Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas ethno study - ideas needed

(A fun video for family and friends courtesy of Jib Jab)

Those people downloading our EthOS app for iPhone - the consumer version - are prompted to fill in a questionaire (sic). Reason for misspelling is that it will come up in searches more easily.

Anyway, this consumer version is free, aimed at respondents and uncomplicated which is why we thought we could use each download as an opportunity to build a panel of our own.

To kick things off and begin engaging with our 'panel' (can I call 12 people a panel?), we have decided to run a Christmas ethnography study. Nothing heavy. Perhaps 4 simple tasks using video, photo, audio and text. One entry for each medium.

Question is: can any of you help me with the tasks? I need ideas. Complete proposals in fact with a seasonal theme. I'll send a new latest generation iPod touch (which works beautifully with our App) along with a promotonal code for the pro version to the individual sending the best tasks/themes to explore using each medium.

Finally, outputs from our min-ethno-study will be showcased on this blog.

Thanks and good luck! Share/Bookmark

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

You have to love some clients

How many of you have experienced something like this before?

Many thanks to Helen Thomas for sending me the link. Share/Bookmark

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I've been replaced by an iPhone App

A funny article I came upon which was posted last April. Went under my Google alerts radar until now. Share/Bookmark

Giving something back

Here is an elegant, simple, engaging and rewarding app to download. It's free and it has inspired the latest piece of functionality to be added to the EthOS app in a few weeks time.

What I love about this app is that it tells you something genuinely new about yourself as an incentive for helping the LSE with a research project exploring... happiness.

I have been using it for a week now and it alerts me to login and answer some basic questions about my mood, mode and emotional state. I can then view a set of graphs and charts which, with each input, create an increasingly reliable picture of where, when and with whom I feel the happiest.

It was a client who first told me about it. And what impressed him, as has impressed me, is how it keeps people engaged for weeks. The reward being the feedback you cannot get any other way.

A long story now cut short; we are adding similar functionality to our EthOS app. Only users will be able to configure it to help understand any state of mind. For example, if you are conducting a snacking study, an interesting range might be, 'very hungry' to 'very full', on a sliding scale. And after a few dozen entries, the user will be able to see the locations, times of day and activities which made them feel hungry.

The challenge is to keep it simple while allowing analysts to view aggregates from hundreds if not thousands of respondents.

Please stay tuned for more on this in the near future.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Creativity - a quick guide

I find writing to be an amazingly creative process. I can be watching the most tedious clip in the world which has not one event for me to hang my hat up on and deconstruct. As a last resort I'll start writing about it. Writing abut how nothing is happening and what that 'nothing' is. Then something extraordinary always happens. A kind of creative floodgate opens and I keep writing and capturing. Before I know it, I have three paragraphs of thoughts to distill.

Collaborations is also very powerful when it comes to creative output. But not always practical.

Here is a helpful article I found somewhere on how to unlock or unblock your creative juices. A must read.


The RFP's I hate the most are the ones which dictate a methodology and a sample size. With no opportunity to challenge or question. Do you know what I do with such briefs? I delete them.

Qualitative research briefs are completely different from observational/ethnographic research briefs. And when we receive them we have to go through them with fine tooth combs. We then reply explaining that many of their objectives can be answered with simple interview questions or through discussion groups. Why do they want to observe? At this point we either lose a prospect or gain a long term client.

Did I ever tell you what a Vodafone client said to me once after we had spent weeks filming young people in Italy?

"Why did we send you there to film something we could have found out by simply asking the question?" This happened 12 years ago. And she was absolutely right. Drop me an email and I will tell you what it was that we filmed.

There are also situations when objectives need to be interpreted. Why does the client want to find answers to these questions? How will respondents interpret these questions? Have a look at some work TNS did in India.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Positive thinking - the not so positive side

A fantastic illustrated talk about institutionalised optimism and its dangers.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Augmented reality maps

Every once in a while a piece of technology makes me gasp out loud. This is one of them.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mobile aided qualitative and quantitative research conference in Berlin - 2/3 December 2010

I am flattered to have been asked to be a keynote speaker at this event on the 2nd and 3rd of December.

If you are interested in being there, I can wangle you with a 50% discount.

See you in Berlin!

Smoothly does it

Two weeks ago we had a kick off meeting with a credit card client here in Brussels and I had my key team members for each market in town to meet the client. All arrived on Sunday and I made a delicious family Sunday dinner with wine, dessert and a cake to celebrate my wife tolerating 11 years of marriage to me.

On finishing dinner, Varinder went to prepare the cake while I brought my laptop to the table to demo the App and web App. I had my iPhone at the ready and the website displayed on my screen.

My colleagues, slightly too relaxed after all the wine we had downed, looked on.

Me - So here I am videoing you all and the food on the table... Now I click 'use'... now I choose the poject... the themes... and click 'send'! And in a second we'll see the entry appear on the website.

