Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Forums for a civic process -- Seattle Center

Forums for Seattle Center? This should be interesting. It's nice to see that the Forum has some starter content. I also like that there are basic guidelines posted, though I would have made the guidelines a "sticky" post in ideas forum, rather than it being a standalone post in a different forum. While we're talking about suggestions, I also would have waited on the blog post until all of the forum topics as outlined in the welcome message were live. Anyway, I could go on about community building via blogs or forums, but that is way too close to my day job :P

Tech / community strategy aside, it is encouraging to see outreach through a variety of means -- open house sessions, blogs, and now forums. I do wonder how all of this is going to work from a macro level. For example, there are meetings posted (as a pdf) on the 21st Century page of Seattle Center. This schedule lists a "Public Forum for Organizations" on January 30th. The blog, in reference to the same meeting, says that it is a proposal deadline for anyone (individuals and organizations) to submit a one page summary vision for air time with the committee. Based on the content recently posted in the Forums and on the blog post talking about the meeting, it is clear that the public meeting on the 30th was not solely for organizations as originally stated on the schedule. How does an inconsistency such as this get resolved with the venues (blogs, forums, website) present? Is there a definitive place for all of the information? Better yet, is there a way to ensure consistency of information across venues?

Something else to consider...the Forums seem to imply that they exist for capturing other ideas / summaries not already raised (in meetings or elsewhere) while having content for people to discuss. If that is the case, I'm unclear as to why there was a deadline for proposals in the first place if it would all happen online anyway. Granted, I'm not privy to any of the inner workings of the overall plan, so this may make a lot more sense than what I've seen so far.

Of course, I realize that what Seattle Center is undertaking with the blog , and now forums, is still a work in progress. While there are things I would personally change with what I've seen, ultimately I am excited that folks at the Seattle Center are bringing innovation and leadership to a new civic process for the 21st Century. I look forward to working with folks to bring about even more amazing things for all of us.

Friday, January 26, 2007

First public meeting for Seattle Center redesign

Wednesday night I attended the first public hearing for reimagining Seattle Center for the next 20 years. Though I was skeptical at first, being one of the few dozen or so folks there not affiliated with the work thus far, and not to mention me being one of the few individuals under the age of 40, I liked what I saw.

Just to recap how the public hearing was organized, when you first enter the Lopez and Fidalgo rooms at Seattle Center there is someone there to greet you as you sign in. They give you a quick overview of how the evening will proceed -- there are stations throughout the room for public comment, volunteers who have helped with the process thus far will be at each station to talk with you about your ideas, a brief presentation will occur halfway through the evening, and the overall goal is to gather as much public input as possible. Essentially this was how Collaborate! was organized, though this iteration put forward by Seattle Center seemed to take it up a notch.

At each station, Seattle Center provided a backgrounder of the topic area (transit, events, specific buildings, etc) being discussed at that station. A map of the center, with the related parts highlighted as appropriate, were presented alongside any conceptual images that may exist. In the case of a revised theater district on Mercer Street, concept images of a revamped Intiman and Reparatory theaters were presented. Additionally at each station there were questions posted on a large sheet (about 10 feet high and 4 feet wide) for people to place note cards as responses to the questions. Participants could also take a dot to voice support for an existing comment if they so chose. The questions typically followed the same pattern -- what draws you currently, what would you change, and other.

In terms of the volunteers at each station, not only were they intimately knowledgeable about the topic area at hand, but they would help flesh out suggestions from participants. Sometimes the volunteers would actually write down the ideas described by the participants themselves. While this may seem to be antithetical to the notion of having the people submit their own words into the process, from what I was able to see / overhear, the volunteers were very good at ensuring that the words captured on the cards accurately reflected the intent of the participant. This leads me to believe this method of data collection was not so much as to serve as a filter as it was to help capture the ideas of people who might not be able to write for whatever reason. To some degree this may have also been used to help standardize the handwriting so it would be easier for people to read.

