Thursday, December 20, 2012

And so it's Christmas...

And what have we done?

Well, quite a lot actually - here are a few:

1) New app which by mid Jan 2013 will be completely stand alone - participants will never need to go to the web interface again. Sign up and download our app to have a free play.

2) New features added to web interface - too much to list - so get in touch for a walkthrough.

3) New subscription model which will give you and 49 colleagues instant access to our platform.

4) New partnerships with innovation departments and organisations outside of the qualitative research fold.

5) 7,000 client sign ups (not including project participants) to date and 4,200 from this year alone!

What do we have planned for 2013?

Next year will be truly exciting for us. We are developing a new service which, while making use of our existing technology, will become our first consumer facing offer. It will be called EthOS journeys and I will be engaging with existing clients, friends and even family to hone the features in early 2013. I'm giving nothing away with this post, but if you want to know more, just let me know.

So, to everyone who has read this blog, worked with us or used our app, I want to say, Have a wonderful, peaceful Christmas and New Year.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Two great lists

If you have ever wondered who the key mobile qualitative players are out there - EthOS is one of a bunch - then you need to look through The Qualitative Report list and the MRMW list. Note these are qualitative apps only. Also, they are very different tools from one another.

The surprising thing is that each list is missing platforms that appear in the other list.

Let me know what you think.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mobile needn't be a data hurdle

Data protection and consumer research has always been a bit of a blur. Technology has confounded this and the so-called mobile revolution will create a series of new tests for the industry.
To paraphrase Bill Gates: If your systems are already chaotic, computers will make them even more chaotic. If your systems are organised, then computers will make them even more organised.
In other words, whatever state your organisation is in, computers will simply amplify that state.
While Bill’s quote seems adept to data protection & consumer research issues on PC’s, it also raises questions around the use of mobile ethno/qualitative research tools and how we need to think about privacy issues on these connected devices.
Let’s begin with the participant who is keen to earn some quick cash (and let’s face it, MR incentives are a source of quick cash), they will allow researchers and their clients into their home, to film the contents of their fridge, ask them about their feelings on a given topic and then pay an incentive in return for signing away any rights to everything captured of them, forever.
But while this is great for the purposes of research, it’s important to note that there are more than a few points they won’t have counted on, such as:
•  Research filming their neighbour who unexpectedly pops in for a cup of tea, but didn’t sign a release form (the panelist might have forgotten or not had enough spares).
•  Their best friend’s children come over to play with their kids and the researcher wants to capture the moment before obtaining permission from the friend.
•  The respondent might talk about something they felt uncomfortable about and subsequently might wish they hadn’t shared.
•  Footage might have filmed them taking out their credit card and left them worried about whether or not the research firm would then pixelate their card details during editing.

At the heart of the problem for the respondent is an almost certain reluctance to raise any of the above concerns in case the incentive payers felt disappointed and didn’t ask them to take part in a project again.
This is an example where consent is expressed, but not given internally. Such informed consent implies none of the above events will ever take place and that respondents will always feel completely at ease with the way their data is downloadable from the hard drives of client and agency side organisations.
In my view, this is the awkward, uncommunicative twin sibling of transparency. And transparency, in a world where digital tools are evolving too fast for any guidelines to stay abreast of them, is the only way to make any progress in the context of data privacy and ethics.
In other words, informed consent may still be required, legally, but transparency is ethically much more sound when it comes to research participants feeling comfortable by knowing who is seeing their data.
My argument, however, is that using mobile tools we can give ownership to repondents themselves. And we are fortunate enough to live in a time when mobile research platforms can offer participants this transparency.
The difference with mobile research methods and other research methods is that participants are usually capturing their own lives using their own smartphones. And by definition, they are editing/censoring, perhaps unconsciously, what they share with the researcher.
However, despite the control participants think they hold over their content, when combined with the aforementioned issues, mobile tools can compound the issue of privacy and data and protection.
For example: 
•  The respondent has no idea who else has been invited to view the project on the mobile research platform.
•  They will not know who in the future will be invited to look at their content
•  They will have no idea about who has downloaded and further shared their content with a broader audience, perhaps outside of that organisation

