Saturday, November 17, 2012

Amnesty for file sharers

Again, my favorite thought leader on the foibles of human decision making strikes again in his blog.  This post focuses on downloading media, in this case a book.  Or even more importantly, his book.

He was always in the camp that "information wants to be free."  You know, the justification people have been using for years to download music without paying for it.  But now that he is a world renowned author, there are people downloading his book for free.  Suddenly, he is not so sure.  He can laugh it off because he is so successful that it probably doesn't matter too much to his bottom line.  It also allows his to evaluate his own feelings a little more objectively.  The ability of people to rationalize their judgments according to their own self-interest is not surprising and fits into the models of information processing he has been advocating for years.

He goes on to talk about the long term impacts, specifically on the ideas of social proof and moving baselines.  Mom was right - just because "everyone is doing it" doesn't make it right.  But the social proof of a common behavior makes it easier to rationalize and so you can convince yourself that it is right for totally different and more supportable reasons.  This is a slippery slope of moral deterioration.

Another problem is that when we start down the slope, everything is relative.  Are you more ethical if you download only 5% of your music for free compared to someone else who is at 10%?  Probably not.  So once you start rationalizing it for one or two songs, it becomes easier to rationalize the rest.  5% become 10%.  10% becomes 50%.

How do we get this to stop?  Just like alcoholics can't just drink a little, to stop this kind of slippery slope requires abstinence.  We need to convince people to stop downloading media illegally cold turkey.  But how?  If you stop today, you still have your past behavior hanging over your head and filling up your self-image schema.  Once our self-image considers ourselves "polluted" by this past behavior, or we rationalize the past behavior as OK to make ourselves feel better, there is little incentive to change.

This is where Dan comes in.  He suggests that the content owners should declare an official amnesty.  Every past illegal download is hereby forgiven if you commit to quit.  We all get a fresh start.  It would have to be framed to make people feel good and/or proud of their commitment.  Branded properly, this could make a big difference in the prevalence of many unethical behaviors - including downloading Dan's book without paying.

Friday, November 16, 2012

False memories and positive user experience

There is a great guest blog on this week that summarize the recent research on false memories and how easy it is to implant them.

Of course, there were those famous cases from the 1990s where therapists “recovered” repressed memories of abuse in some of their patients.   They later found out that the events never happened, but not before destroying many families after false accusations, lawsuits, criminal cases, and more. 

The blog focuses mostly on more controlled studies where false memories are implanted during an experimental protocol.  The simplest example is a study where participants are shown a video of a car on car impact and asked either “How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?” or “How fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?”  Using the stronger term “crashed” changed the way that the subjects encoded the video, even after a week delay.  For example, they falsely remembered that there was broken glass at the scene.

A more recent study the blog describes looked into the domain of eyewitness accounts of criminal acts.  This is a very important topic because false memories could lead to innocent people being convicted of crimes and guilty people getting away.  In the study, participants were shown videos of a man stealing a wallet from a woman and hiding behind a tree.  Then a witness reports that the person hid behind a door.  When tested immediately, the participants correctly remembered the tree 61% of the time and falsely remembered the door 31% of the time.  But after 18 month delay (which is no unusual in our court system), 45% of the participants correctly remembered the tree and 39% falsely remembered the tree.  Almost a 50/50 split.

My some lucky coincidence, Koen AT Claes published an article in UX magazine titled “Should we focus on user experience?”  The message of the article is that it doesn’t really matter what a user’s actual experience is while using a system, just what he/she remembers.    So if we can design our user experiences so that the memory is positive, there can be as many frustrations, confusions, or whatever along the way – it just doesn’t matter. 

I have blogged before that the emotion attached to the memory of an event depends on the strongest emotion experienced and the last emotion experienced.  So if you are on vacation and have one really great day and end on a high note, the rest of the vacation could have sucked – you will remember it fondly.  And the opposite is also true if you have one really bad day or end on a low note.  The advice I gave at the time is to make sure you schedule one really kick ass thing to do during any vacation you take.  And the vacation can be really short (saving time and money) as long as you get the kick ass activity in.  And make sure you don’t schedule the flight home at some miserable or stressful time. 

So how do we put these two together?  We can design user experiences into our system so that it ends really positively and we implant a false positive memory into the user and we don’t need to worry as much about the rest.  The details would depend on the system, but one example would be putting a lot of work into your confirmation screen and perhaps a thank you follow up.  After a long, frustrating, confusing purchase we can send the user a note that they are awesome, your favorite customer, give them an intangible but meaningful perk of some kind, and then still end up smelling like roses.

I am typing this somewhat tongue in cheek – I don’t think we should ever design bad process flows or screens and make up for it with some lipstick on the pig.  Better for both to be good – the real experience and the remembered one.  But it is good insight in terms of allocating limited resources around the process.  More on the later steps, even if it means less on the early ones.  Unless of course you get user drop-off before they even get to the later good stuff.  So it is complicated.  But good to keep in mind.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Open government - the good and the bad.

 I wasn't sure whether to put this post in Public Policy or Human Factors because it is a great example of both.  Also great examples of why I love TED.  These two talks are from TED global 2012. 

Ivan Krastev is a Bulgarian who talks about the folly of how democracy is not working.  But his main point is not about Bulgaria, but about open democracy.  My favorite quote is from the President when they decided to put all ministerial meetings online.  Rather than worrying that this would open up their deliberations to the public he thought this was the best way to force all ministers to keep their mouths shut.  You never know when your words can come back to haunt you and this removes all plausible deniability.  You can't say the words were taken out of context.  The same thing that makes democracy better (transparency) also makes it worse.  It is all about how you manage it.

Beth Noveck's talk is much more positive.  She has studied how open government is practiced around the world.  Her main point is that you need more than just transparency.  You also need participation.  Information has to flow in both directions for open government to be useful.  Her examples are really uplifting when you think about the potential of matching a good objective, a good UI, and good crowdsourcing. 

I am almost intentionally not doing these TED talks justice so that you will have to go watch or listen to the originals.  They are both worth the 15 minute investment.

Beth Noveck
Ivan Krastev  

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Self-identity credit

Great example of the self-identity credit fallacy on one of my absolute favorite shows – Burn Notice (OK, I was watching a repeat of an August episode).  The spies offered a bribe to an arms dealer’s COO.  He was offended that they would even ask!!  For the next day or so, he felt very self-righteous and proud of himself for being such as honorable person.  He built up his self-identity for being honest and loyal.  Now, he had some self-identity credit to burn, which allowed him to accept the bribe the next day. 

This might sound hypocritical, but it is common.  Researchers have demonstrated this at restaurants.  The more salads that are on the menu, the more likely people are to order something less healthful (I think it was French fries in the study).  By imagining themselves ordering all of these healthy salads, they built up their self-identity for being healthy, allowing them to spend the credit ordering the French fries.  Note that this did not actually require ordering the salad, just imaging themselves ordering it.

Another study found this with smoking.  Just telling people that you plan to quit gives you self-identity credit for trying to quit.  So you don’t have to try as hard to actually quit. 

I find myself doing this all the time.  If I need to do something hard or unpleasant, I tell everyone how dedicated I am to doing it.  Then, after I have built up sufficient self-identity credit for my dedication, I can avoid it altogether and still feel good about myself.  Of course, nothing ever gets done this way.  But that is why it is “predictably irrational” (HT to Dan Ariely for the great appellation).