Friday, December 30, 2011

My mum the interpreter

Here is a sad Christmas story conveying no particular lesson other than, perhaps, the speed at which kids can soak up a foreign culture.

My mum, aged 72, is an interpreter. In case you don't know, I am second generation Iranian (Persian is a Californian expression I refuse to use). So my mum interprets for Iranians and Afghanis who are asylum seekers (most claim to be gay or converts to Christianity in the hope they will be granted permanent leave to stay) or simply not fluent in English. She attends court, meetings with lawyers and hospital appointments including births where she has ended up in tears holding a newborn because dad was in Afghanistan and mum was under a general anaesthetic with no other relatives.

Recently she was called to interpret for a 12 year old Afghan boy who had turned up in the UK on the back of a lorry. The lorry had come to a halt on some B road in the middle of the wilds of Lancashire, the back doors opened, and he had been ordered off. It was 2am, freezing and he was on a country lane with no houses, street lights or people to ask for help. A reminder: he was 12 years old - only a few years older than my own twins. And he spoke no English.

He was starving and unsure of where he was, so he walked. Eventually he reached a small town where he saw some lights.  He hoped he could find food where the lights were shining from. It turned out to be a nightclub. A kindly bouncer took him to the local police station and directly into foster care.

We look after child asylum seekers here in the UK. This kid was given a complete health check, sent to school and his kindly foster parents even bought him a PAYG mobile phone.

"Did you go to school in Afghanistan? My mum has asked him when she was asked to interpret for the Social Services.
"Then what did you do?"
"After my dad died, my uncle took me in and I watched over his donkeys."

The same uncle had paid some gangsters to have him transported to the UK. He had no mother.

My mum next saw him a few weeks later and once settled in with his foster family. There had been a disagreement between him and his foster parents. The foster dad had explained that the boy point blank refused to wear clothes bought in TK Max (TJ MAx in the US) and wanted the exact same brands/styles from JD Sports at 4 times the price.

When my mum asked him what the difference was between the products he replied that there were none. So why did he want to pay more?


My mum asked him if he wanted to go back to his donkeys. I think it was her way of telling him how fortunate he was.


My mum, being 72, could not comprehend a 12year old mind that wanted to pay more for the exact same product. I can understand but cannot articulate it into words. Another article perhaps.

Any thoughts anyone?


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mission for 2012

When I do my ethnography talks, one of the most important topics I cover is what people DON'T do. What they NEARLY do and, so it follows, what they don't say.

Conventional research is all about what is done and said. If lucky, some researchers will add meaning/interpretation too. If not so lucky, the quotes/statements will be presented as insight... Which is why agency planners like to differentiate themselves from researchers as follows: "A qual researcher will tell you everything that was said in a focus group, while an agency planner will tell you everything that wasn't said." Not sure where I read this but I think it was in a Linkedin group post. By a planner.

Another very nice (true) story I heard recently from a Kantar director goes as follows: During WW2 aircraft engineers spent valuable time and resources trying to figure out how to reinforce wings and fuselages so aircraft would survive heavy damage while on missions. They would study in great dept bullet holes and the like to try and engineer better aircraft until one particular engineer realised that the bits of the aircraft to study were the places not hit by bullets. 

Here is why.

The aircraft that never returned could only have been hit in these places sustaining irrecoverable damage. They had been busy looking at holes  of surviving aircraft instead of the areas that hadn't been hit which would, by deduction, have sent the non returning aircraft to their doom...

And a personal anecdote: I am a fine artist by training. The most important lesson I ever learnt was about what not to draw. That could be conveyed by the lines or colour around it. Look at the drawings by the old masters and you will see what I mean.

So where am I going with this?

Here me out.

My personal obsession with naturalism and reality are forever being blind sided by the way we are forced to recruit respondents. This is not about the quality of respondents. We always recruit excellent respondents. But nonetheless respondents who have been selected on the basis of their answers to attitudinal and other questions.

[A brief story: When I was at DDB London many years ago heading up their ethnographic research unit, I was showing a planner colleague some edits of one of our households when his jaw dropped.

"But I did an in-depth with the same guy in that same house!"

I looked at him and was taken aback by how upset he was.

"He told us he was a hospital nurse!!!"

Then it dawned on me. We had been told he had a completely different profession. I complained to the recruitment agency (a reliable supplier) and then to our head of planning before being told to 'not blow it out of proportion...]

The above happened over 12 years ago. Why did it happen? Most likely because the client had extremely tough criteria and the recruiters were in a hurry - which they always are - to deliver. And people get so obsessive about how respondents answer particular questions they completely ignore the fact that they too are humans, just like the rest of us, who have their own agendas for becoming respondents. This agenda us usually money related.

Now for something hard to swallow. I have lived in with hundreds of households, both in my JWT days and my DDB days. All had ticked the correct boxes. All fitted narrowly defined criteria by the way they had responded to screeners.

In many cases when we presented back films (and in those days I didn't do jump cuts or short edits) the client would be seeing their segment for the first time in their OWN SETTING. And they would ask questions such as: Why does a C2D household have a flat screen TV and health club membership? (A: because they are on benefits and pay no taxes). Why is a 'healthy' household having a fry up breakfast on a Saturday??? (A: because they don't see it as unhealthy) And so it went. Clients would see their respondents in-situ for the first time and slump back in their seats at all they things they might have got wrong with the way they understood them.

It's worth saying that I have never cut out events and happenings which conflict with who the respondents are supposed to be. It's tempting to do because the last thing you need is to be accused of bad recruitment which will undermine just about everything you have done including each and every insight generated.

When clients do question recruitment, I so want to demonstrate to them that the same respondent can fit all of their segments depending on context. I so want give another presentation so they can see the different hats, attitudinal and other, worn by respondents depending on their moods and modes. And Ethnography is such a brilliant way of bringing these things to life. Yet we don't. We recruit and capture respondents like they are two dimensional beings with emotions, beliefs and values which are constant. HA!

