BJ Fogg and his colleagues brought together an interesting and diverse collection of researchers, developers, designers, entrepreneurs and [other] activists at the Mobile Persuasion conference at Stanford University recently to discuss and debate the use of mobile technology to change people's beliefs and behaviors. The twelve pages of notes I took are evidence that I am persuaded that mobile technology will play an increasingly influential role in culture and society ... I'll try my best to condense those down to a more managable size.
BJ led things off -- and often provided filler in between other speakers -- by sharing his views on what mobile persuasion is, and why we should care. One of the bold claims he started out with is that within 7 to 10 years, mobile phones will be the #1 platform for changing people's attitudes and behavior. [I saw Howard Rheingold, the author of Smart Mobs, in the audience during the morning session, and wonder if he would agree with that time frame ... or if the unevenly distributed future may arrive (here) sooner than that.] BJ defined [mobile] persuasive technology as technology that motivates, facilitates and triggers changes in behavior and attitudes, and invited us to consider how can we use mobile [persuasive] technology to bring greater harmony to this planet.
Sean White (Columbia University) shared some field notes from the Electronic Field Guide he and his colleagues have created -- a tangible augmented reality application that uses a tablet PC equipped with GPS, a camera, and computer vision software to enable field researchers to identify the leaves they encounter in real time and place (vs. recording samples for identification later). [Sean offered the following clarification via email: "We actually have two separate interfaces to the electronic field guide, one that uses a head worn display for augmented reality interaction and one that uses a tablet PC for 2D interaction."]
Justin Oberman (Mopocket / Stanford University) conducted a live experiment in which he invited everyone to exchange their mobile phone with the person next to them, and then figure out how to send themselves an SMS from their neighbor's phone ... very few people succeeded in the 1 minute allotted. He proceeded to offer a short history of how mobile technology has affected political change (in the Phillipines, South Korea, Ukraine, Canada, Ethipia, Spain and Kuwait). He also clarified the notion of persuadability, invoking [in my judgment] a variation on a famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote, noting that mobile technology cannot persuade anyone who doesn't already want to be want to be persuaded.
Marcus Yoder (Veeker) talked about veeks (video peeks), noted efforts by a youth-oriented citizern journalism site (YouthNoise), to engage voters ("veek the vote") through a collection of 750 mobile videocamera-recorded messages posted on the site on election night in 2006, and claimed that 2 minutes of video is more powerful than 10,000 signatures.
Alex Kass (Accenture Technology Labs) presented the motivations behind -- and futuristic video depiction of -- a Mobile Personal Performance Coach that utilizes a mobile phone connected to a network of simple, inexpensive sensors to help one gain greater awareness of [bad] habits in communication, exercise and diet.
Mike Liebhold (Institute For The Future) talked about how the advent of the geospatial web, with layered geodata, is making the invisible visible, enabling mobile augmented reality applications, and approaching the "tricorder dream" of Star Trek. Mike offered a historical perspective on the waves of computing, communicating and sensing, and claimed that we are now in the era of contextual sensemaking.
Mirjana Spasojevic (Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto) and Rachel Hinman (Adaptive Path) presented Stuck in the Roundabout, collaborative ethnographic research on people's use of mobile cameraphones and the mobile Internet they did while they were at Yahoo. They offered the following design principles:
- Think uniquely mobile, not mini-PC
- Think always with you, not just on-the-go
- Think building and reinforcing common ground and identity
- Think access to what's essential, not just browsing
Mor Naaman (Yahoo! Research Berkeley, "Understanding User Motivations in Online and Mobile Photo Sharing") shared some experiments with and insights into users' motivations regarding online / mobile photo sharing (which include elicitation, organization, communication, identity and self-disclosure), noting how the suggestion of tags for users to consider when submitting photos through ZoneTag represented a form of mobile persuasion ... or (to my thinking, at least), mutual inspiration.
Josh Ulm (Adobe Systems) presented some abstract and informative art designs for the nature-oriented backgrounds of mobile phone screens that could indicate time of day (sky lightness / darkness) and signal strength (number of clouds), emphasizing the importance of delighting, perhaps even exciting, the users.
Jordy Mont-Renaud (Digital Chocolate, motto: "Seize the Minute") presented AvaPeeps FlirtNation, a combination avatar toy + flirting / dating game + social networking service, released on Boost Mobile in November 2006, ending off with a personal story of a full-cycle relationship he experienced in one day. The goal of the game is to improve people's social lives through enabling them to experiment with and explore relationships in the context of a game, but as I've wondered before, [how] does this translate into real life (is it an enhancement or a substitute for real relationships)?
