Category Archives: Practical

Library UX Reading Reflection, Week 8

Anthropology Inc.

Graeme Wood’s “Anthropology Inc.” for The Atlantic was a stimulating introduction to the practice of corporations like Coca Cola and Pernod Ricard USA  to hire ReD, a research firm that specializes in field studies, to get qualitative data so they can understand consumers better. My former ad agency, DDB was doing this in the 1980s and I imagine its competitors were too. I’m not sure of the academic qualifications of all our researchers, but I found their presentations on topics like children’s opinions of their closets’ contents and conditions to be fascinating. 

When Wood described the home party in the beginning of the article, I immediately wondered about the ethics. How would I feel about being studied at a party so that I might buy more Absolut vodka? How would the guests feel after reading this article? Not only were they studied, the party was then reported so there’s a double lens through which the party and drinking behavior was recorded. It’s both interesting and creepy.

I felt conflicted about the process. On the one hand, I love discovering new insights and would find this work fascinating. On the other, I value privacy and feel our world is getting more and more like the setting of the novel WE, a futuristic world where all rooms and buildings have windows for walls. I agree with the academics who point out that without a code of ethics research can be harmful. It can also be flawed as Heisenburg’s Uncertainty Principle tells us that when behavior is observed, it’s different.

ReD’s six hour long interviews sound like an endurance test, as well as a major imposition. Most participants will opt out of such a long interview so I wonder if the subjects who agree are representative. I would hope that those commissioning the research would take the results with a grain of salt.

The parts of the article that described Chinese group-orientation was half-right. Yes, Chinese person’s and other Asians’ circle of concern is wider than the stereotypical Westerner’s, but it isn’t all-encompassing. There’s a bright, sharp boundary. Most observers would note that Chinese people tend to think in terms of their in-group rather than their individual self. An “outsider” is not someone whose welfare is important, whereas though Western consumers may emphasize self, communal generosity or justice is a value. So the anthropologists who note this communal/individual dichotomy aren’t engaged in good scientific observation. Wood’s article would have been stronger had he mentioned this shortcoming. Since The Atlantic frequently features perceptive reporting on China, I’d expect its writers not to write from inside a silo.

I wish Wood had included some information answering the question of “To what extent do today’s cultural anthropologists exoticize their  subjects?” There seems to be an inherent trap of dramatizing their findings or emphasizing the behaviors that seem different. A mixture of P.T. Barnham’s “Give the people, (e.g. client) what they want” and the practice of “orientalizing” behavior so the client feels they’ve paid for treasure rather than the expected. Wood was a bit guilty of hyping his article in this way as his examples of the Orthodox Jewish subject and the lesbian drinking party are more exotic than a mundane middle class family of four. While all groups should be studied, the way the findings are delivered should not be fashioned to dazzle or entertain the client. We all should be leery of how and what Madison Avenue presents to us. I think Wood should have been a bit more skeptical than he was.

An interesting read, “Anthropology, Inc.” calls attention to the business world’s growing use of social science to understand and market to consumers.

Getting to Know Your Patrons

“Getting to Know Your Patrons” provides methods and rationale for conducting field research or contextual research even in libraries with small staffs and limited resources. After reading about PhDs who conduct qualitative behavioral research, it was freeing to understand that doesn’t need the academic expertise ReD’s researchers have, to conduct a study that yields important insights.

Smaller libraries may think they must forego such significant work since they don’t have a dedicated staff that specializes in UX. That’s not the case. By organizing staff to do short observations and showing the sort  of descriptions that are useful, this article prepared me to do my first contextual inquiry.


Schmidt, A. (2011, June 1). Getting to Know Your Patrons. Library Journal, Retrieved from

Wood, G. (2013, March). Anthropology Inc. The Atlantic, Retrieved from

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Posted by on July 23, 2014 in Library and Information Science, Practical


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The Worst Side of Aggregation: Thoughts on Google

As part of our module on Aggregation, I find myself pondering Google’s dominance as a search engine and Web 2.0 service provider. While the company claims to “do no evil,” it seems that Google has outgrown its the slogan. While they aren’t on par with Hitler or Stalin, that doesn’t mean that they only do good–far from it.

Google amasses massive amounts of data via its search engine, browser, email service, Picasa, Google Docs, Google Maps, Google+ and Google Scholar for sale to advertisers.Television, newspapers, radio also make their money from advertisement. Yet only a few Nielsen families who’ve agreed to supply data on their behavior are needed to keep these older media in business. Even if you don’t set up a Google account, Google profits from your search behavior. Is there any harm in this? Well, that depends on how much you value privacy and whether you feel entitled to good customer service in this business relationship.

Let me state upfront that I’m no fan of Google after a hacking I experienced a few years ago. I try as best I can to use none of their services.

If you have a customer service issue with the corporation, I’ve found it impossible to get help or information. Given Google’s size, the media’s coverage of its fun workplace, its slogan to “do no evil”  and its desire to provide more services as time goes on, one would expect a customer service staff that’s responsive to consumers’ needs. When my account was hacked into, they closed off my accounts, try as I might I could not reopen them.  Both Facebook and Yahoo responded within hours to my emails and Yahoo had a representative call me in response to a letter. Google did not respond to letters or emails. Unless you have an employee’s direct line, a call won’t be accepted.