All in all, I liked the event. That being said, there is always room for improvement. First and foremost, food and beverages should be available at meetings of this nature. Given the time of day (5:30 - 8:00 pm) this might help keep people engaged and alert. Also, it would be great to have (and this may be in the works already) each of the "stations" appear as separate blog posts to engage people online. Following on the theme of technology, what about having interactive kiosks with webcams and or sound recording (think podcasts) for people to give their feedback and thoughts about the work thus far? A recent PBS documentary did something similar to this. In a way it's similar to the work of StoryCorps or Densho. These means of recording (video or audio) could be something stationary or it could be more mobile to get a wider range of participants. Also, folks may want to consider posting the video footage and still pics of the event online. Using existing services like Soapbox, YouTube, Flickr or the like would be fine to help implement it quicker, and also it enables it to be spread throughout a wide variety of blogs (mine, for example, but hopefully some with more traffic -- lol)

Anyway, thanks to all the volunteers who helped last night. And thanks to all who planned the first public hearing. Even though I get the sense that the next meeting will be similar, I look forward to attending. Don't worry, I won't try to skew the data towards things I already voiced support for -- multi-seasonal amphitheater for more intimate music and entertainment performances, a farmers market, more walkable, more bikeable, transit hub, etc. Instead, I hope to have more ideas fleshed out around this notion of helping to make Seattle Center a "first date kind of place." (My thanks go out to Karen Keist who helped me think of it during our discussion of open space at the center). I should have more ideas around what this actually looks like at the next meeting.

For additional coverage, check out Seattle Center's blog, or the KOMO-TV Report

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Achieving that flow state for user experiences

What would happen if you took great game design principles and applied them to product development for something other than games? Would you get a really fun and engaging product? Or would you get a product that completely misses the mark? I don't know the answer just yet, but I suppose that is one of the good things about iterative product development :-)

In terms of what I've been able to gather so far, there's a few different variations on the theme with regards to this general notion of flow and or fun. According to social architect Amy Jo Kim, the elements to pay attention to with regards to game design include:
  • Collecting
  • Points
  • Feedback
  • Exchanges
  • Customization
Another writer on this topic of games and design, DanC, has these elements listed:
  • Action
  • Blackbox
  • Feedback
  • Mastery
According to a recent report about the motivational pull of video games (pdf), the following criteria are listed:
  • Autonomy
  • Competence
  • Presence
  • Intuitive
  • Relatedness
All of these items seem to be related to this broader concept of flow. Flow is perhaps best described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi where he lists the following as the principle elements that facilitate this space:
  • Challenge
  • The ability to concentrate on that challenge
  • Clear goals
  • Immediate feedback
  • Deep involvement on the part of the participant
  • Sense of control over one's actions
  • The concern for one's self decreases
  • Sense of time is skewed
To put it in a more user friendly way, Karim Lakhani and Robert Wolf (pdf) describe flow as a state that occurs when "a person's skills matches the challenge of a task." Put another way, it is when your skills, experiences and knowledge all sync up to a particular situation at hand and you are in the moment when you are at your best.

Wouldn't it be great if all the users of your products and or services felt like that all the time? Seems to me that elements of flow or good game design need to be factored into the overall product development cycle.

Building upon what I've encountered so far (I'm still going through Csikszentmihalyi's book on flow, among some other references) I would say that for product development that helps prospective and current customers achieve that flow state, the following items must be considered throughout the entire design process:

Assuming that a user does a specific action and something happens behind the scenes, the following items should be considered:
  • Feedback
  • Personalization
  • Connection
  • Mastery
  • Optimization
In the case of a discussion forum where someone posts a message this flow state could look like this:

Feedback -- Message appears in location selected

Personalization -- This could be as simple as providing a personalized greeting acknowledging contribution in your native language, listing your name, etc in a conversational style or as complex as a personalized email doing the same.

Connection -- Provide links to other people who posted similar content or who are interested in similar content

Mastery -- Enable a notion of leveling tied specifically to the action of posting. The more messages a user posts, the more adept they are at the interface. Acknowledge the time (no matter how small) it takes for them to post a message. Something as simple as listing the message count, or something as complex as a reputation system tied to the frequency of content creation could be implemented here.

Optimization -- "Leveling up" needs to open up new opportunities for folks to do more. As a particular individual masters a specific action, let them do more to further optimize their experience. It could be skipping steps in a workflow because they know how to best do it, or it could be granting of additional options for them in posting a message.