Steffen P. Walz (ETH Zurich) introduced the notion of persuasive playcemaking (play + place), and described the REXplorer project, in which visitors to the Regensburg Experience Museum will be able to play history onsite with a spellcasting Wii (starting on June 16).
Ian Bogost (Georgia Tech), author of Persuasive Games, introduced the concept of anamorphosis, invoked the genre of alternate reality in gaming articulated by Jane McGonigal (and others), and persuaded me that videogames can be effective channels for procedural rhetoric, with Exhibit A being Airport Insecurity, an arcade-style mobile videogame to promote critical reflection on the effectiveness of the Transportation Security Administration ... and have fun.
Sunny Consolvo (Intel Research Seattle & University of Washington) and Ian Smith (Intel Research Seattle) gave a tag team presentation, combining past, present and future research. Ian prosposed a new project using mobile technology to encourage environmental awareness through participatory mobile sensing combined with collaborative authoring, sharing and remixing, using the example of music playlist widgets for blogs -- Ian's blog has one -- to suggest what this might look like. Sunny presented earlier work on encouraging increased step count through mobile social support, and the more recently developed Ubifit ambient display for mobile phones.
Peter Boland (Be Well Mobile) offered a patient engagement software plaform to refill, remind, record, report, redirect and reward, in a mobile asthma solution that has reduced the average number of hospital visits per year for asthma patients from 6 to zero in a recent San Mateo County pilot study.
Paul Hedtke (Qualcomm), noted that majority of our US$2T annual healthcare expenditures are for the chronic conditions that one third of Americans live with, and introduced the LifeCOMM initiative, whose goal is to enable consumers to self-manage chronic conditions and / or avoid / delay onset, using a broad array of technologies delivered on the mobile platform in the form of a Virtual Assistant.
Eric Holmen (Smart Reply, "Mobile Marketing: By Permission Only") championed permission marketing, shared some "reality from the field" (which I thought was not so different from the realities shared by some of the other presenters), including the Meijer Gas Alert service, which sends out SMS alerts to subscribers whenever gas prices are going to increase. Eric claimed that "mobile marketing" doesn't exist, and that the 4 C's of Content, Community, Customization and Commerce will lead to a great mobile customer experience (reminiscent of the 3 C's of our research project at Nokia Research Center: Context, Content and Community ... perhaps we have some silent C's).
Mike Mettler (AdMob, a company I saw and wrote about at the UTR Mobility Conference) presented in lieu of Jason Morse, who was allegedly engaged in an activity elsewhere relating to raising money for their startup (talk about realities (!)). Admob seeks to address the problem of closed systems and scalability, enabling more players to participate in the mobile advertising space through an interface that facilitates running a mobile ad campaign. Mike offered his (or AdMob's) own version of 3 C's -- Content, Community and Commerce.
Mark Brooks (Mobile Dating Watch) noted that for many [single] people, "my cell is my social life", and predicted that for the hyper-connected Generation Y, mobile dating will be a more popular -- and lucrative -- service than [non-mobile] online dating within 5-7 years. He also predicted a steady increase in the use of videos rather than photos, as part of prospective partners' representations of selves, because "videos don't lie".
Deb Levine (Internet Sexuality Information Services, Inc.) shared elements of the history, motivations and use of SexINFO, a sexual health text messaging service for San Francisco youth. Contrasting the goals of SexINFO with, say, mobile online dating, she noted that sex is like nutrition, but due to societal, parental and relationship pressures, the relative ephemerality of SMS turns out to be a better delivery mechanism than email or web pages. After noting that one of the topics that users can query via SMS was chlamydia, she ironically observed -- as she explained that this is a sexually transmitted disease (to an audience [mostly] filled with technology professionals) -- that she usually has to explain what SMS is to [U.S.] audiences filled with public health professionals.
Erik Damen (Pam) was the speaker who traveled the farthest, perhaps fittingly, given that his company sells a device, Pam, intended to encourage mobility (though on foot, vs. by plane). The small wearable device measures footsteps, computes a "Pam score" -- a ratio of the activity-induced energy expenditure (AEE) over the body mass index (BMI) of the wearer -- and displays the wearer's activity level in one of four zones (sitting, living, healthy and sports). An evaluation indicated that 63% of the subjects were more active, and 19% were significantly more active (I did not note the size or length of the study ... not sure that was mentioned).
Sebastien Tanguay (My Food Phone, "The Start of a Mobile Health Revolution") observed that 40% of doctor's visits could be handled by someone else, and offered a glimpse of a future mobile triage application that includes an initial questionnaire interface for the [prospective] patient, a real-time scheduling and mobile video conferencing capabilities for doctors -- or perhaps other medical professionals -- to conduct remote assessments.
