Saturday, February 13, 2010

The importance of watching a clip again and again

I downloaded Aardvark to my iPhone the other day because I had read about Google buying them out for $50m. Almost a week later, and I am still asking around 3 questions, answering 3 questions and asking to be sent the answer to 3 questions from other users, every single day.

I would never have believed that asking questions and reading other people's questions would be so fascinating. Here are some of my questions to date:

1 Can anyone tell me the best vegetarian restaurant in Brussels?
2 What is the academic definition of theory, how is it articulates, evaluated and ultimately accepted?
3 I have just finished watching all episodes of The Wire. What next?
4 Can anyone help me understand the difference between a ritual and routine event?

(OK, I already knew this last answer but was interested in other perspectives)

And I have received fantastic answers to the above and more from people all over the world. From Iran, Sweden, the US and Malaysia. Sometimes within seconds of asking.

It reminded me a little of my move from JWT (London) to DDB (London). In 1995, when I first joined JWT, I was one of the first people to have email. As more and more staff were given email, we started to receive cross company announcements, by email instead of internal memos. Announcements such as the date of the next charity ball or the collecting of money for someone or other's retirement (yes, some did last that long). If I wanted to send a mass email, I would have had to get permission from the very, very top. The message would have to be checked. And then queued before being sent.

I joined DDB in 1998 and was amazed on my first day to find dozens of cross departmental/company emails sent by ordinary planners, creatives and who ever wanted to. Most of them were questions or requests for help. Creatives (headed by the late Ronnie Barker's son) would ask 'can anyone give me an example of unusual places to drink coffee' or 'does anyone know the name of the song at the end of such and such a movie'. It was open range and anything went. It felt far more open, relaxed and creative than JWT. And it felt honest too because, yes, board directors sometimes didn't know something that the post room boy did.

The reason why I have been so captivated by Aardvark is that it comes so close to how we work at EverydayLives. We are all about collaboration and asking, asking, asking fearlessly when it comes to analysis and interpretation.

I recall how once, about 7 years ago, I received a clip (above) from a colleague showing a mum having a cigarette and doing the crossword in her car while waiting to collect her son outside school. The message was, 'can you see anything of interest in this before we throw it?' I then forwarded it to another few colleagues and waited. Within an hour I had meanings added to it ranging from the car a cocoon to occasion completion and me time. We used this clip for years to bring to life the importance of using ethnography to see things respondents themselves cannot possibly know to talk about.

I also remember once an agency client asking me 'But, Siamack, if I have seen a clip once, why on earth do I need to see it again and again?' What I couldn't have known then to answer her was that every time you see a clip, any clip, even a 20 second long clip, you see more and more AND MORE. You see things you could not have imagined you would see on first look. And if you start writing about the event, effectively deconstructing it, even if it's as simple as someone opening a door, an amazing amount of creative and insightful thinking, meaning and interpretation can percolate to the surface. Try it if you don't believe me. Repeat viewing, I cannot over emphasise, is critical to great ethnographic research analysis.

And there are two ways of repeat viewing: 1 Watch the same clip again and again until you run out of ideas, and, 2 share the same clip among lots of people, once, who will each have different perspectives and biases to add to it. Both work just as well. And the second way is less tedious when you have hundreds of events to deconstruct.

So where does Aardvark come in? Well, it doesn't really. You can't attach clips to share and you can't license it (yet) for a closed, secure, corporate environment. In any event, using it within a company would defeat the object of what Aardvark was all about.

The answer? I am tired of plugging it...


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