The team - *Eyes on stalks*

Me - *Confident smile*

Me 4 minutes later - *Less confident smile*

Me 7 minutes later - *Head clouds up*

Then something happened to me. I snapped. I jumped on the phone to the developers. I forgot about the cake Varinder brought to the table to celebrate our anniversary. I forgot about our guests.

Me to developers - I though you tested this?

Developers - We did! And so did you! Have you checked your log in details?

Me - They are correct.

I went to settings and re-checked. All looked fine.

Then came the words which completely embarrassed me.

Developers - Log in is case sensitive!

I checked settings again to find I had used upper case with the first letter of my email address and password. By then two hours had elapsed, colleagues had left for their B&B for the night and Varinder was in bed.

But I was so relieved and happy that it was not an API issue or something even more horrible.

The App works! It works so well that I have started to worry about other things to do with capturing events. Concerns such as: how good will users be at holding the camera steady? Might sound trivial but most video cameras are stabilised. The iPhone, Blackberry and Android are not. Shaky video is incredibly painful to watch and analyse. Especially when you have hours to go through. And although it is possible to smooth video over using Final Cut and the like, it's another layer of time and money which the app designed to eliminate.

Last week I jumped on the call to my Denmark director. I wanted to know how good our people would be at filming with these devices. I also mentioned that there was nothing even remotely helpful to do with filming tips on Google using iPhones. And that we had an opportunity to create a 'how to' film for videoing with the App and devices.

The problem isn't fixed place filming where you can stand in one place and hold steady. What was worrying me was when we had to follow people around. Every time I tried to film and walk the result was all over the place.

Bernabe (Denmark director) reassured me that there was no problem with filming on the move and that it would be easy to teach respondents too.

Make me a film; show me, I asked.

Below is a short clip he sent me using the App. See what you think. I'm pretty happy with it. Question is: what will people use more - photos or video? Watch this space.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Are we there yet? An Invitation

One thing I have come to learn about the app development world is that your work is never complete. Our App seems to be in permanent Beta as we add new functionality, test it, get feedback and test it some more before a new idea for new functionality pops into our heads and the cycle is repeated.

That said, we are a day away from completing the final major support beam which holds up our App and web App: permissions. Permissions will allow you to invite hundreds of users to take part in projects and view entries - the instructions and themes simply appear on their app and they can decline or accept.

Functionality such as 2D barcode reader/project launcher will also appear this week depending on how fast iTunes approvals works this time.

I would like to therefore cordially invite you to play with our App and web App. Note the iPhone version comes in free consumer and €9.99 pro versions. And the web App, for the time being, for evaluation purposes, is free. Please go here to register and download the apps. If you need the Blackberry version, please contact me and I'll get it to you along with instructions. The Android version will be ready in November.



Monday, October 4, 2010

Start a dialogue with your consumers - one to one

Here's a build on last week's post about 2D or QR barcodes.

Those of you who know, our Web Application allows project managers to create a project, insert themes/questions/topics and then 'push' the project to an unlimited number of colleagues or consumers. The difficulty will be the need to have a panel or list of emails willing to participate prepared (and paid for) in advance.

A 2D barcode will allow something altogether different to happen. Place a code on any brand with a project embedded within the code. The brand is a jar of Nutella in our case. On scanning the code using our EthOS pro or consumer app, a project is launched for the user to accept or reject. And so begins a dialogue with the consumer - which may include questions such as: a) Show us how you eat your Nutella; b) Tell us why you buy the size of jar you buy? and c) Have you ever recycled the jar? Show us how. Yes you may need to incentivise consumers with cash or vouchers or a competition. But the point is that you begin to create your own community of engaged users who want to talk about the way your brand fits into their lives.

Here is a film we found very hard to make...


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Barcode readers

What a boring subject for a post.

But wait.

We are introducing barcode readers to our very own EthOS (ethnographic) App. You know the scenario. A household returns from shopping and scans everything they buy before submitting it as an entry under, 'things I bought during my weekly shop'.

OK, it is a little boring.

But here's an idea I came up with which isn't so boring:

What if there was a way of scanning a barcode using our App to create an instant 'mini' project. No need to pre-recruit respondents. Anyone can scan a barcode and, hey presto! you have a small set of tasks to respond to. Still not sure what I am talking about?

Here's a scenario. Are you listening McDonald's?

I visit a McDonald's restaurant and get myself a 6 nugget meal with Coke. On the box of nuggets is a 2D barcode with a message saying something like 'Get free fries for completing this task'. You scan the barcode using our App and are prompted to 1) take a picture or video of your meal and 2) say with the audio tool how hungry you were and what made you choose McDonald's.

Perhaps not the most stimulating questions but you can change them regularly depending on what you are trying to explore. You can attach barcodes to ANYTHING and cheaply. To restaurant doors, supermarket food items, even a donkey on Margate beach front to provide feedback on your ride.

A few weeks ago I asked our developers whether such a thing would be possible. They replied, Yes! And sent me this to look at. (as of 30th September 2010, have a look here too)

To cut a long story short, we are building it into our latest update... Will report back on beta testing...


