC deprivation. Rachel Hinman Mirjana Spasojevic Pekka Isomursu April, 2008 1
    2. 2. 1. Why we used deprivation as a methodology 2. Two design implications derived from research findings - Design for partial attention and interruption - People want information, not URLs April, 2008 2
    3. 3. Deprivation as a methodology A lot has changed in a year…. Android Release: November 5, 2007 iPhone Release June 29, 2007 April, 2008 3
    4. 4. Deprivation as a methodology Spring 2007, few people were using the mobile web… Source: Forrester’s Consumer Technographics, Q4, 2006 April, 2008 4
    5. 5. Deprivation as a methodology There were, and continue to be many barriers to use Obstacles to mobile internet use: - phone’s interface makes it difficult to enter URL - text input through keys - network speed/latency - network reception - small screen size - perception of cost (perceived value) - lack of cost transparency - sites are not optimized for mobile phones Carriers are the set-point Few people stray from the walled garden of the carrier deck. What’s outside of it is hard to get to get to and not always worth the effort. April, 2008 5
    6. 6. Deprivation as a methodology Mobile internet… meet your competition 73% of all American homes have in-home internet access Source: Pew Internet: Internet Penetration and Impact. April 26, 2006 April, 2008 6
    7. 7. Low engagement April, 2008 7
    8. 8. How do we ensure engagement? April, 2008 8
    9. 9. Deprivation as a methodology Inspiration from a PC deprivation study April, 2008 9
    10. 10. Deprivation as a methodology Eight users, four days, nothing but a mobile phone for Internet access … The goal of our study was to identify the needs of the Mobile Internet users in the U.S. in order to improve the mobile internet experience. • 8 individuals (US - San Francisco) • 4 days of PC internet deprivation Data Collection • 1-hour contextual interview before the study • 2-hour contextual interview after the study • Online diary tool (Revelation) N-series phones: four N80 and four N93. • PC Internet vouchers Both types of phones were equipped with a T9 keypad, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi network capability, 3 megapixel camera, 176x144 Data Analysis pixel resolution color screen and Internet • Narrative analysis browsing functions and capabilities. • Affinity clustering April, 2008 10
    11. 11. Implication One: Design for partial attention and interruption April, 2008 11
    12. 12. Emerging Insight User’s mobile internet expectations and requirements are different than on a PC “They call it surfing for a reason..” - Gabriella While most users communicated that internet access on their mobile device was a useful feature, they expressed fundamental differences in the experiences. April, 2008 12
    13. 13. Emerging Insight Form factor, environmental factors and visual cues of the PC internet experience facilitate exploration… } Form and Environmental factors of the PC experience: - usually seated (stationary) - controlled environment - large screen - keyboard and mouse Exploration Typical visual cues of the PC A large screen with easy-to-use input experience: devices in a controlled environment - layers are visually represented encourages multi-tasking and - visual representations of paths and exploration. options are apparent at all times April, 2008 13
    14. 14. Emerging Insight Form factors, environmental factors and visual cues of the mobile internet experience facilitate predictability… } Form and Environmental factors of the mobile experience: - standing, walking, seated… - highly variable environment - small screen - limited input Predictability Typical visual cues of the mobile A small screen with limited input experience: in a highly variable environment - options are not always apparent requires focus and attention. - open application consumes screen - one view at a time April, 2008 14
    15. 15. Emerging Insight Accessing the internet on a PC is like scuba diving; accessing the internet on a mobile phone is like snorkeling Deep Dives Skimming the Surface - The “action” is inside the screen - Attention is divided - dipping in and dipping out - Can be immersive - Difficult to get totally immersed - Invites exploration and discovery - Often highly task or goal directed, you often know - Multi-tasking is easier than on a mobile device what you will find. April, 2008 15
    16. 16. Implication Design for partial attention and interruption Design with interruption in mind Understand the limitations of content consumption on a mobile device. Users can be interrupted at any time by the physical environment, a text message from a friend or an important call. Design for “skimming the surface” Valuable mobile experiences are not immersive, they respect the variability of the mobile environment. Map content to the variability of the mobile environment and deliver it in appropriate forms that are predictable. April, 2008 16
    17. 17. Implication Two: People want information, not URLs April, 2008 17
    18. 18. Emerging Insight The page metaphor is a brittle organizing principle on mobile devices April, 2008 18
    19. 19. Emerging Insight Remember the mix tape? April, 2008 19
    20. 20. Emerging Insight Music consumption and delivery use to be a complex system… Music Artists Record Stores Music Labels Organizing Principle = Album Portable CD Players Before iTunes, the delivery of music content was a complex system that didn’t reflect what people value most about music… a song. April, 2008 20
    21. 21. Emerging Insight Apple provided a flexible organizing principle for music April, 2008 21
    22. 22. Emerging Insight Apple reframed the organizing principle to align with how people think about music Music Artists Record Stores Apple iTunes Store Music Labels Organizing Principle = Song Portable CD Players Apple iPod April, 2008 22
    23. 23. Emerging Insight When people access the web, the organizing principle is web pages, or web sites -- but they really want the information Information Photos & Video News Maps Music Organizing Principle = Web Page Messages April, 2008 23
    24. 24. Emerging Insight When people access the web, the organizing principle is web pages, or web sites -- but they really want the information A web page A piece of information is like an album is like a song Information Photos & Video News Maps Music Organizing Principle = Web Page Messages April, 2008 24
    25. 25. Implication Two People want information, not URLs Boulders to Pebbles: Privilege XML over HTML The promise of information convergence depends on liberating data from current forms and the ability to prism internet data through various devices. The data is the building block, not the format it is held in. Focus on the presentation layer The browser metaphor and web pages are strongly tied to the current PC internet experience. Creating a new presentation layer for information through interfaces like widgets and RSS present an opportunity to define a new way of interacting with internet content through a mobile device. April, 2008 25
    26. 26. Conclusions and Further Study Deprivation as a methodology - Was it a good idea? [+] Ensured engagement for 7 of the 8 users [+] Delivered visceral stories about what was wrong with the interaction model [+] Delivered better insight on desired content and format preferences. [-] VERY Labor intensive Further Study - What are other instances when deprivation is an appropriate methodology? - What metaphors and mental models from the PC experience need to be redefined for the mobile experience? April, 2008 26
    27. 27. Thank You Nokia: Pekka Isomursu Mirjana Spasojevic Nokia Adaptive Path: Alexa Andrezejewski Sebastian Heycke Kim Lenox Dan Saffer April, 2008 27
    28. 28. Questions? April, 2008 28