You the reader have better things to do than read my ramblings here so I will get to the point. What is our mission for 2012? To develop features and tools for EthOS which will allow us to immerse ourselves into the mundane, ordinary realities of non-recruited people in the real world. Not respondents who have pledged to behave in a particular way by filling in a recruitment form. This is what 2012 has in store for us.

Happy 2012!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2012

I'm writing this final post of 2011 through a stinking cold/cough/head cold. And tomorrow I have to drive the family all the way from Brussels to Leeds in West Yorkshire, UK, a distance of 455m or 700km.  So there. That's my whinge over with. Back to the post.

What will 2012 bring? For us, it will bring wild apples. 2012 will be the year we turn our attention to understanding real people, in real places, doing real things in real time. You may ask, "But you already to this via EthOS don't you?" and I would reply, "Yes, but with recruited people. Not real people. Not people happily going about there lives who decide on a whim to share a nugget or nuggets with us by responding to tasks embedded in the things they touch, buy and stumble upon." OK I'm saying real people to be provocative. And you may well challenge me by saying you can't use respondents without screening them. Oh but that will come. Stay tuned and I shall demonstrate. 

So here's to a very special 2012 for all of us. Have a good one! 

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's time to LOOK under that bonnet

Any idea why people charge what they charge? It's about time you did have an idea.

Here is a great post by Jason Anderson of GameHex.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Selling EthOS

I met an independent qualitative researcher at the MRMW in Atlanta this summer just gone. She specialised in the Hispanic/Latino market in the US and we spoke at length about mobile research in general and the ways in which it added to and changed conventional qualitative research.

A few things about this individual which I picked up on immediately: she seriously knew her stuff - saw straight through a lot of the 'benefits' of mobile tools; she had some great clients which are a testimony to how good she is at what she does and her research methodology/approach was her way or the high way.

During the conference I noticed her also chatting with the QualVu people who were giving a demo of their platform. I asked if I could watch the demo and they graciously obliged knowing full well I was a competitor. If you must know, it was a fantastic demonstration which left me feeling a little sick.

Fast forward to two weeks ago when I received an email from this same lady. She is running a large study in the US with Mexican households and her client wants her to use a mobile platform of her choosing as a an experimental pilot into mobile. She sent me a briefing document too which was interesting. Audio was essential (separate from video) and the client didn't want the respondents to have to use their desk tops even once during the study. It was a mobile device only project. She also reeled off a load of new-to-me requirements which we don't yet offer.

I decided to play helpful and explained at length that we have a development road map and the features she is asking for won't go live for a few weeks at least. We explored ways of working around them while still using our platform and in the end I recommended she get in touch with the likes of QualVu and Revelation which may already offer the same features (not going to say which, so there!). She paused, and told me that she had already been in touch and none offered what she wanted. We were the closest yet.

The challenge is that this lady, like many other potential users, is what I call a hard core quali. She is trying to to a qual, focus group style research study using a mobile platform. And she won't compromise on how a platform should work for her. Which is fine. Which is my challenge.

I left it that if she decided not to use us, we would almost certainly work with her in the future. And that discussions with her have been amazingly useful. She said she would come back to me after discussing with her client.

I will keep you posted on whether we get this or not.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More time

Someone should come here and do an ethnography of me at work. I drive people nuts. Especially my developer and commercial director and my wife and my father in law... only our app developers still don't know me well enough to take everything I say as said. Let me explain.

We have an innovations/features pipeline which goes something like this:

Dec 2011
Blogging  - we are close to completing this now
Researcher's living document - for analysis and interpretation
Cross feature tagging - all entries and posts and be filtered as one

Jan 2012
Visceral sliders - our first questionnaire mechanism which is nothing like a questionnaire

Feb 2012
EthOS Live TM - A live intercept feature

Apr 2012
EthOS Wild Apples - more later
EthOS Street - more later

You are looking at the next 5 months worth of EthOS development. I haven't included more minor tweaks and additions.

As of today, blogging is finished but in staging. We were ready to push it live last Friday. But while playing with it, we came up with a bunch of new ideas around how blogs would live alongside the rest of our entries. Which meant literally going back to square one with certain elements of this build. Which will set us all back half a week. Not a big deal you might say.

Until you see how things work at EthOS.

a) One of us - usually me - comes up with an idea for a feature.
b) Our digital director asks me to write out the specifications.
c) I refuse.
d) Commercial director has long chat with me about the importance of focusing on features which will make us money/are chargeable
e) I agree but continue with what I have started
f) Digital director begins to write out specifications and shares them with me
g) I don't really listen and he begins building
h) Digital director sends me screen grabs followed by long calls around how the feature works
i) Calls littered with Digital director saying: "But I told you it was going to work like this!"
j) Call ended with digital director asking if any more changes will take place
k) I tell him I don't know.
l) f-k are repeated numerous times
m) New feature appears on staging and we start playing on it like excited kids
n) Like excited kids we want the feature to do more
o) Our suggestions take us back to f
p) We go live much later than expected

You may ask: why even tell anyone you are working on new features? Just do a short PR and launch. My reply would be that our transparency allows clients and prospects to engage with us early on ensuring that we build the best possible tools we can. Call it crowd sourcing if you think 20 people are a cloud...

You may ask: why pay scant attention to the spec document? Get everything sorted in your head before you start building! My reply would be that I do pay attention and that all of the key functionality we need are included. But I cannot get my mind around a new feature until I have played with it for a few days. And I can't take a new tool the best there is in one step.

And here is a film someone sent me which I'd like to share with you. I mirrors my own views about time constraints or deadlines. Who needs them?


Monday, December 5, 2011

Welcome to my life

I have been thinking for a while about how to get new users onto a test project on EthOS as quickly as possible. And a solution came to me last week which I have put into motion. An EthOS project of MY LIFE! Warts and all. The kids, my food, my Skype calls and so on and so forth. All there for you to see for yourselves just who I am. BTW I am no exhibitionist, I just enjoy getting inside respondent's shoes once in a while!