Friday, September 10, 2010

Ramblings on insight - that old chestnut

Don't even begin to tell how the expression, 'insight' is overused, misunderstood, etc. etc.

I know it is. I speak on the topic. Once I even asked a group of workshop attendees to come up with a difinitive, capture all, definition. And we ended up with this:

A piece of information which helps you to see your brand, competitor or consumer in a completely new way.

But the biggest problem, in my view, with insight, is that it's retrospective. You can't know something was an insight until you can measure its impact. Am I right?

Some 13 years ago, while at BMP DDB, I was conducting what turned into corporate ethnograpies with Kraft. I was in their marketing & research department watching, filming, listening and generally hanging out in any meetings where people didn't mind me looking in. And the retrospective insight issue kept coming up again and a gain. You see, no one really knew how good a piece of information or understanding was until they could look back on sales or market share or something else. And it was usual to have a minimum 12 months of waiting time before you knew. They even had a kind of a suggestions box for those anonymous ideas/insights no one wanted to be responsible for or take ownership of.

A junior marketer confided in me that each time anyone had an idea or a suggestion, senior management's response would be, 'Validate it'. Which meant the insight was usually killed at birth.

Now to the question of how to generate an insight. There is a very interesting discussion taking place in Linkedin about this very subject in the Consumer Insights Interest Group. Can it be taught? Is it a talent/gift? What is the best way of generating it?

With both, Kraft, the BBC, Easy Jet and a games software company we conducted corporate ethnographies for, the richest thinking occurred in lifts, doorways, corridors, waiting by vending machines, over lunch, lying in bed (no we didn't go that far), chilling over a coffee and critically, while having a heated disagreement about a piece of information.

Long before I joined BMP DDB, I had lunch with an ex- head of planning at O&M, London. She had retired and only just returned from a round the world yatch trip. Anyone know her name? (Because I can't remember) I can't even remember why we met but we discussed 'insight' at length. She explained that in her case, an insight was something she had usually always known. Rarely something completely new. And it had usually always been sitting there right under her nose. Made perfect sense to me.

And do you know how they would run insight workshops before a big pitch? They would invite a stand-up comedian to do a session on the brand. Which makes beautiful sense when you look at the observational skills of comedians like Michael Mcintyre or Rhod Gilbert. Geniuses at seeing everyday events in fresh new ways. If you haven't already, do click the links to view examples of great observational humour.

Now back to whether or not people can be trained to become more insightful. To me, it matters not one jot. Our workshops usually consist of 12 or more managers. No all will be naturally insightful or creative thinkers. But they will be good at debating with and challenging one another. So even if they can't come up with the ideas, they will intuitively know whether or not a piece if information or observation is insightful.

And our task when running insight action & implication finding workshops is to create an environment conducive to people crash different agendas, biases and points of view together around ideas generated (in our case) from watching clips of everyday life events, conversations and happening. And before we even begin debating an idea, I make everyone watch a clip 3-4 times over. And despite their cynism, each time, they see more and more. Things they hadn't noticed just a minute before.

Another thinking tool I use is trying to think about things that didn't happen, weren't said or nearly happened. A great way of forcing your mind away from the obvious and clear-to-see things that are happening.

I'll end with this great article (shared by someone in the Consumer Insights Interest group).

Would love to hear your thoughts too...


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Location Based Research?

I am sitting in the lounge of the Soho Hotel waiting to meet a couple of gentlemen from a rather large UK research group. I'm feeling nauseous too. Not only because reading on trains makes me feel nauseous but also because I've just had to pay £10 for one hours worth of internet access. To type this.

So I'm typing and waiting. Which seems to be all I ever do these days. Waiting and writing.

As our App has taken shape, gone live, and been updated from email to API event delivery and pro to consumer to Blackberry version, (Android being built too) we have been surprised by the level of interest in something that started out being a tool to help us work more effectively at EverdayLives. Within weeks of first blogging about it, and out of the blue, I was asked to go and talk at a Location Based Research conference.

Location based research? That's what it's called? OK. And suddenly it's a hot topics in research circles.

Back to the lounge in the Soho Hotel where I am waiting to meet two gentlemen. It started with a phone call to a colleague I used to work with at the Henley Centre (WPP) in the early 90's. She is the CEO of this same company.

I explained that we have a US company who is interested in buying our App outright. No shares no nothing. A 100% acquisition of the App business. I even went to visit them to discuss options. There seemed to be none. All or nothing. The problem, I explained, is that I can't single handedly manage both EverydayLives and EDLAPPCOM (the App business). I need help to productise it market it, support it, etc., etc.. What did she think I should do? Sell it? Walk away from my creation?

When I finished speaking there followed a long pause. Was she still on the line? Hello? The silence was broken by her saying, 'We'll have it!'. And this is why I am sitting in the Soho Hotel. She has asked two colleagues to come and meet me, in these elegant surroundings, to discuss way of working together.