Putting workable informed consent into practice on a mobile device would be impossible in the above situations, even if you exercise the ‘right to forget’ and delete everything from the server.
The reason for this is that clips of the participant can still remain on individual hard drives from earlier downloads. 
Let’s be clear on a simple point; data protection is a basic human right. Not just a nice to have. The right to be forgotten is also a basic human right. Yet mission creep, when one’s data is used for a reason other than originally agreed, no matter how vaguely agreed, is impossible to allow for without giving all of your rights away and impossible to keep track of.   
So how do we even begin to protect research respondents whose lives are stored on a mobile research platform? How do we ‘forget’ about a respondent whose content may be on countless hard drives three years after they first took part in a study? The answer is that you simply can’t. It is simply just not possible.
Yet the very advances in digital qualitative/ethnographic research that are amplifying the challenges of data protection and privacy, may also come to its rescue. We at EthOS, for example, are experimenting with tacit updates to provide hitherto impossible-to-achieve levels of transparency.
Owners can toggle on a permission feature during or after a study has been completed. Participants may now see not only who has downloaded their content; but for what reason and for which audience. They can also ask the downloader more questions if they wish.
But, critically, and once beta testing is over, they will also be able to refuse permission to download. In the meantime they receive alerts and quarterly download digests with explanations and contacts.  The onus will then be on the downloader to comply with the user’s request avoiding any risk of mission creep from occurring.
The days of large organisations exerting complete control over participant data is disappearing. Participants are more knowledgeable about their rights and far less accepting of inflexible release forms which although legally sound, are ethically unsound, forcing them to be the gagged partner in what should be a two-way conversation between them and the researchers.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thursday 25th

We are going through some big changes. And if you are interested in hearing about them, seeing the new look website in action and finding out what the future holds for EthOS, then you need to register now for this coming Thursday 25th of October!

You can join me at 9-10pm BST or 4-5pm BST. It's free, it'll be around 30 minutes long and it will be very EthOS-centric.

I look forward to seeing you there.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Why haven't I thought of doing this before?

This isn't really a blog post, it's an advertisement for EthOS.

Whenever I give prospective clients walk throughs of our platform, I make the following offer: Download the app, use it, heck run a project with it but on one condition. The condition being that a client is NOT paying you to do the project. So as long as a study is self funded, the platform is yours to try out and play with for as long as you like.

Our rationale is that we don't want anyone to start a live project without first having played with the app. So they can go through a very simple but critical learning curve. And if they decide it's not for them, then better to know before they start a live project.

Your next step? Email siamack and arrange a walk through.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ethnographic French TV

This is a fascinating cut (13 minutes) from a French TV show where the presenter attached various cameras to his person, visits a randome country, and asks strangers if he can visit their homes and eat with them.

Don't not watch this. It goes to show what a wonderful nation of people the UK is.


Apps that make you money

I stumbled across this... I lie - Google alerts found it for me - and you should watch the clip. Then wait for the next instalment to see if such missions/gigs/etc. are worth the money they make for the participants.

The App store reviews are very mixed, but make no mistake, such business models are going from strength to strength.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ad:tech: Will you be there?

I'll be doing a 20 minute gig on, Mobile is making great insight work faster, easier and cheaper; and other lies. First given with Ross Mclean at MRMW earlier this year.

If you are there, come and say, Hi. I'll be the short fat Iranian guy on stage.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My issue with privacy

I was talking to a client side colleague based in Germany about ethnographic release forms.

"We need and we obtain unlimited releases from respondents for all projects." she told me. "And they don't care what we do with their content."

By which she meant that they can use the data, video, interview in whatever way they wished. Respondents were effectively selling all their rights to those image in return for an incentive fee or a gift.

Good luck with that! I thought to myself.

Try telling a respondent in the US, Europe and even Asia Pacific that you want complete control over their footage. And they will show you the door. Not just because they value their future privacy - once the project is over. But because they are becoming increasingly aware of their rights.

"Do you not think", I asked, "that those same respondents won't come after you if they feel you have misused their information in some way? Do you think those releases actually mean anything to a very annoyed respondent?"