I will be adding entries constantly so invited users can get a feel for and play with all of the features the platform provides. Heck you can even send me comments which I will have to respond to.

In order to gain access/receive an invite, go to and sign up using the tab at the top of the page - you don't need to download an app unless you want to send entries to me. Next, email me here with the same email you have used to sign up. You will soon receive an email from me with a QR code on it. You can scan this code with the EthOS app to launch my project on your device. But since you are unlikely to send me entries, simply log in to EthOS where you will see my invite on the right of the screen. 'Accept' the project and start watching and playing.



Invitation to our second webinar

Christmas is almost here  - well, our tree is up already - and I thought it a good idea to share where we are  with various features one last time before we split for the holidays.

In a day or two, we will go live with blogging, Researcher journal and a few other tools we want to walk you through. So what better way than a webinar to be held on the 13th of this month. We will use the opportunity not only to show you how all of our features come together, but also share our plans for the next two big developments we are working on.

Therefore please join us at our Webinar on Tuesday 13th December so we can show you, tell you and hopefully get you running your own Christmas pilot.

We have two time slots: you can register here for the 8am GMT session and here for the 5pm GMT session.

Looking forward to seeing you there.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Help and support

This guy really does empathise with us when we receive frustrated messages from users of EthOS telling us a video file isn't sending.

We check and discover that it's 400Mb. Also that it is sending but will take time. Obviously. Or perhaps not so obviously to some.

You can start the clip at 1:44 if short of time.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Webinar Webinar Webinar!

I'd like to invite readers of Ethnosnacker to our free Mobile Ethnographic Research Webinar on the 22nd of November.

It's a 45 minute session plus fifteen minutes for questions. I aim to spend fifteen minutes on each of: 1) checklist for a successful project; 2) Analysis and interpretation or things you will never have thought about exploring before and 3) the future.

It will be good. Really good! Do not miss and places are limited because I have been a cheapskate with my Webinar platform subscription. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

You have probably come across this before...

It's not very often that I come across something which literally leaves me stunned, inspired and envious all at the same time. And rather self consciously, I introduce Khan Academy. Self consciously because you have almost certainly come across it before. And by introducing you to it I will be betraying how behind the times I can be in certain departments. But I only came across it this afternoon when out at a kids birthday party while chatting with some parents. For those of you who don't know, it's education taken to a new level. You can stop, start and pause it. You can progress in any direction you like. And you can do all of this at your own pace.

What a fantastic idea. And completely free. Which is where the envy kicks in. I wish I could have a free portion of EthOS exclusively for people to share their realities, priorities and day to day challenges so we can all see how alike we really are. Whether we live in Montreal or Mombassa. Tehran or Tel Aviv. You see, having been raised for a short period of my life in Iran's second city, Mashad and the rest in a small English seaside town. And later on having nested myself inside respondent's homes and lives in places ranging from Shanghai to Stockholm, I can tell you that we share many more similarities than we do differences. And it's similarities that governments and news organisations never seem to dwell on. So whilst the minority loudest among us get all the airtime, the meek, the majority, really can inherit the earth.

All that's left is for me to get my thinking cap on...


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

We are assembling a global team of approved EthOS experts from around the world

We are receiving literally dozens of enquiries daily from EthOS agency clients who need experienced qualitative researchers to manage their EthOS mobile research projects.

You may be an independent practitioner or a company. And will have proven experience in qualitative and ideally ethnographic research.

As well as training you in using the EthOS platform to manage ad-hoc and longitudinal projects. We will automatically channel all country specific enquiries directly to you. Making you an approved EthOS affiliate in your market.

We are looking to train experts from all 5 global regions.

Please contact me for more information.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Business genius vs. gifted manager

Here is an excellent article about the ability to see what others cannot see. You may need to register to read it, but it's free.

Questions to yourself while reading:

1) Am I genius material? (that's you the reader.)
2) Can genius be developed using a bunch of thinking tools?
3) Is genius-ness more likely when one's back is against a wall?

Enjoy the read!


Thursday, October 27, 2011


Steve Jobs once said that when playing tennis, you need to be not where the ball is, but where the ball is going to be. When applied to business, embedded in Steve's observation is the ability to see what others can't see.

And seeing what others cannot see happens in two ways. The first is pure chance or an educated guess. The second is to have a complete understanding of the landscape you are trying to succeed in. You could do worse than carrying out some research. And there are many who do an awful lot worse by carrying out perfectly decent research and then simply reporting and making decisions based directly on the answers to the research questions. It happens every day. We already know all the issues around asking questions and consumers only being able to discuss topics within their existing frame of understanding and reality. We know they can't predict their reaction to a new idea. We also know that you cannot take soundbites and present them as findings.

So what do you do? Be warned I am providing an overview only in this post. The full version of this oversimplified explanation can take a few days to convey.

I was having lunch last week with Joanna Chrzanowska of Qualitative Mind at one of my favourite restaurants in London. How, I ventured, do you generate insight? And her response was this:

Insights do sometimes come out of data via the unconscious (or preconscious) processing. However, this is random... What we need is a more disciplined method that leaves an audit trail of the thought processes and a more solidly grounded theory than just an insight.

Imagine me (Joanna speaking) spilling a box full of Lego pieces onto a table. Each is a piece of information. A quote, photograph, video clip, etc.

The first thing to do is group the pieces by colour, shape and any other clusters that are obvious to see. This is the equivalent of conducting analysis. Analysis is about seeing what it there and organising it in a way which is useful. To be clear, we are not carrying out interpretation yet.

Next you begin a process of re-clustering and building. Building concepts and theories by referring back to the original Lego pieces and selecting pieces to build your theory. Now this is the important bit. Sometimes you will find that all the pieces needed to build your theory simply are not there. In this event, you will need to change the shape of your theory or rebuild it from the ground up. But all the time, you will be looking at the data and your clusters either conceptually (helicopter view was Joanna's expression) or at event level. And very importantly, you will need to be able to move easily and rapidly between te ideas you are building and the individual Lego pieces.