I don't want to sell the App outright. But after discussions with my wife, we both felt that if the money is right, well... why not? On the other hand, who in their right minds sells a company before it has even turned over one penny? Wait two years at least, friends keep telling me.

And that's seems to be all I am doing these days; waiting and writing about waiting.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Drama vs reality

Here is a very interesting post I stumbled upon.

I remember when I was in South Africa doing research on a brief for a Black Skin study with Unilever, I came across this exact phenomena. It was amazing how everyone I spoke to told me stories of their lives which followed an almost identical 'story arc'.


Friday, July 9, 2010

MRS mobile insights conference

I was asked to talk about my app which I did. So why did they say my talk was a brazen sales pitch? Especially when the Blackberry version is free to download for now.

Actually it's an excellent summary of the event and I am flattered with this quote: "he was the only person speaking with a genuinely groundbreaking research technique..."

Perhaps next time (I am talking about the App again in Copenhagen in September) I will focus more on learnings from current projects which, as I type, are still confidential.


Beta Blackberry app to play with

Here it finally is for those of you who have been waiting. And if you like, have a play around with the webapp Beta too.

The big difference between this and the iPhone App is that it's designed to allow events to be captured instantly and then have themes/project attached. You won't have to set up each event and then capture it.

The consumer version of the iPhone App works in exactly the same way and soon, the pro version of the iPhone App will be updated to work in the same way.

Please let me know how you do. I would also love to hear any comments you might have.


Monday, June 7, 2010

I am a client

A couple of years ago we started something completely different. Just for the fun of it. And then we lost interest and simply let it freewheel to nowhere in particular.

It's was a bartering website. And we lost interest because other projects took over and we simply didn't have resourses to PR/market the site.

A couple of weeks ago my 18 year old brother-in-law called me to ask if I had any work for him to do. Last September he took a year out to help my father in law with his property business. After a few months he realised he had nothing much to do except run errands. Now he wants a real challenge. So I'm throwing him the bartering site, with a slight twist:

Take the website and turn it into a free iPhone App. Monetize it too. I want £3,000 a month revenue from it within 12 months.

We had an interesting conversation last night. He wants to do some research about bartering, what it means to people and how often they do it.

"I thought I'd go and ask people in London."
"Who in London?"
"Random people..."
"In the street?"
"Well, yes."
"How many Facebook friends have you got?"
"Wait, you have one thousand six hundred friends??? Why don't you ask them?"
"Could do..."
"Download a polling application and poll them if you want to."

I sent him a 3 page brief last night and am waiting for his proposal. I will keep you posted on his progress.


Key concepts in anthropology

OK, here is the request to end all requests. The question to end all questions:

Below is a list of key concepts in anthropology.

1 Agent & Agency
2 Alterity
3 Auto Anthropology*
4 Children*
5 Classification
6 Code*
7 Cognition
8 Common sense*
9 Community*
10 Consciousness*
11 Contradiction
12 Conversation*
13 Culture*
14 Cybernetics
15 Dialogics and analogics
16 Discourse
17 Gender
18 Gossip*
19 Home and homelessness
20 Individualism*
21 Individuality*
22 Interaction
23 Irony
24 Kinship
25 Ritual & Routine*
26 Power*
27 Belief*
28 Space*

I would like to invite you to choose a concept, or two or three and set out explain them in more detail. Detail which is relevant and comprehensible to researchers who are not anthropologists. The asterisked concepts are ones we tend to deconstruct everyday life events with the most, the ones we feel most comfortable with.

In return, I will find appropriate films/clips from our archives to bring each definition to life.

Is that a fair transaction?

Shouldn't transaction be a concept? If you think I have missed anything, please let me know.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

The death of depth

A few years ago I was in a rather large meeting room in Louisville, Kentucky, presenting findings from an appliance study to GE marketers, researchers, designers and innovators.

It was an all morning presentation and we were showing quite a lot of films, some filmed by respondents themselves. In between the thematically divided films we were to present key learnings, insights and possible actions. So far nothing unusual.

About 10 minutes into the my presentation half a dozen senior looking people knocked and walked in. They had all been in another meeting and were running late.

"We'll sit in on this workshop so we can dip in and out..." one of them explained

They walked to the back of the room and sat down. All opened their laptops and all began to work busily away. There were occasional observations and questions from the senior group and although at first it felt odd to have people working away while I was talking I got used to it.

Through out the workshop I was surprised by how sharp their questions were. As sharp as the group at the front who were all eyes and ears from the start. But they never stopped working.

This article made me think a lot about that senior group, the way I work now and how much I might be missing out. But there is a pattern emerging. I think. And it's this: The more I multi-task, the more I also rely on collaboration to ensure depth, different perpectives and potential solutions or outcomes.

Do you multi-task? How?


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Behold the consumer version of our App

We are nearly there with it - the consumer version of the iPhone App. For the masses. Which will also form the basis of what I hope will become the world's largest panel... (no I am not on prescription medication)

We knew we wanted it to be free in the App store. We also knew we wanted it to be easier to use. What we didn't count on is that we would have something considerably better than the current version of our professional iPhone App selling for £6.99 (or $11.99) in the App store.

