Viral Rumours, Human Behaviour and Twitter NOT shutting down

Have you heard the rumour that Twitter is shutting down because of abuse problems? It’s not.

Likewise, Facebook will NOT be charging from the Summer of 2016 (if Summer ever arrives around here)

As humans we love rumours and we love to propagate them, particularly alarming ones. There are situations where our love for the alarming causes false rumours spread faster than the facts.

Social media allows us to spread these rumours at a pace unimaginable in the past. But there’s more to it than that, the nature of social media makes these rumours highly believable and amplifies the rate of propagation.

People spread rumours for a reason, but there doesn’t seem to be too much consensus on what these reasons are. The list that made the most sense to me was this one:

  • People Spread Rumours When There’s Uncertainty
  • People Spread Rumours When They Feel Anxiety
  • People Spread Rumours When the Information is Important
  • People Spread Rumours When They Believe the Information
  • People Spread Rumours When it Helps Their Self-Image
  • People Spread Rumours When it Helps Their Social Status

From Social Psych Online.

"Tech is the new perk" according to Adobe Future of Work Survey 2016

Eighty-one percent of U.S. office workers say state of the art technology is important at work, outranking food and beverages (72%), a beautiful office design (61%) and on-site amenities (56).

Only one in four (26%) of U.S. office workers believes that their company’s technology is “ahead of the curve.” Indians are slightly more bullish (30%) while the U.K. is especially pessimistic (15%).

In the U.S., those who said their company’s technology is “ahead of the curve” love their work about twice as much and feel about twice as creative, motivated and valued compared to those at “behind the times” companies.

These are some of the findings from Adobe’s Future of Work Survey for 2016. The survey results were published in May 2016 under the title: Work in Progress encapsulating contributions from over 2000 workers from U.S., U.K. and India who use a computer daily for work.

One of the significant conclusions of this report, in Adobe’s words, is that “Tech is the new perk”. People would rather have good technology than access to food and beverage, lounge and relaxation areas, personalised workstations, beautiful office design and access to on-site amenities. This isn’t quite true across the three nations surveyed – in the U.K. we regard access to food and beverage as highly as we do technology.

These figures aren’t surprising in a world were we increasingly rely on technology to do our work. Personally I wouldn’t rank tech alongside perks at all, for many jobs that would be like classifying a van as a perk for a delivery person. Having the right level of technology is essential to doing a good job and doing a good job is a significant factor in most people’s job satisfaction. The problem is, we often expect people to do a good job without the right technology which is a bit like expecting a delivery person to carry a 3 tonne load in a 1 tonne truck. It’s not surprising that people in organisations with “ahead of the curve” technology feel more creative, motivated and valued – they probably are.

Optimising on the edges – how difficult is it to take a meter reading?

Sometimes I wonder whether we have gone too far with technology and then we go one step further.

I found another example yesterday when entering the meter reading for my utility supplier.

For a few years now I’ve chosen utility suppliers who allow me to enter my own meter readings, in the UK these generally come with a slightly lower tariff or some other minor inducement. Initially the method of doing this was to use a web site. Because my memory isn’t fabulous I would go outside with a piece of paper and take down the two five-digit numbers required and enter them into the web site via my laptop.

Then along came the mobile application; I could remove the step requiring me to note down the numbers on a piece of paper. I’d walk outside with my mobile device and enter the two five-digit numbers into my iPhone. What could be simpler? Well it turns out that even that is too much effort for people.

This month when it was time to enter my utility usage figures the mobile application came up with a new feature – camera meter reading. No longer do I have to go through the laborious step of reading the meter and entering the two five-digit numbers into my phone. I can now click on a camera icon, point the phone at the reading on my meter and let it read and interpret the reading for me. How brilliant is that? Instead of reading and clicking I can now point a camera and let it do the reading. I still have to do the reading, of course, because I need to confirm that the camera has interpreted the number correctly but I don’t have to type in the numbers. It was quite an easy process and the camera got both five-digit number correct but the previous process was hardly arduous.