The days of unlimited and unrestricted release forms are fast disappearing. And more importantly, are not worth the paper they are written on. In my humble opinion.

The problem isn't the study itself. A client/agency can be explicitly clear about why they study is taking place, how their images will be used and who will view their images. The problem arises once the project is over. The content remains online for the client to access. Except clients will eventually need to access the content for reasons not originally explained to the respondents. Something called mission creep. Mission creep occurs when a colleague from (let's say) category management comes and asks you (let's say the research manager) to download a clip for presenting to a bunch of retail customers at an event. You have no way of contacting the respondent. And you don't want to compromise an important presentation.

My argument all along as been that using mobile tools we can give ownership to repondents themselves. On EthOS, as from today, a project owner can toggle on a permission feature during or after a study has been completed.

See the monitor downloads check box? Tick it...

Each time an entry is download, the respondent receives a request

Important note: This is an optional feature. And if activated, respondents do not, yet, need to 'release' an entry. We have designed this feature as a BETA test. And we will collect feedback from users and respondents about whether or not it works and how we can improve it.

Next step is to get ESOMR, MRS and legal people to have a look at this.


Monday, September 17, 2012


He smiled as soon as I took his photo and smiled back at him

I would never call myself a frequent traveller, but every three months or so I do have a long haul trip somewhere. And I usually always take my trusty Ricoh GRDIV to take some snaps.

I was in Indonesia kick starting a project only a couple of weeks ago. Our client didn't want an agency involved (we had plenty to recommend), they wanted us to run the explorations from beginning to end. This meant one of us physically being there to meet and train the client, work with the recruiters and visit respondents. A week's worth of work in the world's 4th largest country whose primary religion is Islam.

Here are a few pictures I took when we were visiting respondents. Remember an earlier post I wrote about how video becomes your memory of an event but photos stimulate your memory of an event? These are proof.

Most of my people shots are from waist height

Isn't this dangerous?

School boys


Waiting for a friend to turn up...


Thursday, September 13, 2012

A truly, truly unmissable Webinar.

Join me on Thursday the 27th of September so I can share with you:

Recently added features around notes and privacy
New features to socialise the platform much more than before
Our plans to open up an online shop
A canned app with pre embedded projects for crowdsourcing
And more.

Click to choose a time below:

0900 GMT
1600 GMT 

It'll be fun. I'll be giving our roadmap away - again - on a silver plate, again. So join me!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

EthOS project manager’s checklist – this is not an instruction manual

Who is this checklist for?
Anyone who is managing an EthOS project for the first time. Please make time to go through this document, don’t rush it. If you still have questions, use our support link. If you want a walk through of the platform – we will do as many as needed to help you get started – drop us a note, again, using support.

Let’s begin
There are a series of steps to this checklist:
1)    recruiting your respondents
2)    setting up the project
3)    inviting respondents to your project
4)    before the project starts
5)    once the project starts

If you feel I have missed anything please let me know so I can include it!

1) Recruiting your respondents
Remember our apps come in about 15 languages. If you need have more languages, just ask.

Our preference is that you recruit iPhone or Android users only. However, we do have a Blackberry app to which works extremely well. The only challenge is that company or Enterprise Blackberry’s rarely work as they should with our App. Personal Blackberry’s will work fine, but still, nothing like as smooth as the Android and iPhone apps.

The minimum smartphone OS versions we support are as follows:
iPhone iOS 5
Android 2.2
Blackberry OS 5

Be clear that respondents:
must have downloaded apps onto their devices previously. We recruit so many iPhone owners who have never had iTunes accounts or downloaded an app. Avoid these people if you can.
must be the owners of the devices they are using – borrowed devices cause many issues. Such as Dad wanting his iPhone back to go to work!
family members must be OK with being in the films respondents will make
must have Wi-Fi at home or, as in Indonesia, access to a location with Wi-Fi. Although the app works with with 3G and even EDGE, we want to reduce the cost to respondents of sending data.
may be asked to visit a facility to meet with other respondents/client and review their own films
may be invited to a WorkSpace to discuss and view theirs and other respondent’s entries.

Tip when using recruitment agencies
Do not pay over the odds to recruit respondents with smartphones. Do not let recruiters make you think that recruiting for mobile research projects is tougher than for normal qualitative research projects.