Why better? When we launched the original App we changed developer to a great little husband and wife team based in the West Midlands (details on request). Their first reaction to the App was that it was the wrong way around.

Me: What do you mean?

Iphoneappdev: Well, at the moment, you have to first enter a project, add your themes and then take a picture, video or whatever it is you need to capture. Now if we were in the field, we'd want to first capture the event without even worrying about where it should go or how it should be tagged. Then, in our own time, we'd associate it with a project, themes, etc...

Me: Oh?

Iphoneappdev: We'll send you a version to play with.

And so they did. It was beautiful. Much more intuitive and extremely quick when it came to grabbing an event.

So the tail is now wagging the dog meaning that the free consumer version has become the basis of a new update for the professional version. But to those who have paid good money for the pro App, know that the new, right way round, pro version will have features not available on the consumer version.

I will let you know when the consumer version it's out (expect it by end of next week) so you can download and play with it. Importantly you will be able to use our webAPP (beta) in conjunction with it for the very first time.

Finally, stay tuned for some exciting news about the Blackberry version of the App and the South African world cup.


What do you think the story of consumer anthropology will look like?

A interesting post by Jamie Gordon.

Now I have a confession to make. What exactly is story telling? Can anyone tell me?


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Things we are learning

I have never been one for confidentiality (at least with our own initiatives) or competitive advantage nonsense. Everything we learn, we share. And through sharing we reenforce our position as leaders in ethnographic research using smart devices.

So this post is all about something we have learned. I'll start here:

We have now successfully completed four multi-country projects using our App. They came about because we convinced known clients who approached us with standard ethnographic briefs, to try something new and experimental. Which is why they needed to be known clients who would give us some slack in case we messed up.

We didn't.

The only person in the world who I would trust with running an App based project is my good colleague, B, who is based in Denmark. The first study involved respondents filming their own lives in response to questions and themes we sent them via the App. But first we needed to recruit iPhone owners according to a very detailed typing tool.

Once the first project was complete I had a sit down session with, B to go over key learning. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: So the client seemed very happy with everything. Were they just being polite or were they genuinely happy?

B: They were really happy. Look, they even sent us a new brief immediately on completion of the first set of explorations.

Me: That's great! So all went smoothly!

B: Erm... no.

Me: You are kidding.

B: Siamack, it took as much time to recruit and prep up these respondents as any ordinary ethnographic project and probably longer. The whole point of the App was always to speed things up, make our work more efficient.

Me: What!!! Of course it'll be more efficient when all they will need to do is download the App and capture events according to our brief...

B: Listen, next time we ask the question, "Do you have an iPhone?" when recruiting...

Me: Yes...

B: We should also ask them "How many Apps have you downloaded to your iPhone?"

Me: Why?

B: Because I estimate that 80% of iPhone users have never ever downloaded an App. Most of those we recruited didn't even have iTunes accounts!!!


B: No! With some respondents we even had to call them on and off over a three day period to explain how to download the App and to use it. We got there in the end and they used it fine but it took three whole days of going back and forth in some cases.

[You now have to picture me sliding off my seat while looking pale.]

Me: So we need to be sure they know how to download Apps. And we can't just assume that owning a iPhone means they have iTunes.

B: Correct.

Me: What else?

B: No matter how carefully we worded the themes/capture requests, most households started sending us rubbish.

Me: Oh.

B: But we managed to improve their outputs from 'rubbish' to 'amazing' in around two days.

Me: How?

B: By sending them examples of films and pictures we were expecting. And by sharing interesting clips and videos from other respondents.

So, to summarise just two learnings:

1 Do not assume that a smart device means techno savvy respondents
2 Respondents need examples of what you, the moderator are expecting

These may sound obvious in hindsight but they are critical learnings for us.

I hope you find them useful. We will share more mistakes/learnings as we make them.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Every move you make

This is a generally nice article referencing us, EverydayLives. What annoys me, though, is the last paragraph. Because it demonstrates perfectly how badly misused it is by clients (who are preyed upon by qual agencies who think they do ethnographic research) and in the end delivers nothing the client didn't already know.

Bringing something to life the client already knew should be a byproduct of ethnographic research. Not the main course. Making clients see and think about every day events in new ways and helping them to reframe these events is what great ethnographic research should really be about.

Very too frustrating.


A new business idea, again

I saw this post on the BBC news page on-line. Download an App to follow gorillas in the wild on your BlackBerry or iPhone. Simple fund raising App to help different gorilla groups in different regions. And the user chooses which of 4-5 groups to follow and receive updates from. No, the gorillas don't write the updates themselves.

It reminded me of an initiative on which we partnered with P&G way back in 2001. Here is a WSJ article from that time. Annoyingly they want a credit card number before revealing it in its entirety but you will get the gist of it.

