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.