The most difficult part of the whole meter reading process is walking to get the key, walking outside with it and opening the cupboards. This still isn’t very arduous, but it takes significantly more effort than the difference between typing a two five-digit numbers and letting a camera do it for me. Someone in a development team, somewhere, has decided that the effort of this optimisation is worth the reward. I suspect that the reward is one of customer satisfaction rather than one of time optimisation, but I wasn’t dissatisfied with the old way of doing it. I’m more dissatisfied with one of the locks on one of the meter cupboards and it’s inability to lock first-time.

We do this type of optimisation on the edges all the time in as technologists.

There’s an old saying in the UK, I don’t know how global it is, but it goes like this:

Can’t see the wood for the trees.

In technology we are good at optimising all sorts of things on the edge, but not as great at dealing with the fundamental issues at the heart of an issue.

We have more communication technology than is healthy for us, each one promising to make communication faster/better/more social and yet we still struggle to communicate.

We have lots of ways of dealing with SPAM rather than closing down the causes of SPAM.

We make it easier to enter a five-digit number on a meter rather than getting the meter to tell the supplier what it’s reading is.

Personal "temperature bubbles" – Yes please

Like many people who sit in open plan offices one of the most contentious issues is temperature. I’m always hot; that’s who I am. Others are always cold; that’s who they are. It’s difficult to do anything about that in a place where we all share the same air.

Comfort in a working space is greatly influenced by temperature and comfort greatly influences people’s productivity.

I’ve always wondered whether there was a better, more personal, way of dealing with different people’s temperature preferences.

Design firm Carlo Ratti Associati are try a better way at the Agnelli Foundation headquarters in Torino, Italy. By combining sensors and IoT technology with the air-conditioning system they are aiming to create personal “temperature bubbles”:

It will also add an important layer of personalisation through so-called “temperature bubbles” that workers will be able to set with a smartphone app that speaks to fan units in the ceiling. “Your own personal [temperature] setting will follow you through the building,” he said.

Mashable: This high tech office will give everyone their own thermal bubble

Yes, please! That’s all I’d like to say.

"We're writing these things that we can no longer read." Kevin Slavin

A little while ago I wrote an article on algorithms: Living with the algorithms in which I was trying to convey some of the ways in which algorithms are already influencing our daily lives.

Kevin Slavin does a better job in his TED talk titled: How algorithms shape our world

You're buying a service now! You don't get to set the pace of change.

There’s a huge power shift taking place in corporate IT.

Previously Jane in Manufacturing would use the tools that were deployed to her by Frank in the IT department at a pace defined by Frank or Frank’s boss, Mary.

Vendors would provide updates to Frank annually and Frank would decide whether to deploy the updates or not. If Frank didn’t like the update, or didn’t have enough time to deploy the update because Mary had him busy on other things, Frank would skip an update and wait for the next one.

Before Frank could deploy anything, though, he would have to prove to Mary and the business management that the planned change wouldn’t impact the business too much. He’d do this by putting the updates into a number of test environments. There would be a ‘sand-pit’ testing area where he’d get to see what the update looked like. He’d then move on to the ‘pre-production’ environment where he’d show that the update didn’t impact other system. He is likely to use a ‘pilot’ before eventually deploying the updates to the rest of the business. In each phase various people would be involved to make sure that the planned change did what was expected of it.

If Jane wanted something that was in the new update she just had to wait. Likewise, when Frank decided that an update was being deployed Jane didn’t have much choice whether to accept it or not, she normally didn’t even have a choice about when the update was happening.

In recent years the IT market has adopted as-a-Service as the way of delivering capability to the people like Jane.

Previously Frank in IT decided when updates were going to occur, now the person who decides on whether an update gets deployed isn’t Jane, it’s someone in the provider of the Service. The rate of update is intrinsic in the Service being used.

The pace is no longer being set by Frank, the pace is being set by the Service Provider. Frank, and Mary, just need to keep up. Frank is still involved in this as-a-Service world because he is still providing support for the tools to the business but he’s no longer in control of the rate of change.

To compound Frank’s problems, the Service Provider is no longer updating the Service on an annual basis, they are updating the Service every day with significant changes coming, at least, every quarter. The Service Providers need to keep up with their competition and that means rapid change. Some of the time Jane is delighted by the new capabilities, at other times she’s dismayed that something has changed or been removed.