The idea wasn't too different the iGorilla. We followed a bunch of households from around the world for three days each and captured anything and everything we saw and heard. No brief, no objectives, just random households. Then we sat through the footage, sorted it by theme, cut it into short viewable segments, subtitled it, tagged it and posted it to our EverydayLives website. That's right, EverydayLives wasn't a company name to begin with. It was the name of a subscription service.

For £1,500 per month, clients would be able to search and view an ever growing archive of fresh family life happenings. It was beautiful. And clients couldn't get enough of it. We even traveled to places like China to conduct training with a partner who wanted to learn how we captured our everyday life footage.

In the end, production costs killed the service. By not working through how many clients we would need to break even and and much content we needed to make the service genuinely valuable, we tripped up. And since then all of my various initiatives including Immersion Tank (it's on page 15) have been stepping stones (very expensive stepping stones) to the EverydayLives App which we are now calling EthOS - short for, Ethnographic Research System.

By the way the latest on the App is a rather large study we are conducting in SA over the World Cup Period. And, no, we don't need any assistants. Thank you.


Another take on intuition

Remember my post about gut feel and intuition? Here is further reinforcement by Seth Godin and Mike Earls.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Playing with the big boys

Last week I had a mild panic attack. Perhaps not a panic attack, more of an anxiety attack. And here's why.

The web and iPhone/Blackberry Apps we are developing are taking off. And about time too. Users are falling into two groups; individuals and companies who will be subscribing to our service the same way one would subscribe to Yousendit or Basecamp and those who want bespoke solution, across their markets and tens of thousands of employees.

All good news.

But suddenly things get a little complicated:

Siamack we need service contracts.

Fine, we'll sort these out.

How much for cloud servers?

We'll look into it.

Subscription to you webAPP?

Not sure yet...

Payment gateways?

No idea who to use.

Analysis and reporting because you are the guys best suited...?

Well, other agencies should be involved too but happy to take the lead.


Goes without saying.


No problem I reply.

To 9000 employees? And kick start with the South Africa world cup?

Now you see where my anxiety attack stemmed from. I didn't let it consume me though. I picked up the phone to a nice man who might be able to sleep at night.

I will keep you posted on discussions with the nice man which start next week.

If any of you have thoughts in the meantime, you know my email address.


Monday, May 3, 2010

We're calling it, EthOS

We are working extremely hard to deliver the webAPP against a deadline. For those of you who don't know, the webAPP is the web application to which content such as video and pictures are sent when using our iPhone/Blackberry App.


Amazing because I wrote out a simple spec for a site which would
allow me to analyse, share and collaborate with events captured and people who captured them on using our iPhone App. A team of two specialist firms took the spec and came up with what you can see below. The final version will be up and running, cloud hosted, in early June. The screen grabs should be self explanatory.

Entry view - note ratings, map view and comments

Main project view page - note 'filter results' which will enable entries to be sorted by theme, time of day, media type to name a few variables. Keyword search will also be available.

Once filtered, entries can be dragged and dropped to a work area. Users/clients with different permission levels can collaborate.

It will also be possible to upload entries without our App directly via the site. Other features will include 'skinning' and pushing objectives, themes out to researchers in the field.

As always, your thoughts and comments would be greatly valued.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

John Griffiths' Kitbag


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Some pictures

I have been walking up and down from my Hotel on 8th Avenue and 36th Street to Time Square which is on 7th Avenue (or thereabouts) and 44th Street. This is where the ARF convention is being held. Not a terribly long walk but a wonderful photo opportunity. Many photos in fact. And I took them all on my little baby Canon S90. In case you are wondering, the S90 is basically aCanon G11, only with a better lens and a much smaller body. But don't take my word for it. Here is what Ken Rockwell says about my camera.

Why do I trust Ken Rockwell? There are three simple reasons:

1 He has no agenda. He is not on any brand's payroll.
2 On his site he points out the good and bad in all camera brands and, unlike me, he seems brand agnostic.
3 I shared his link with several friends including my brother in law. Together we have made it into our benchmark destination when exploring anything to do with cameras. Remember the four step selection post? Without benchmarking, I can't select a final choice. And brother in law's collaboration/complicity adds to the fun of the browsing journey and provides backup when I need to persuade my wife to spend money on a yet another camera or lens we don't really need.

Enjoy the photos and please note, they are straight off the SD card. No photoshopping or retouching whatsoever. Oh, and as a rule I never use flash.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Telling any story you want

I have flu. And I'm supposed to be flying to the ARF conference in New York very early tomorrow.

At 2am this morning, I woke up covered in sweat and shivering. While in this state I managed to reach for my iPhone, attach the headphones and begin YouTube-ing. I stumbled across a man called, Charlie Brooker. And above is just one many fantastic broadcasts.