Zooming back down to my day to day with blogs and forums...my sense is that much of this already exists to varying degrees. Granted, it could tie together more. For that matter, it could even tie together flow states for both blogs and forums. There's likely a lot more here...so I appreciate any thoughts and comments folks have on all this. thanks!


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Equivalent to 18 sell-out Seahawks games

I'm reading through some backgrounder information (pdf) about revamping Seattle Center for this day and age and came across an amazing stat.

Each year serving more than three times the annual number of visitors as Safeco Field and the equivalent of 18 sell-out regular football seasons at Qwest Field, Seattle Center is the state's top attraction.

I knew it drew in lots of people, but that's pretty impressive. To me, that just underscores the importance of holistic and regional transit solutions around that area. Unfortunately, with what is currently being discussed with regards to the viaduct vs the tunnel, I'm not hopeful that a regional solutions are even on the table.

Seattle Center is blogging too!

Blogs are popping up all over the place ;-) Seattle Center is the latest to get into it. I think this is a great way of opening things up, especially as folks are focused on revamping Seattle Center.

Loosely related, on a whim some colleagues and I started talking about the notion of revamping the center for this day and age. To my surprise, I was pleased to learn that folks are talking about this right now. While it seems like I won't be actively serving on the committee (as there's been a blue ribbon group meeting for awhile already) there looks to be some options for plugging in nonetheless. Granted, the existing ways do not seem to be all that compelling in terms of really getting input into the process, however it is a start. Looks like I'll need to buckle down with folks to actually engage in a meaningful way about changes facing this civic institution.

Seattle Works blog

Yay for blogging! With the recent trip to the Gulf Coast by some incredible volunteers from Seattle Works, we officially launched our blog. Not only is it great to get more visibility to the incredible things underway, but it's also helped me refocus on blogging. Expect to see more of me here on this site, and here (for work related things)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

slowing down, snowing down

Last night during the rush hour commute, the Puget Sound region was hit again by snow, ice and rain. Needless to say, it did not make for a fun commute. After spending about two hours waiting for a bus that never showed, I ended up hitching a ride with others trying to make it back to Seattle. Were it not for the generosity of Marcel, I don't know how I would have gotten home as the buses I could have taken either never showed or they were stuck in the ice.

While his kindness is not surprising, I still wonder why shared experiences, or shared difficulties seem to bring people closer together. A few years ago, I wrote upon this a bit...here's a little snippet from 2005:

Another example of how the unexpected can be a good thing would be what happens in Seattle when it snows. First, it rarely snows, and if it does, it rarely sticks around. So it is not that surprising that people in this city get all "weird" when it comes to snow. For days the top news story was the snow. This overall weirdness though, is somewhat unique though. At work last week when it snowed, the focus of everyone in the office was elsewhere. People worried about how to get home, some had to get their kids from school, others looked in awe at the big fluffy flakes falling from the sky. Regardless of how individuals reacted, there was this overall giddiness in the office. Likewise, it seemed that there was this sense of wonder for all experiencing the snow. Just a few years ago when it did snow heavily and stay, the city of Seattle literally shut down. Hills turned into ski slopes. Neighborhood restaurants never looked so packed. The place down the corner from me turned into a ski chalet, offering free hot chocolate to those braving the weather...

...this notion of surprise and shared experience seems key in terms of bringing people together. It seems to shake people momentarily from their day to day routine, and we are all then able to look at the world with a sense of wonder, possibility and play.

Following the big windstorms in Nov 2006, a local columnist also commented on this notion of community here

All of this makes me wonder, are we *too* distracted in this day and age of constant activity and connectedness to really be connected to one another as a community? Kathy Sierra wrote recently on how our flow seems to get disrupted with all the noise of mail, feeds and the like. Do we all just need a good old fashioned "snow day" once in awhile to better ground us so we truly are better connected to one another? As much fun as that might be, that's not a good longterm solution. I get the feeling that this magic formula of community through serendipity has to do more with this notion of flow and play in everyday life. Now, if I only knew how to bottle it ;-)

(cross posted On community...)