Whether you are building a theory, thought or concept depends on your line of business project type. But once you have built them, the process of seeing what others cannot see begins. And out of that process your insight will percolate to the surface. Sometimes it will spring out at you, other times it will slowly take form over a few days or weeks. In any event, insight does not come directly out of your data. It comes out of the way you conceptualise the data. See what I mean?

Where am I going with this look into seeing what others cannot see? To the EthOS app, that's where.

We are creating tools to enable people to construct ideas from a bunch of raw entries, films, pictures, audio and text. One feature enabling travel between events/entries and concepts right now is EthOS WorkSpaces. You can experience WorkSpaces by signing up and running a no cost pilot. Do it!

And remember your insight emerges only after you have understood, at a conceptual level.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Learning to read the world through other eyes

Here is something a friend sent me this morning that I have already scanned once and once is enough to make me want to share. It's about thinking tools; it's a little too academic; it includes text such as this:

As it is often difficult to notice or examine the hands that are writing us, TOE was designed so that learners can develop  tools to enable them  to notice and analyse these hands more easily

Please read and let me know what you think.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

EthOS check list

Here's the deal: you have just signed up and downloaded the app. And about to start your first ever EthOS ethnography project. And I stress ethnography project, which is what this check list is for:

Creating your project on EthOS
1) Examine your project objectives/deliverables carefully. Some will be observation based and some will be question based. Do not mix them up!

2) What do you absolutely need to capture (film & photos) to help you meet your observational objectives?

3) What do you need to ask/probe (text & audio) to meet your question based objectives?

4) When inviting respondents (we call them researchers) in 'manage project people', make sure you tell them in advance that they will be receiving emails with QR codes to scan and launch their project on the EthOS app. We receive many support emails from respondents asking us not to spam them!!! Because they have forgotten they are taking part in a project and they had no idea they were going to receive a QR code to scan.

5) Know your permission levels when you invite anyone to your project. Note that a project manager can invite other project managers without your permission.

Recruiting respondents (people)
1) No matter how carefully you need recruit, don't ignore sites like Craigslist to find respondents. We have used it successfully on a number of occasions as have a bunch of clients. The only issue is the large drop out rate after respondents have agreed to take part. Half may not show up! So be sure to double up your sample.

2) If using a recruitment shop - your drop out rate will be far less, but your costs, including incentive costs, will be much higher. However, it will save you a lot of valuable time and potential headaches with having to deal with recruitment yourself.

3) Once the project begins, expect 1/10 respondents to not contribute often or effectively enough. Careful recruitment will minimise this. BTW, this figure is 2/3 for discussion groups.

4) When recruiting, be clear that all household members must be happy with participating in your study. Even if they are not directly involved. It can be annoying knowing that family members (usually dads in my experience) are hiding just off camera.

5) If you are going to be using them for additional explorations - we sometimes do our own participant observation with people at the end of a journaling phase - make sure you warn them before the project begins. Nothing worse that a client asking to deep dive a particular respondent and finding they don't want to be paid a visit!

6) Decide how much content you need. Are you making a film for your client as an output? How many video entries a day would you need. We suggest, for a typical project (I know there is no such thing), 3-4 entries a day with 1-2 being video entries. Any more and people may start thinking too hard about what they can capture for you. Killing any semblance of naturalism.

Generating themes (tasks and questions)

1) If you don't want to bias respondents towards a particular, brand, service or activity you will need to disguise it. Disguise by stating additional brands/categories that you need them to capture for you.

2) Have a mix of continuous themes - across the duration of the study and one-off themes to keep respondents engaged. Note you can change themes easily in your project, 'manage project themes' and the changes will sync automatically on every respondent's device.

3) We recommend a maximum of 10 and ideally 6 themes at any one time. These can be tasks and questions. But keep them to one (seven word) sentence long where possible. You can also use a single word, e.g 'snacking'. (Note people will be reading your themes on their devices (against which to capture their entries) and the fewer lines to read the better.)

4) Themes are locked down - respondents cannot add to them. So we suggest always having a additional theme called 'other'. This way, if they want to send an entry which doesn't obviously match one of your themes, they can still send it to a theme bucket, albeit a general one.

5) Tags can be created by respondents and should be used to add detail/context to the themes they have selected.

6) With both themes and tags it is fine to select more than one from each.

Final check before launch
1) Be sure to allow yourself a day or two between being ready to start your project and actually starting your project. Use this time to ask each and every respondent to send you a few entries. You might even set a simple introductory task.

2) Sometimes people don't realise how weak their Wifi is until they try sending a video. It's worth identifying and troubleshooting these people before the project starts.

Post fieldwork

1) This is a great time for deep dives with the best of the rest. Which ever 'online researchers' you are going to visit, delete their emails in 'manage project people' and add them again as 'offline researchers'. This way you can use your device to capture entries of the respondents, as the respondents themselves. Confused? All this means is that you can still filter by respondent names and see your entries of them under their names.

Please feel free to call any of us if you would like help with any stage of your project. Our aim is your 100% success!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

We have permission to reproduce

I am reproducing, below, an anonymised evaluation report. It was for a client who commissioned a study using our platform. The agency is one of the most globally respected. The client for whom the report was written is a household brand.

We have permission to reproduce this:

"Research on Research

This was the first project xxxxx have run using Ethos (apart from a small internal prototype). Overall we feel it was very successful and is able to create exciting new insights for brands. It is a unique methodology that covers both qualitative and ethnographic styles of research.
This methodology has a number of potential applications:
• Identify different beliefs and motivations towards a category
• Gain insight around routines and rituals
• Build hypothesis for segment creation
• Provide colour and context for existing segments
• Uncover role of family dynamics
• Understand difference between expressed belief and actual behaviour

What worked well

Unknown unknowns
Creating broad tasks for respondents leaves room for the unexpected to reveal itself. Traditionally research is confined by the expectations of the researcher, using grounded theory analysis lets us move beyond this.