Watch it and think hard. As ethnographic researchers, clients engage with us to benefit from a) our experience, b) our subjective point of view and c) our ability to apply learnings to their business. Subjectivity and intuition, however, is only acceptable if you have a full grasp of all of your material/data. My challenge to you is: how can you possibly have a complete grasp if you are working alone with your data? The story/themes/hypotheses, surely, begin to form in the field. And how you cut and dice your film is governed by your these formations in the field. In other words, you only look for material to support your themes. And the footage above illustrates how easily this can be done.

Is there a safety mechanism to stop this from happening? Yes. It's called collaboration. Or involving lots of different people with different agendas in your process.

If you like this clip, here is another, Charlie Brooker clip which I thing is fantastic.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

My brother in law sent me this

I was interviewing a chap once, he now works for Intel in Ireland, and he spoke at length about how marketing is increasingly about creating a dialogue with your consumers. Not sure if this can be called a dialogue, so what do we call it?


Monday, March 8, 2010

App in action

We made a short film to try to bring it all to life. Would love your thoughts. You can see the Web App which accompanies it here.

The John Griffiths Show interview

A fun interview all about research Apps including, of course, my very own one. And sorry if I sound like a Dalek stuck in a toilet.


Our Web Application

Before you play the clip above, imagine that you have been in the field conducting ethno-explorations using our App (yes, it has to be our App). You return to your desk and all of your captured events are set out neatly... now you can play the clip.

Remember also this what I call a skeletal beta version. The final version will be much more sophisticated. But if you have any comments/suggestions on what you have seen or would like to test the Beta version, drop me a quick note.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Imagine driving past a outdoor ad like this in ten years time.


Monday, February 22, 2010

A clock like no other

I love this clock. If only I could wear it on my wrist.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ritual & Routine

Anybody out there tried out Aardvark yet? You know, that Q&A site which Google paid $50M for. The way it works is you post a question, wait a few moments and receive many excellent and some pretty good answers.

I played with the App for so long that I ran out of questions to ask. I had asked questions ranging from, 'where is the best Lebanese restaurant in Brussels?' to, 'What is the definition of a theory in an academic setting?' Then it came to me. I would ask a question I already knew the answer to. Why? Because I could perhaps discover a new perspective on my rather tired understanding of that question. And the question I posted was, 'What is the difference between routine and ritual in every day life?'

As someone who watches people in preference to asking them questions, rituals and routines form the very back bone of most of my deconstructions, adding meanings and interpretations. Briefly, very briefly, rituals are ceremony. And as in all ceremonies, the sum of the parts are greater than the whole. A quick build: If I have a ritualised breakfast occasion, every element of that breakfast, ranging from the BBC World Service in the background to my cold toast so the butter doesn't melt into it, become critical. And if any element is removed, my ritual/occasion is badly disrupted. Yet, a routine occasion may look exactly the same. But remove any element and the occasion won't be disrupted one bit. So when clients view films of their consumers and listen to our commentary explaining the importance of ritual, they ask the same question: 'How can we ritualise the consumption of our brand?'

Now think Haagen Dazs and 'Friends' on Friday night with a whole bunch of girlfriends on a night in. Think of a 7 year old spending more time licking the lid of a yoghurt tub than time spent finishing off the tub itself with a spoon. Think of how I love to roast a whole chicken and then spend ages picking out the most succulent parts on its back.

What all these things have in common, in addition to being rituals, is they are discovered. No one told me how good the back of a chicken is, I found out for myself. And, now, I can't eat chicken without first starting on it's back.

Another way to explain ritual is to talk about ownership and decoding. I have decoded the chicken because I have found out the tastiest way of eating it. Actually I own this way of eating it too. And chicken wouldn't be the same for me if I couldn't eat it the way I want to. Ask the 7 year old to throw the lid straight into the bin and see what happens. Ask the girlfriends not to eat Haagen Dazs while watching an episode of Friends or Desperate Housewives and see what happens.

And now let me add another layer of complexity. Rituals people own have also to be discovered. Teaching/telling me the best part of a chicken to eat won't automatically ritualise it's consumption. Discovery and ownership is critical for a ritual to be created and then to stick. Which means that you, the brand owner, cannot 'suggest' interesting ways of eating, spreading or licking something. It must be discovered to be owned, to be ritualised and ultimately shared.

I can go on. I can write a book on the subject. Instead have a read of one interesting Aardvark member's reply to my question. Which gain was: What is the difference between ritual and routine in everday life.

Here is his answer:

"Since the term ritual came into common academic use in the 19th century, many people have asked your question, and there are many possible answers. As a composer who strives to create ritual performances with my works, I tend to think of the difference in terms of the extent and significance of the meanings created or reinforced through the act.

If a set of actions are recognized (either mentally or more sensually) by a group as signifying something greater than what is explicitly said, or even something that can't be said, then the event takes on ritual importance. The bigger the web of meaningful associations connected to the actions is, the deeper their influence to bring a group together, to make them feel connected to one another.