The previous testing process has lost most of its relevance because it’s the Service Provider doing that testing, but there are still areas where the Service integrates with other Services that Frank would like to test but there simply isn’t the time to keep up with the pace of change.

There are times when Jane comes in to work and needs to do something quickly, only to discover that everything looks different and she’s no idea how to do what she needs to do. She phones Frank, but he has no idea either and it’s going to take him a little time to talk to the Service Provider and work it out for her. The work that Mary had planned for Frank will have to wait because operating the business is always more important than the IT department’s priorities. Jane asks if she can talk to the Service Provider directly, but the contract with the Service Provider only allows a set of named people to contact them.

Not only is Frank in IT having to get used to the pace of change, so is Jane in Manufacturing and so are all of her people. With a higher rate of change the impact of each change is lower, which is a good thing, but the overall volume of change is much higher.

The issue for Jane isn’t just about getting today’s job done though, the other challenge is keeping ahead of the competition. The services that she uses are evolving rapidly and she can’t afford to be behind her competitors who are using the same services. The competition gets the new capabilities on the same day that she does and her ability to exploit them has become a competitive differentiator.

Many services mitigate some of these issues by giving service users a time when they can choose whether to adopt the update. In these schemes, though, the update eventually becomes mandatory and you no longer have a choice. Other schemes include pioneer approaches that allow businesses to give some people insights into the next set of changes prior to the majority of the service users. This approach would allow Frank to use the next iteration of the tools before Jane gets them so that he could be ready, this doesn’t help Jane keep ahead of the completion though.

Rather than treating change as a constant risk it’s time to step aside from the old ways of doing things and adopt new ones that support change as a mechanism for growth.

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional”

John C. Maxwell

Human Behaviour, a Printer and a Ream of Paper

Today I went to the large multi-function-printer in the corner of the office expecting to pick up some printing that I’d just sent to it.

(You might be wondering what I was doing printing, but that’s a question for another day.)

I was expecting to be greeted by a set of pages on the side of the printer, but instead I was greeted by a red-light and a message on the screen.

The message told me in very clear terms that the printer was out of paper. This particular printer has four trays, three of which are dedicated to the type of A4 paper that I wanted to use, all three of these trays were empty.

Being a good office citizen I opened the cupboard next to the printer where the spare paper is stored. Having open the cupboard I was accosted by a sight I’ve seen in every office I’ve ever worked in. Instead of the cupboard containing full reams of paper it was littered with ripped open paper wrappings containing loose collections of paper. Some of these collections had barely 50 sheets in them, some a 100 sheets, but all of them less than half a ream of paper. There were so many bits of reams that I couldn’t see the full reams.

Most home printers only take a few sheets of paper, but for some years now, decades even, designers of office printers have understood something quite basic. These design geniuses have understood that the basic design requirement for a printer tray is that it takes a ream of paper. I don’t think I’ve seen a paper tray that takes part of a ream for a very, very long time. Yet, despite this being obvious to the designers of printer trays it’s clearly not obvious to the users of printer trays. What could be simpler:

  • Open paper tray
  • Remove ream of paper from cupboard
  • Remove wrapping from ream of paper
  • Put full ream of paper in paper tray
  • Close paper tray
  • Dispose of wrapping

Instead people prefer, for some reason, a different process:

  • Open paper tray
  • Remove ream of paper from cupboard
  • Open wrapping covering ream of paper
  • Remove a handful of paper from wrapping
  • Place this portion of paper into paper tray
  • Place partial ream of paper back into cupboard
  • Close paper tray

The only logical conclusions I can think of for this behaviour are as follows:

  • People haven’t understood, even after all this time, that the paper tray can take a full ream of paper.
  • Disposing of the paper wrapping around a ream of paper requires such special skills that this step is to be avoided. Possible, but I’ve not come across it.

I wonder what the designers of paper trays think about this situation. They’ve done the design work, they’ve created an optimised solution, and yet people prefer to work in a way that creates extra work.

This silly little example shows to me the difficulty of adjusting human behaviour. Even when there is an obviously simpler way of doing things we prefer to follow the tried and trusted path. We prefer to put too little paper in the printer because we are afraid that putting too much in it might break it. This is just a tiny example, but there is evidence of this type of behaviour everywhere you look. The challenge that many organisations face is that these tiny examples scale up into huge areas of inefficiency.