We purposely did not read the client segmentation work before the analysis so were not led in our analysis. Despite this, we identified eight of the nine need states (although they were categorised slightly differently).

Observable routines and rituals
We can see not only how often people treat their dog but also what happens when they do. For example, whether they use treating as an opportunity to play, train or simply to derive pleasure from seeing a happy dog.

Shows up relationship dynamics
Most dogs exist in a family, this creates its own family dynamics. For example the role children play in treating – typically looking for the most excitable treat, asking the parent’s permission before treating. Partners can act as treating ‘handbrakes’ – dissuading the other person from excessive treating.

Human findings
As the data mostly consists of pictures and videos the story it tells is an extremely human one. This makes it a far more intuitive way of learning about people’s habits, beliefs and behaviours.

The fieldwork is ten days which provides a good snapshot of people’s lives including both typical and non-typical days. It also provides the opportunity to digest what they’ve said and probe further where necessary, this allows you to focus in on interesting aspects of their lives. There were 475 pieces of content uploaded, from 12 people over a 10 day period.

Unobtrusive technology
People feel very comfortable using their phones as a capture device and this allowed a real window into people’s homes. Although there were a few technical problems during the first task, these were resolved by the second. Some of the participants asked to be included in future studies.


Self Vs other ethnography
The nature of this project was very home-focussed which made it difficult to replicate traditional ethnography where they would actually go and observe other people in their homes. We did ask them to interview a friend about their dog, but this was more of a structured interview rather than an ethnographic situation. Some categories may be better suited to a methodology where the participants become the ethnographers, this could be achieved but would require more incentives and potentially some training.

From end of fieldwork to final report took around a month. This was partly due to getting to grips with a new approach but also the depth of the analysis, in particular creating the prezis (the initial word-based analysis took under a week). In future more could be done during the fieldwork to prepare the prezis and the final report which would speed this process up, developments to the ethos site site also will make this a smoother process for the researcher.

Some of the events felt staged for camera, this could be because participants were asked to upload six items per day. Even in these occasions there was still a lot for us to learn as the owner’s still maintained their standard treating ritual. To get more authentic occasions we would need to make sure that the tasks fit naturally into their lives (e.g. photograph every meal you eat).

Only 2 of the active 12 participants had children in the house, would have been better to get some more households with children. Out of the 25 people we invited to take part 10 were households with children, it could be that we were unlucky to get a low response rate from families with children, or that these families have less time to conduct this type of study. Next time if children in the house is an important consideration we should aim to over-recruit slightly more.

It is hard to record yourself, especially during a treating moment, holding a camera will limit your actions. It worked well when people got other family members to video them, or the participant was videoing someone else. It might be useful in future to recruit families to partake as a unit of analysis rather than an individual, although this may pose some technological problems (i.e. they all need iPhones or androids), we could get round this by giving them a family flip camera for duration of the fieldwork. It would be interesting to get multiple perspectives in this way."

I do have a few comments to add - especially about people setting up events and challenges recording ones self. The best way to avoid is to ask people not to! And not to set too many tasks. We recommend around 3 per day.

In India we used the platform for a study involving people filming their own routines. People managed with help from friends, family, props and even an old cassette case which worked beautifully! But perhaps we should send people those cheap 'n cheerful iPhone stands...

Would value feedback from readers of this post.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Talking shop

Running a mobile research platform isn't all that!

Go get a hot drink, kick back and find out why.


Monday, September 5, 2011

From hairdressers to persian carpet sellers

Ever heard about the hairdresser who became so successful he had no time to cut his own hair? He stopped be abe to see what he was doing!

One of the things (there are many and this is just one) I wish I could do is an ethnography of everyone using our app. We do ethnography's for others, but never for ourselves. I'd love to see how users design tasks and questions around their project objectives. I'd love to see how they use the features and workspaces in particular. Most interestingly, I'd love to understand how an organisation which has a long tradition of working in a particular way suddenly adapts to our new platform. What would happen if you imposed our app on an organisation?

Let me give you an example. Remember this article? Watch the short film before reading on... And note the app is a very old version.

See the guy in it? That's Bernabe. Arguably one of the world's most talented and experienced video ethnographers. He's my right hand man - no he is both hands. And he manages most of our projects from beginning to end. When time allows, he actually loves to film in-home himself. But typically, he is managing a bunch of other ethnographers in different markets.

Reason why I mention him is this: When I completed the prototype app, I called him and asked him to give it a whirl by downloading it to his iPhone. Note up to this point, Bernabe had little or no involvement in the  development of the app. A few days later he called me up for a chat:

"Remind me, why did you create this app?"
"Well, you can now come back from the field with all your films ready in your inbox" I replied patiently.
"But it really won't save us any time if that's what you're thinking."
"Bernabe, you spend days endcoding video and then clustering the themes together." I countered.
"Yes but most of our time is taken up making films - not just clustering and theming"

And so we continued arguing about just how useful an app would be.

Bernabe didn't use it. I couldn't force him to. And there was no way he was going to select our ethnographers on the basis of whether or not they owed iPhones.

Not long after Bernabe's unsuccessful pilot of the app I called him for another favour. To ask him of he could make a film of the App in use. Like a demo film to help people understand how I see the app being used. He had no objections. And we selected a tame household to make our film with.

Apart from calling me at the end of the filming day to say the app crashed about 200 times, he said nothing else against it. And this, I believe, was a turning point.

Before long, we were using our iPhones in the field along with our PD150's as back up video cameras. And not long after that, people were using Blackberry's and Android versions of our app too.

A few points to note:

Ethnographers were using the app to do participant observation before we even realised it might also be used for journaling. It was a genuine surprise to learn we might need to build a 'lite' app just for respondents (still building it).

There was no big launch of the app within our organisation. No one was forced to use it. And when they did, we would hear lots of comments and helpful suggestions from the users while often still in the field.

