The Four Humble Demands of the Prosumer
April 29, 2007
I thought I’d post about a system that I’ve been using and evolving, basically, to get some feedback from you lovely readers.
As business requests come thick and fast for online projects I’ve needed to formulate a way to match clients needs with users needs. Too many times I get the request that a client wants x, y and z to appear on their website and had to explain the people using the site (customers and potential customers) are the ones who should be asked what they need from the site. It’s the transferal of image based thinking of the old school marketing minds to the knowledge based economy of the nu wave tinterweb school of communications. (Nod to John Grant.)
It’ll be of value if you look at the Creation Plane too, as the number one rule is putting the user at the centre of the experience, not the project sponsor.
The next step, like any good planner will confess, is that the proposition needs a narrative. Under the terms of interactive media, narratives are non-linear, there for you can use the ‘beginning, middle and end’ scope of a movie. For interactive design, pathways are a better concept than narratives, as we want the user to find their way through the work, using the media as they see fit in order for them to achieve their goal. Remember, folks are coming to your website in their terms, not yours. Consumerscapes and demographics are all very well for editorial tone, but they are friggin’ useless when you have no idea what they want from editorial (The times I’ve ransacked Flickr for visual metaphors stands testament to this point.) And users want to engage; use your media, add to your media, participate in your media. Broadcast media fails here but interactive excels if you get it right.
If the user comes to your website to achieve a goal, and you don’t deliver, don’t expect a return visit. Websites are software, emotional data that must be useful, not just entertaining. Software is for repeatability not a single fleeting exchange.
So, we have, what I call, The 4 Humble Demands (of the Prosumer) . The Buddhists and medically inclined might twitch at this point. The title is ripped from Buddhas teachings: The Four Noble Truths (the eight fold pathways don’t factor here, in fact I think they are a bit of red herring in the teachings, but that’s another story).
The Four Noble Truths are:
1. Identify Suffering
2. Understand the cause of the suffering
3. Identifying the cure to the suffering
4. Applying the cure
Many western medical councils use the same 4 steps in diagnosis, prognosis, cure and treatment.
The Four Humble Demands draws attention to the participation of the audience to the service provider, that is, identifying the physiological stages in a user pathway to achieve their goal – whatever it may be. So, I call the four stages:
Let me explain.
You need to attract the user to your service, and once they have discovered you, how are you making yourself and your message attractive. The user needs to admit, “this is looking like this place can help me.” Which is all very well, but if you are addressing an infinite consumerscape, you need to help them refine their questions/quest so that you can help them achieve their goal. This is where Aspiration comes in.
You need to ask the user what they are looking for. Now, most websites have a navigation system that ‘guides’ the user in the right direction. An information architect will convert business requirements to navigation elements, may they be global, secondary or page local. Which is fine to a point. But what you should be thinking is what functions help the user ask the question. Search is fine, but retrieval is a better way to think about it. If you understand the semantic web, then you’ll understand why tag clouds are so brilliant. Because they get the user to the Insight phase fast. This is ‘editoral as navigation.’
Now, as much as I love Jaffe point about insight, I use the word to identify the stuff the user is after, that is editorial. This could be interactive, this could be text, images video, code. It’s the stuff they came to your site for. The better, more useful it is (and that includes being able to use it – and that means using an open licence.) If they can use it, they have achieved a goal. If your audience at this point has a lovely warm fuzzy feeling, a sensation of achievement, you’ve set yourself up for the payoff, that is Acquisition.
So your site visitor has got what they came for. It was quick, easy and fulfilling. Congrats to you pal. But before they go and all you have is some site stats of their visit (w00t!) and possibly some free marketing when they use an image of yours (which has been offered under an open licence), I’d guess you’ll either be a little smug (erm, myopic) or underwhelmed because you have’t sold them your best thingy. What you have to achieve is this transaction. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.
At the very least you need to get the user to work with you in spreading the idea of your service. If they’re ones listening, then they are the ones who will spread the word. Social bookmarking, ‘send 2 a friend’, subscribe to updates. All these functions can be introduced at this point.
Either way – if you have helped them find what they are after, in their terms of engagement, then they are more likely to come back and purchase your ‘wonder product’.
Further, you can make the Acquisition phase become the driving force behind the project’s ecosystem. If your website users are in a mode of co-creation, or at least rating and promoting editorial, this can influence the navigational elements (remember, your editorial is their navigation). Work with your audience, understand their outputs and make them your inputs. Together, your media becomes more relevant to their network.
The Eightfold pathways, if you felt I’m being a little dismissive about Buddha’s elaboration of ‘treatment’ is aligned to functions of Acquisition. The various emotive frameworks of functions dont seem to fit his original manifesto, mainly because of the ‘righteousness’ of the declaration. I think dictating what righteousness is a little overbearing. In principle, yes, ‘be nice’, but I don’t want to be told what is nice and what isn’t. One man’s niceness is another man’s nagging.
So when you’re planning your interactive work, cross reference your content verticals (about us, what we do, who we do it for, why we do it yadda yadda) with these four stages. Then you’ll see where to drop in functions to pages and when not to. You’ll also see the range of functions you need across the site, thus optimising your production schedule.
If you haven’t read TIGS’ Transmedia planning, you might want to after this. The Four Humble Demands is not restrained to online digital communications. If you want to play nicely with the audience, you need them to feel they can take from you.
Happy to elaborate on any of the above, just let me know in the comments section below.