The same simple event might be ritualistic for one person and not for another. Imagine making coffee in the morning before going to work. For one person, imagine this is a largely unexamined action. Even though he does it five days a week in almost exactly the same way, he doesn't care that much about it and has no particular memories to associate with it. Nothing in his life hinges on the act. It is habit. Many people would call this a ritual; I would not.

Imagine another person who makes coffee every morning. She remembers her mother making coffee every morning, and this memory has some emotional significance—perhaps positive, perhaps negative. She makes the coffee not just for herself, but for her whole household. She takes pride in the making. She chooses fair trade beans at the store, aware that people in the tropics work hard to grow and pick this crop. She washes her prized coffee pot gently afterwards with a mind toward tomorrow morning. She has the unspoken sense that the act sets the tone for her day and for the day of everyone else in her household. I would call this a ritual.

Ritualization is an intentional, strategic way of acting. When one chooses to give actions significance, one performs a ritual. When you choose to be mindful of how a set of actions connect you to your family, to your neighborhood, to the rest of humankind, to all of nature, you ritualize otherwise mundane events.

If you want to read an academic text that looks at our history of using the term ritual and proposes ritualization as a lens for examining social activity, check out Catherine Bell's "Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice.""

And then I asked him f I could post his reply on our blog.

"I appreciate your asking, Siamack, and yes, you may. I would be honored by a mention on ethnosnacker, especially on a topic so central to my aesthetics and ethics. More information about me is available at"

And, interestingly, Zachary is NOT an anthropologist.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Commercial vs. academic anthropology: a guest post by, Pedro Oliveira

It feels so nice to finally receive a guest post for the very first time since launching this Blog. Thank you, Pedro.

Being an anthropologist and reading, Gavin Johnson's Ethnosacker interview made me smile. I too opted out of academia after completing my PhD in anthropology. As I am also a psychologist, I chose to go back to clinical practice after a four-year long PhD affair with anthropology.

On the one hand, Gavin’s interview brings out what is often the good spirited nature of the kind of social scientists who do not take themselves too seriously (unless, of course, they are talking to a stereotypical academic anthropologist). On the other hand, I couldn’t help feeling that for those of us anthropologists who stray from the academic path there is a legacy of guilt, or a tint of shame, or some unresolved conflict we must tackle through humour. If this is entirely my projection so be it. Yet being a psychologist too, I get to decide whether or not this is entirely my projection (thank you very much).

What I still struggle with - not suggesting that Gavin does, this is now officially about me - is this idea that commercial ethnographers produce something less ‘worthy’ than our academic peers. I want to challenge this a bit.

Take as example the questions of the funding of academic ethnographers. Funding agencies are not private clients, but PhD candidates still have a lot to answer in terms of what they set themselves to research from the very beginning. Do you often wonder, in a world where people often see the place they belong to as the major identity definer, why we still have more ethnographies of race or ethnicity than, for example, ethnographies of place and space?

Well, if you go somewhere like a race and equality board and ask for a grant to study a part of a city, your chances are substantially reduced if you set yourself to study a particular ethnic group in that part of the city. Try a PhD funding research proposal of the Afro-Caribbean in Brixton. If you are presenting it to a funding agency with clear concerns around ethnicity, compared to an ethnographic study of ‘Brixton as a multi-racial part of London’, your chances of funding will certainly increase. Of course, once you’re there (writing the thesis up) you can always ‘deconstruct’ ethnicity. That’s probably why so many anthropologists feel they need to deconstruct something in the phase of writing: they could hardly deconstruct it while applying for the funding.

Academic work, like everything else in the world, is politically rooted and partially commissioned. Funding agencies are not private clients. That does not mean they do not actively shape the research objects from the start, dividing them in useful and acceptable research objects and something else, on the other side.

Indeed, if we accept that there is something as proper ethnographic objects, here comes the second fallacy on the relation between academic anthropology and commercial ethnography. I think the time will come where commercial anthropologists will lead the forefront of the discipline, at an academic level as well. This isn’t just because academic departments, as we all know, are struggling to survive. If anthropology is a holistic subject, commercial anthropologists, by bringing together data from ethnography, cultural theory, semiotics, social theory, constructivism, neuroscience, thematic analysis etc, more often in the same research project are starting to articulate in practice the holism that academic anthropologists often allude to as the failed promise of the discipline.

There shall be no place for feelings of inferiority regarding our academic soul mates: commercial ethnographers are the only kind of researchers who are TRULY pushing the boundaries while making sure the discipline survives. What we know need is a good high brown theory for what we do, a theory that can shed light on our practices, illuminating the difference between what we say we do and what we actually do, just like our informants. Ideally, this theory will inform academic anthropology, in a feedback loop. I’m a strong believer this theory will come, when the time is right. And by the work everyone is doing in commercial ethnography, it’s probably going to come sooner than we all expect.

I have currently resigned from my post as a psychotherapist (enough stories of misery) and looking forward to begin a career in commercial ethnography. I’ve got all the theory in the world and plenty of qualitative research practice in two disciplines…so if you know someone who can use a trilingual anthro-shrink as a commercial ethnographer...