We made no promises with the app so as not to break any promises. It was very much a soft launch. Discover it for yourself we said (and still say). Your frst project is free. We did also persuade them to include us in their projects so we could trouble shoot and help out rapidly when needed. Soft launch or not, we want everyone to have a successful experience.

As we added new features (I'll blog on this soon), we stuck to the simple principle that we were building a tool for ourselves. Not anyone else. We weren't trying to make a fast buck by appealing to a large audience. This was our tool, designed to be used with our own methodology/process. If you like it, fab! If not, find another app or build your own. Seriously.

And when we realised that we did need to use the app among respondents who were journaling and keeping diaries, we started to think hard about a larger platform and not just an app. And I can now tell you that building this platform will never stop.

Going back to my hairdresser analogy, we are now beginning to cut our fringes back a little so we can see what's going on. We have a new commercial director - ex BrainJuicer - to help us with that. And what's going on is that we are selling people Persian carpets. Ever been sold a persian carpet by an Iranian carpet seller? They will suggest you take the one you like home and throw it on the floor to test for a few days or weeks. If you like it, pay for it. If you don't, bring it back in reasonable shape. After all, the more you walk on a Persian carpet, the better it looks.


Monday, August 15, 2011

What next

I'm in Mumbai overseeing a rather large EthOS study. And above are a selection of my own snaps (there are more if you want to see them).

When I attended the Atlanta mobile research conference last month, I met a very bright chap who had just sold his 4th company for $68m. I saw potential investor dollar signs but played it cool. He turned out to be a down to earth and friendly font of wisdom.

"You need to no just add functionality as you build it"

I looked perplexed.

"Fixes should be pushed instantly, but you should time new functionality and PR it. Perhaps at 3 monthly intervals. That way people will know what you have done and why."

It made sense. A lot of sense.

Then he continued to tell me about how important it was to keep two financial records for our company. One for ourselves, and the other for potential investors. And he explained what he meant in some detail. Too much to share here.  In the end I forgot to steer him onto the subject of investment.

As soon as I touched down in London, I set about creating a todo list of new functionality (already thought through with clients and our Digital Director) and very importantly the ordering of it (my decision).

Fast forward back to Mumbai, four days ago. I was in a meeting with Dina Mehta (India's top commercial anthropologist and someone I whose work I have followed for years).

"Siamack, you know how respondents select themes and tags and add them to their entries?"

"Erm, yes."

"How can I create my own tags and themes and add them to the entries? I also want to ad notes and make them searchable."

Showing her my todo list: "Well, we will start work on it in 3 weeks once we have built different entry views and auto filtering."

"But I need it now for this project. Three weeks will be too late!"

I took a deep breath and called my digital director. And 'grounded theory' functionality will be added in a few days.

Below is the definitive list of functionality to be added in phase 1:

Export project - allow an entire project to be exported. At the moment it has to be done manually.
Grounded theory functionality - a new layer of tagging and notes which can be peer reviewed to add rigour
Project summary and respondent view with workspace level comments - see how individual respondents are doing in an instant across all of the project themes
Blogging - use entries to blog
Timeline view - drag and drop entries onto timeline and view/comment without having to watch entry after entry
Save a filter search to a workspace - all future entries matching your filters will drop automatically into your workspace
Reply to comments by replying to emails - when a comment is posted, respondents receive a push notification on their device and an email with a link which will send them directly to the entry with a comment. Problem is that people are replying to the email and not using the link! Which means I get hundreds of emails that I have to forward to project owners!
Configurable and hidden tags - to allow filtering be gender, age, type of user, etc.

Note we have two more phases. And you can see them by joining the EthOS user group. And feel free to share ideas and suggestions. But it will take more than a glare for me to change the ordering of these. Dina is a very special case!


Thursday, July 14, 2011


If these are not new to you please accept my apologies.

A scene from the excellent movie, Downfall, which has been dubbed into comedic exchanges so often that there are several websites dedicated to it.

I was made aware of these two yesterday by a friend at BrainJuicer.

Have some hankies at hand and enjoy. Share/Bookmark

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Great ideas from Valenciennes

Do any of you teach?

I mean undergraduate and post graduate students. I teach. I teach MBA's at SAID, University of Oxford (don't you know) and Industrial design students at Valenciennes University. I also teach at Coventry, once at LSE, once in Norway and Italy and the list goes on. My topic is ethnography but I don't just expect students to believe everything I say. I run a a full blown exercise with them. And then tell them how well they have done compared to other groups I have lectured to - such as Oxford.

Last month I decided to set my own task for the design students at Valenciennes. I set them all up on EthOS and then briefed a project which was all about how young people clean their homes. Especially young people living in shared houses. i.e. Themselves! It wasn't really a brief. It was a task: watch and film each other cleaning (naturalistically including snatched cleaning) and then conduct analysis in order to arrive at a design brief for cleaning tools. Note I wasn't looking for concepts, I was looking at parameters - what should't they be designing.

Design students being design students, it was very hard to persuade them not to sketch or draw. And design student or not, it's very hard to watch an event and to try and think about what didn't or could have happened. And before even setting the tasks, I had the tough job of convincing them that being designers was not the most important thing in the world. That if they didn't know how to watch consumers - users - and generate meaning and implications, then they were nothing more than stylists who would remain at the drawing board until they retired.

The other complication was that they are all French! However, it is an English speaking university as dicatated by the head of the school who issued an email stating that all briefings, debriefs and written material, such as emails, were to be conveyed in English from that day on. Only the email was sent in French. Seriously. So although English speaking, I still had a very hard job to explain myself. The net result was a series of talks that went from politely trying to be interested in what I was saying and showing to not paying any attention to me at all. And then I briefed them and set them loose for 3 weeks of ethnographies armed with thinking tools learnt over many years and shared with them .

To be honest I felt quite depressed. Thirty six students with no interest in what I was talking about. Lots of puzzled looks. And a cheer when I finally said they could go and start their observations. One card I did hold was that I was marking their work. Marks which would impact their final year results.