Some have argued that more regulation is needed. Governments regulate utilities because they’re necessary to our lives and they have little competition. Perhaps Google and Facebook need to be considered utilities. People do need information in the information age, almost as much as we need water and power. I’m all for more regulation because Google has not cooperated by changing its policies when governments and individuals have stood up for their privacy rights.

The results of a drawn out legal battle came out this week and Google’s been required to pay 38 states $7 million dollars in a legal settlement. Furthermore, they must develop a campaign training employees in privacy protection and they must destroy the data they collected. Seven million seems like a pittance and hardly a deterrent. Google has yet to delete data it promised German courts it would delete two years ago. Yet it is a win, however small, for those who value privacy.

What concerns me with this issue is not just Google’s overreach and the relatively small settlement, but how journalists fail to tell the whole story. It seems too many reporters are still enthralled with Google’s Wonderboys, Sergy Brin and Larry Page. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, most news outlets reported the story in terms that favorably depict Google. and others report that the fault lay with a “rogue engineer.” However testimony shows that the engineer, Marius Milner, informed colleagues at Google that he was writing code that would collect this data and Google was uncooperative in providing evidence to the Federal Communications Commission. Google’s behavior in this case and in the legal disputes in Europe show me that they do have too much power and should be reined in.


Chittam, R. Poor coverage of Google’s Street View scandal settlement. Columbia Journalism Review. March 15, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2013.

Newton, C. Google reaches $7 million settlement with states over Street View case. CNET. March 12, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2013.

Further reading

  • James Farrows of The Atlantic explains why he won’t adopt Google’s new Keep feature. Google has a record for dropping services that lack mass appeal.  Google, heed the Lucas Critique. You’re training people to avoid your new products.



Posted by on March 23, 2013 in Practical, Theory


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Children’s Safety and Virtual Worlds

For our module on Immersion I discovered some virtual worlds designed for children and wondered about cybersafety. I felt that as an adult who’s not a parent nor someone who works with children I shouldn’t pretend to be a child and sign up. While I know my motives are professional and ethical, it’s disturbing to realize that anyone can pose as a child and get into a site designed for children.

One of my classmates responded saying that such sites do have adult supervisors in the various areas who make sure the interactions are appropriate, which sounds responsible since schools must hire adults to supervise children under their care. Sports and other extracurricular activities have adults to supervise the safety of children as well. provides tips for parents and guardians whose children may use virtual worlds. The tips caution parents by suggesting they talk frequently about virtual world activity, view the virtual world with the child, teach children about good passwords and discuss bullying.

I investigated Petra’s Planet, a virtual world for ages 6 – 11. Petra’s Planet informs parents that the virtual world protects children by limiting the chat feature to a selection of set phrases. Thus when a child want to greet another child, she can select from a number of possible “hello’s” or “goodbyes.” There are several choices and not only does this protect children, but it probably allows for smoother interactions considering that younger players have limited literacy skills.

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Posted by on March 23, 2013 in Practical


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Ted Talk on Social Media in China

Yang, the Chinese Oprah, summarizes how Chinese use social media while outlining the hot topics in its society.

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Posted by on March 10, 2013 in Practical, Theory


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Social Media in China

Note: The cliches and vernacular language referring to historic events are used to protect this innocent grad student, not to sound folksy.

Since I’m back in China, I thought I’d share some of my experience with social media here and dig deeper by discovering what some experts say on the topic.

When I first came to China to work in spring of 2009, I could access Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, anything I could think of. Yet 2009 was an important year because it was the anniversary of certain events that I won’t even type  here because who knows if I’d have internet tomorrow.

One by one these services disappeared and my colleagues, other Americans and Australians who teach here felt a kind of technology grief, a definite sense of loss and disconnection.

Chinese technology does offer some substitutes, but since I’m not literate in Chinese, I haven’t signed up for them. The government does allow and control social media. The main Web 2.0 services more or less parallel what’s found elsewhere. Weibo is like Twitter;  Ren Ren and QQ resemble Facebook; YouKu and TuDou are Chinese YouTubes.

The government does turn off these services and has websites turn off commenting at critical times like last spring when an official in Chengdu was up to no good.

To learn more, I read Thomas Crampton‘s article “Social Media in China: The Same, but Different.” From Crampton, I learned that:

  • Chinese spend a lot more time online than other developing countries. In fact, their usage resembles that of Americans and the Japanese.
  • China is the one Asian country where youth have more online than offline friends. (In most Asian countries face to face friendships outnumber online friendships.) The Chinese live a large part of their lives online.
  • The Web 2.0 services I’ve compared above aren’t exact mimics. Youku and Tudou carry more professionally produced videos, many of which are pirated. Given how much more online video compared to televised video Chinese watch, these services are the defacto broadcasters. They’re actually a lot like Chinese uses ideograms rather than an alphabet, a “tweet” on Weibo can contain around 4 times as many words as an English tweet. Weibo’s closer to a blogging platform than a microblogging one.While Ren Ren with its blue and white layout tries to be the Chinese Facebook, it has more competitors. Douban, Kaixin001, and QZone each attract a different demographic.
  • The Chinese learn about the internet through friends, who are loyal to a particular social media. Thus, Crampton asserts, they come to view the internet as YouKu or as Douban.