Don’t forget that you can also use sites like Craigslist to great effect. Or even approach panel companies to help you.

What to expect
When we place an ad with Craigslist, we receive many hundreds more respondents than we need. And when invites are sent, we find that the percentage who accept and participate is roughly 60%. But of those 60%, generally all complete all of the tasks.

If using a recruitment agency, the percentage who accept is higher, around 80%, and again, almost all with complete all of the tasks.

2) Setting up your project
Do you know the difference between tags, tasks and codes?
Tasks: activities or questions respondents need to respond to/complete
Tags: keywords to add richness and texture to entries sent. Either select ones suggested by you or add their own using the EthOS app.
Codes: similar to tags except they are created by you to organise the entries according to themes you see emerging.

When creating tasks be clear about which medium you want respondents to use. Is it video, photo, audio or text? Perhaps it’s a choice between video and audio.

Think about the wording of the task. Asking a respondent to capture everything they eat and drink across a week will generate very different data to asking them to make a film about how food and drink fits into their life. One is a record and the other a (potentially) richer source of understanding.

Either way, respondents will self-edit, and it’s up to you, the moderator, to unravel why they have sent you those particular entries. In short, the decision to send you whatever they have is data that needs to be analysed and interpreted too.

And if you know you want particular types of entries for tasks, make it clear in the wording of the task: ‘Please use video to show us the inside of you fridge while describing the contents.’

I your tasks are too detailed/complex to leave to a couple of lines on a respondent’s app, you can add the longer explanatory document to the project by uploading it under the documents tab.

Do not inundate respondents with too many tasks. You can roll the tasks out two or three at a time. Delete old ones and add new ones. Entries under the old tasks will not be deleted. We recommend a maximum of 6 tasks at any one time. Some can be continuous and some once only tasks.

3) Inviting respondents
Make sure the recruiters share each respondent’s email address, first and last name.

Note that you can add segmentation information at the point of inviting respondents, via a CSV file. It’s fairly intuitive, but you can organise a walkthrough to learn how if you prefer.

We recommend that you select the ‘send invites to me…’ check box so that each, unique invite comes to you. You can then cut and paste the information to your own company email before sending. Often, respondents have no idea who EthOS are. And we get accused of spamming them?

You can upload manually or larger groups including segmentation information using the downloadable CSV file in the ‘People’ link. Again, this is a checklist and if you need instruction please get in touch for a walk through.

4) Before the project starts
As soon as a respondent has been recruited, you need to make sure they can send entries from their device. Do not wait for your project to begin and then spend valuable time trouble-shooting. Here is a list of issues:

Can’t download app onto device
Usually because they don’t have an iTunes or similar account
Cannot send entries
Have they accepted their project invitation on-line?
They are sending entries which never arrive
This usually means they have created a default project and are sending entries to it in error. Not a problem as we can migrate entries back.
Entry will not send and keep seeing warning triangle
This likely a connectivity issue. Check Wi-Fi strength and/or 3G signal. Assumption that because they can easily send an email, they can just as easily send a 160mb file…
Company Blackberry won’t allow App to be downloaded
Avoid company Blackberry owners. Enterprise settings can rarely be changed in time.
Accepting project on app browser won’t work.
Correct – must use you laptop or desktop to sign up and accept projects

The above issues are thankfully rare and easily sorted. But please give yourself a few days and ideally a week before starting a large project to ensure everyone is on-boarded.

An important tip, please do not try to play the part of technical support. Any problems should be forwarded to us here: or better still ask respondents to use the Help & Support link on the top right of the EthOS screen. Our priority is to free you up to focus on moderations, analysis and interpretation. Please live trouble shooting of respondents to us.

If you wish, you can leave on-boarding of your respondents to us for a fee based on your sample size.

5) Once the project starts
You can check respondent progress in couple of ways:
1)    Go to ‘summary’ link and see instantly how many entries respondents have sent
2)    Go to ‘tasks’ link (under filter section) and see which tasks have the most/least entries.
There is no need to wait until the end of your study to find out a respondent has sent nothing through or a task is very thin on entries.