Then followed a few days of waiting by the project I had created on EthOS for the forst entries to drop in. And nothing came. A few days after that there was a trickle. And by week three we had a  flood (relatively speaking) of 70 entries from 4 groups.

And let me tell you, the briefs they generated, backed up by their films and interpretations, were outstanding. So good that I finally caved in and asked them convert their briefs into designs. I felt quite emotional as I realised the quality of their concepts was so good that I wanted to take them to appliance manufacturers. I sincerely mean it.

Would you like to see the outputs? Call me.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Paying attention

The other day I was helping some friends pack. They were moving from Brussels to Pretoria.

Actually let me start at the beginning. We call them the 'Foreign Office couple', and what a wonderful family they are. We have known them for 5 years and will miss them very badly indeed. To give you an idea of just what a lovely family they are, over dinner a few weeks ago, they asked me if I wanted their car. As we already have have two cars and didn't want to pay for a third, I was thinking about a tactful reply when he followed up with:

"You can have it for free!"

To which I immediately replied, "Yes of course I'd love to have it - but are you sure?!"

They were positive. It's a 12 year old Honda CR-V with diplomatic plates and it's sitting in my garage as I type. I need to first re-register it as I am no diplomat, then I need to get it through some sort of 'fit-to-be-on the-road' test. And it's a wonderfully well looked after low mileage car which will serve me well on trips to the forest and the local waste disposal place. With 4X4 it will be great for winter school runs too.

Back to the point of this post. As I was helping Mrs Foreign Office couple with the packing (her husband was at work), she started chatting about how her husband had handed his mobile phone in to the office and so had no way of contacting her. This in itself wasn't so interesting. She continued to explain how she had been telling him about their plan for that evening - they were due to meet each other at someone's house for dinner - and how he hadn't be paying attention to her instructions. She finished by saying:

"Hope you paid attention because we have no mobile phones to call each other on..."

With that he had suddenly stopped whatever it was he had been doing and asked her to repeat herself while he paid her his undivided attention. She found it very funny how the realisation of no way of contacting each other had made him pay so much attention.

And it made me think. If a mobile phone allows you to not focus on a conversation because you can always call in to check later. What does email let you do? And what do social networking sites allow you do?

I need to chew this over. But in the meantime I must re-register the Honda.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Technology, not magic

I'm in into software now. I never set out to end up in this business. But here I am - about to launch a mobile research platform. For those of you who have successfully launched websites and apps, I salute you. Because the rest of us have no idea what it's like to be sitting in front of an inbox watching email after email appear. Some are simple questions. Others challenge your own understanding of what your platform can and can't do to the the very limits.:

"What do you mean you have to ask the developers? Didn't you specify the functionality yourself?" Well, in all honesty I didn't. And that's another story for another post - or perhaps over a drink?

Also, as Ray Poynter once said during a Webex conference, 'It's not magic, it's technology. And technology can break!' Fortunately our app, tested to destruction and improved almost on a weekly basis, does not break down any more. But we still get reports of issues around 'it's crashing when I try send an entry' (try logging on correctly); 'video is taking an age to send' (It was 80Mb over a 3G network so I suggested she wait until she could get WiFi - then it worked instantly); (I can't see your invite to the project' (your fault for giving us the wrong email to send it to)... and so on.

One of the biggest and most bizarre issues we come across is around logging in to the site and the app. And here is how it's done:

Go to our website.
Download an app for your device and
Sign up on website
Launch the app
Sign in using same details as used on the website

And you are logged on. Which means you can send entries, accept projects, etc.

That simple.

But do you know how many people stumbled at this first hurdle?

The number of people who simply forgot which email address or password they used yet were adamant they were using the correct ones was awe inspiring. Luckily we could check the database and quickly establish they were using the wrong email address.

Another frequent issue was downloading the app. We discovered very quickly that having an iPhone did not mean you had an iTunes account. And if you did, it did not mean you had ever downloaded an app. This is critical during recruitment.

A few weeks ago one of my colleagues suggested there must be an easier way of signing up. But what could be easier than an email address and password? In the end there was an easier way. And we got to it by suggesting to our developers there must be an easier way. Without hesitation they said there was. And it was released last week. It was buggy at first but the last of the bugs was patched last night. And here is how it works:

You receive an email with a QR code on it
You scan the code
You are instantly signed up and logged in

That simple.

The lesson here is that when working with developers, 'logical way' does not equal 'easiest way'. There is a difference.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Chelo Kabab in Olympia

Come and say 'Hi!' to me at the Insight Show in Olympia, London this Wednesday and Thursday. The secret code is 'Chelo kabab' and the first person to say it to me will be taken to lunch to an Iranian restaurant across the road. And don't worry, I won't be trying to sell you an app.

See you!

Oh and vegetarians are most welcome.


Monday, June 20, 2011

The FREE plan and what the doctor said

We have been thinking hard about the various plans our EthOS platform will offer and how much to charge. And up until 2 weeks ago we had three simple price plans: student (for anyone who is not being paid to do a project), flexible (for small companies) and enterprise (effectively unlimited). We even thought about how cool it would be to offer summary films for each project completed on the site - for free!

So three weeks ago a friend and I are driving back from France (did you know I lecture Industrial designers at Valencienne University in Northern France? - nor did I) and talking about the site.

"You should offer a free plan to consumers making their own films."


"To drive flexible and enterprise users."

So we thought it through. What if we did allow ordinary people to upload films they have made for our site. Here is an edited version of our discussion:

We could send push notifications of tasks to be declined or accepted

A notification might say: 'This month is BREAKFAST month!' and people will upload breakfast clips, conversations and brand specific stuff.

Why would anyone do such a thing?

So we thought some more.

We could let people attach a value to their clips. Flexible and enterprise people would be able to buy the clips and add them to them EthOS archives - ask the subjects questions and use the in research projects.

Then it wouldn't be free would it?

People - flexible and enterprise could still view for free. But as soon as they use it, i.e. drag it into a workspace, they will be charged.

We could have films of the day or week to drive interest.

Heck we could make our own films.