Marion Zabinsk (Sensei) invoked the notion of a sensei, someone who has lived before, and is [now] a master / teacher, in describing a mobile application for behavioral informatics, wherein a user can take a self-inventory, and using [unspecified] context-sensitive AI techniques, gain increased awareness (the most critical component in facilitating behavioral change).
Gabriel White (Frog Design) raised the issue of how we design for the last 1 billion people (who do not [yet] have mobile phones), many of whom are illiterate, and find menu hierarchies and soft keys unintelligible. Instead, he proposed -- and demonstrated (via Motorola's MotoPhone) -- the use of shallow spatialized designs with real-world analogues.
Suzanne Thomas (Intel Emerging Markets Platforms Group) presented some results of her ethnographic study of love, play and digital literacy among migrant youth within the People's Republic of China, who are willing to spend large proportions of their income on mobile technology for the goal of social inclusion and participation in their new urban environments. Many of the specific examples were interesting (including Ms. Wu, who sends 100 SMS messages / day), but many of the general observations seem as applicable in the "developed" world as in the developing world.
Ame Elliot (PARC) shared some of the insights she and her colleagues had gleaned from "Tokyo Youth at Leisure: Towards the Design of New Media to Support Leisure Planning and Practice". Among the surprises (for me) were the primacy of relaxation as a leisure time pursuit among young adults (age 18-25), the relatively low priority of finding new romance (perhaps the study looked at a narrow time slice?), and the dependence upon personal recommendations from friends and relative aversion to personalized recommendations from non-friends (e.g., through computer-based collaborative filtering).
Liz Goodman (UC Berkeley Information School) revealed some interesting uses of mobile photography in the construction of social identities -- and relationships -- among young single adults in the United Arab Emirates. In what I considered to be the most engaging presentation of the day (although I would rate most as "above average" and many as "excellent" in the category of engagement ... not to mention persuasiveness), she showed examples of how searching Flickr for "interesting" photos with the tag "Nokia N70" a few months ago yielded a surprising number of photos of young men and pairs of young women from UAE -- where [a photo of] an unmarried man and woman being together is forbidden -- and the associated comments, create, in effect, a massively mobile mixed gender online social space. Liz ended with a quote from the Emirate (regarding restrictions imposed by UAE on Flickr): "When photos talk, who cares about language?" Liz then posed the question "Who's listening, and what are they listening for?" ... and I couldn't help but wonder whether her research may result in greater restrictions on Flickr use within UAE ... especially given that when I searched for interesting Nokia N70 photos just now, it did not turn up many from UAE.
The conference concluded with a lightning round panel on the present and future of mobile persuasion, where each panelist had 30 seconds to articulate one or more themes. Among the articulated themes that resonated with me were the connection to David Allen's Getting Things Done (where one small step can change your life), the prevalence of health problems resulting from Balkanization (reflecting views I recently read in my gradual digestion of The Wealth of Networks), and the challenges of measuring persuasion (people rarely like to admit they've been persuaded).
Among my takeaways were
- [Mobile Persuasion] research is not so distant from new businesses (especially in health care)
- Many people love to hate the cellular carriers (and their closed, proprietary systems)
- Shameless self-promotion is less shameful when everyone is doing it (BJ led the way, promoting his views on the principles of persuasion (or captology) during speaker transitions ... and [thereby] practicing what he preaches, while preaching what he practices ... and in a case of "you spot it, you got it", I acknowledge that, I, too, am practicing self-promotion in this blog, however much I may write about self-reflection and self-expression.)
The conference was remarkably well-run, with great content and community. My only quibble was that there was surprisingly little participation from the audience, in large part due to the small times allocated for questions, and the fact that questions were always posed to groups of speakers rather than individuals (and thus many responses were often offered to a single question). The standout [audience] question for me was actually a comment -- by Karl Long -- at the end, where he drew an analogy between the cellular carriers and AOL, and said that in both cases, power is leaking through their fingers. I hope that Mobile Persuasion 2008, if it is convened, will incorporate mobile persuasion technologies to engage the audience in [mutual] persuasion. I'll be there (if / when there is a there there) ... and maybe I can help (in that regard).
[Update: Other blogs that contain nice [shorter] distillations of the conference include
- Ian Smith's sleepless
- Craig Lefebvre's On Social Marketing and Social Change
- Ayman's comments on the Yahoo! Research Berkeley blog
and I'm sure there are others ...
BJ Fogg and Dean Eckles have published Mobile Persuasion, a book of 20 of the presentations]