As far as the last item above, I think some elaboration is needed. My students seem familiar with many sites, not as many as Westerns, but they use Wikipedia (for plagiarism and, I hope, actual reserach), and they watch videos and play games online. I do take them to the computer lab to work on assignments and many of them go off task and use a variety of computer games,  email services and shopping websites. I think their view of the web is rather narrow, because they don’t learn to use computers in school. It’s clear that they’re self-taught, but they don’t only use one service.

I checked to see how universities and their libraries used social media and none of the three I looked at Shandong University of Science and Technology, where I work, Shandong University, a higher level school in this province and Tsinghua University, one of the top colleges in China, had links to Weibo, Ren Ren or other Web 2.0 services. In contrast colleges in Korea, like Sogang University do contain Facebook and Twitter links for the library.


Crampton, T. (2011). Social Media in China: The Same, but Different. China Business Review, 38(1), 28-31.

Further Reading


Posted by on March 9, 2013 in Practical


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Thoughts on Schaefer’s “The Tao of Twitter”

I’m not a big Twitter user, but since a few friends signed up, I did too. I didn’t use it much until I saw a TED talk extolling the unintended virtues of this service. I also noticed that I could follow politicians and tweet about their performance, policies and speeches as I heard about them. I know that someone’s tallying up the yeas and nays and this seems a more convenient way to voice my concerns.

Still I don’t tweet daily and I can go a month without checking my account, but that’s fine. Infrequent use doesn’t mean a service or product isn’t useful. I don’t wear hiking boots every day, but I wouldn’t throw mine out since they fill a gap. Also, I think information professionals need to understand and use all popular social media to reach all patrons.

I am curious about Twitter and how organizations can use it effectively. Thus Mark Schaefer’s The Tao of Twitter: Changing Your Life and Business 140 Characters at a Time caught my eye.

After just a few chapters, Schaefer’s book has been helpful. He begins by describing how one of his twitter exchanges led to a networking relationship which resulted in career advice and new video equipment for his mentee, new business for a a former colleague and lots of valuable knowledge for himself. He’s used Twitter to invite people into his web brainstorming sessions, which have resulted in eliciting effective ideas quickly and inexpensively. His tweets have led people to his blog, where he shares his thinking on marketing, his field. In turn the blog has led clients to him. They like his thinking and establish a rapport and when they have work he can do, they’ve called him.

Schaefer boils the “Tao of Twitter” down to three elements:

  • Targeted contacts
  • Meaningful messages and
  • Authentic helpfulness.

Since I use Facebook more than I tweet, I wasn’t aware of the strengths of Twitter. Schaefer points out that:

  • Twitter users are the most influential online consumers–more than 70 percent publish blog posts at least once a month, 70 comment on blogs, 61 percent write at least one product review monthly and 61 percent comment on news sites.
  • Daily Twitter users are six times more likely to publish articles,
  • Five times more likely to post blogs, seven times more likely to post product reviews at least monthly, compared to non-Twitter users.
  • 11 percent of online consumers read Twitter updates, but do not have a Twitter account themselves!
  • 20 percent of consumers indicate that they have followed a brand on Twitter in order to interact with the company–more that email subscribers or Facebook fans. (p. 32-33)
  • 79 percent of Twitter followers (versus 60 percent of Facebook fans) are more likely to recommend brands since becoming a fan or follower (p.26).
  • Facebook’s share links average only three clicks, while Twitter’s tweets generate nineteen clicks on average (p. 27).

I was very surprised by these facts. Then I considered that television news does often include tweets in their coverage and that celebrities use Twitter a lot. Also, Twitter users may be in a different demographic than I am thus I might be out of the loop as far as its popularity and use.

Scheafer moves on to not just tell people how to handle the basics of Twitter, but how and where to use it wisely. He recommends using the list feature to create lists of users who relate to certain topics you’ve determined are useful, how to find people who located near a specific location and who share a specific interest. He suggests signing up for Twellow, service like the yellow pages for Twitter that Schaefer recommends for finding accounts according to business, location and/or keywords.

I’ve set up a few lists and will add a few more. I looked at to find out my Twitter grade. I wasn’t surprised that it’s pretty low since I don’t tweet regularly. Maybe that’ll improve after I finish reading The Tao of Twitter and I implement these ideas. To find out what’s been tweeted recently, you can go to Local Chirps and input a location.

Certainly a library, museum or other non-profit could benefit from an effective Twitter account and Schaefer’s ideas can make their tweets effective.

Note: Mark Schaefer’s Twitter account is


Schaefer, M. W. (2012). The Tao of Twitter: Changing Your Life and Business 140 Characters at a Time. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.


Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Practical


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