Heck we could stimulate video responses to films.

Heck and more heck we could charge 30% commission (like Apple) for every entry sold

We could ask people to scan QR codes on products which will launch tasks and give vouchers

What about the legal and privacy stuff?

Mmmmm. It would need to be by market. Or we do it under UK jurisdiction.

Tomorrow I see our lawyer in the UK about this and other matters.

Last Friday I shared the 'free plan' idea with our fulltime GP; finance director; brother in law.

He thought about it for a minute before asking me this question:

"Would the EthOS system be able to film for up to, say, 10 minutes?"

"Yes! Why?"

He went on to explain how many patients, especially older patients, often forgot instructions for prescriptions, or needed to understand something he had said, again. Wouldn't it be great to be able to film the consultations and send them to patient accounts so they could replay them at will? A record of everything said and not said?

By now I have goose pimple that have reached the palms of my hands.

"But patient privacy would be a huge issue and I don't think doctors will want to be on record in case they get sued for anything they said..."

This felt like a bucket of ice cold water being poured on my fire.

"But let me chat to a few colleagues and get back to you."

So I am left hanging. I will keep you posted but as always, comments, suggestions and opinions most welcome.


Friday, June 17, 2011

EthOS launches very soon indeed

If only you could see me right now.

I'm sitting at the dining table in my house and trying to figure out:

Terms & conditions and privacy drafts from lawyer
a conditions of sale draft - again from lawyer
how the 'Free' version of our service will work
scalability of the site and running costs which will have a direct impact on
our fair use policy
PR for the site - I need a journalist to write a review...
where I am going get some great quotes from people who have used the site - such as "this platform is a game changer!" B Obama, White House

And so on and so forth.

Come what may, we launch on the 7th of July. We go from Beta to Alpha. We forfeit the right to say, "Oh but we are still in beta!" to people when something messes up. Fortunately this hasn't happened in a long time but never say never.

The most stressful thing about the launch? Money. I need money for the lawyer, the PR people, ramping up the various services which make the site what it is (e.g. encoding and cloud servers) and I need money to pay salaries of people we are employing. Here is who:

Managing director - we have one but will introduce him in time.
Finance director - my brother in law who is a full time family GP but wants to help for free. Bless him.
App developers - we will buy shares in their business very soon
Digital director - we have one already

We intentionally haven't gone down the funding route, so we are entirely self funded. Unless you include my father in law who, despite not 'getting' what we do, has pumped cash into various bits of what makes the business turn.

So no funding, launch costs that we are scraping together, employees we can't yet pay and a site that will start running on all pistons in three weeks. And I, sat at the dining table in my underwear wasting time writing this post.

If only you could see me right now.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

50 philosophy ideas you really need to know!

Want to think 'outside the box'? (OK I hate this cliché too) Then get this great book that I'm stuck into right now. It will seriously pull and stretch your mind in every direction. Things you didn't even know you didn't know. Concepts would never have believed we worth contemplating - only for their significance is revealed to you.

I wish be honest though and reveal that, so far, I have only really understood 2 of the 50 ideas. And have kinda understood a further 15. Not a good score. But it's such a great read that I am determined to not let go until I can explain each idea, in simple terms, to my 7 year old twins.

So, why pay for something like this when I can send it to you for FREE!

Here's the catch. You must know by now that we have a mobile research platform called EthOS. But did you know that we are launching it on the 7th of July? Well, soft launching it. July and summer break is not a great time of year for launching any service. So we will have a full launch in mid September.

Back to the catch. We are trying to come up with a strap line for the App which is called EthOS (Ethnographic Observation System). The best strap line idea - even if we don't use it - will win a free copy of this book.

And let me close by suggesting that you sign up with EthOS and give it a whirl before we go live and start charging.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you!


NewMR Ethnography event

Me speaking at the NewMR ethnography event a couple of weeks ago. Some great talks. Not so sure that starting my talk by apologising about our wonderful research app was a good idea though!


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Are you typical?

I saw this linked to someone's profile on Skype. Thought you'd like it. Apologies if you have seen it before.


Monday, May 9, 2011

What does competition mean?

My definition of competition:

When someone else elbows their way into your territory and takes your clients away from you.

In my case it could mean a company who starts offering what we do, same fee band and process. So, should we feel threatened?


Because the more people/agencies do what we do the more easily we can differentiate ourselves and the more mainstream our approach becomes. The more mainstream our approach becomes, the more clients there will be to share among us. So why do I feel concerned each time someone sends me a link to companies doing similar things to us?

You all know about our ethnography app, right? Watch this and this.

A couple of weeks ago a colleague sent me this link. And yesterday I stumbled upon this app. So I made my wife watch both clips for her reaction.

"It's exactly what you're doing... isn't it?"

"Not really. These is for consumers."

"So is your app. And I suppose you just have to accept that more and more people will start doing similar things to you."

Which is a good thing, no? As long as we are ten steps ahead of them it's a wonderful thing.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Funny Intel ad on Pedro Oliveira's blog

I just can't stop laughing at this ad.

And I found it on a rather brilliant blog by a friend called Pedro Oliveira. Here is a great post from the said blog - worth watching the clips too as the first one is mine.


EasyJet explorations circa 1998

I was allowed to observe all meetings, fly around and read emails.
Was it really 13 years ago?

A Marketing Week journalist called James Curtis (really nice guy by the way) approached me to say that if I was willing to do some ethnographies of EasyJet, he would write it up for his magazine as a running, weekly feature. This was not a paid PR stunt. It was inspired by James himself.

I wasn't particularly busy having been at DDB for a only a few weeks. So I agreed. And had an awful lot of fun doing it. Partly because I was under no client pressure as I knew that James would sex up even the most awful findings. In the end he didn't need to sex anything up. For one key reason: I discovered that the more I enjoy doing an ethnographic exploration the better the outputs. The fascinating subject matter - EasyJet's Marketing team and being allowed to hang out with the marketing director for a whole week - helped too.

Here is the feature.