The Female Voice – I need recommendations

I was recently struck by a tweet that Steven Sinofsky wrote:

This tweet was highlighting an article that Adrianne LeFrance had written in which she had reviewed her articles for gender bias. I’ve been disturbed for a long time about the lack of the female voice in my arena of Information Technology. As an example, I’m looking at an office of roughly 70 people and there are three women in the room.

Rather than undertake the detailed analysis that Adrianne did I thought I would do something a bit more basic. I took all the feeds connected to my Feedly and went through each one to understand the author, classifying them in four ways:

  • Written exclusively by a lady
  • Written exclusively by a man
  • Written by a collective of people
  • Written by a corporate team

I didn’t try to quantify if the voice for collectives or corporate feeds were was predominantly male or female, I suspect most are written by men, but I didn’t want this to turn into a huge venture and the results were categoric enough without this extra classification.

Taking all the blog feeds I subscribe to the female voice is tiny:

Blog Reading Demographic

With only 6% of blog feeds being written by women and 48% being written by men the corporate and collective feeds would need to be completely dominated by women for it to make any meaningful impact to my inbuilt reading bias.

If I strip out the blog feeds that are not directly work related the situation is even worse:

Reading Demographic for Work

I’m quite ashamed of this result – 2%, that’s awful. There are 4 feeds that I subscribe to for work related information that are written by women, that’s all.

Information Technology is a field that is dominated by men but it can’t be that biased. Even if it is that bias it’s about time we did something to change it and one step I can make is to listen to the female voice. That’s where you come in, who am I missing? Who are the female writers that I’ve overlooked who are talking about Information Technology or even technology in general?

Visualising and Reliving my Moves

The other day Steve highlighted an site he’d found called Move-O-Scope which takes the data from an app we both love called Moves.

Moves is an activity tracker – Move-O-Scope is a fabulous way to visualise and explore the information stored.

Once I’d connected Move-O-Scope to my data it got me thinking about all sorts of things that had happened in the last 94 weeks.

It got me thinking about a few days on the Northumbria coast exploring Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands:

Alnwick Moves

There’s a set of hills that I’m trying to climb and I wondered how my progress so far would look:

Wainwright Moves

A lot of effort was expended to make some of those green squiggles.

Not surprisingly there’s a much higher level of movement around my home town:

Preston Moves

The blue cycle line around the outside is a local cycle track that encircles the town known as The Guild Wheel.

The big squiggle in the top right corner represents my regular morning walks.

Zooming in you can see that I like to vary things quite a bit:

Home Moves

For those of you who know the area, you’ll also notice that I don’t spend much time walking around the local supermarket (which is the tiny squiggle on the left).

I could spend hours doing this kind of thing, I find it fascinating what we now record about ourselves and what it says about our lives.

I’m going to finish with an image that shows my moves across the whole of the UK in the last 94 weeks which covers North, South, East and West but still so much more to see:

Britain Moves

Knowing the Real Story in a world of Headlines and Algorithms

I’ve been pondering the question of how we know that what we are being told is the real story. This was highlighted by a recent incident at an AFC Championship game.

At a recent game between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots there was a technical problem with the systems that provide vital information to the sidelines. This system uses, as part of a marketing deal, a set of Microsoft Surface tablets.

Disclaimer: I’m British and know absolutely nothing about American Football, nor want to really, thankfully I’m not commenting on the game. I’m not even commenting on whether the Microsoft Surface is good at what it does. I’m commenting on how stories emerge and get transmitted.

The most visible part of this failure was a whole gang of people looking blankly and shaking their heads at a set of very visible bright blue Microsoft Surface devices.

All of the initial news headlines were around the failure of Microsoft’s Surface tablets:

These headlines later became a bit more nuanced:

The headlines call out the Microsoft Surface but the articles themselves state that the problem wasn’t with the Microsoft devices at all, but with the stadium network that they were connecting to. It’s worth noting tha these are all headlines from professional news organisations.

Microsoft has had to launch a full media defence of their technology in an attempt to regain the marketing momentum:

“Microsoft Surfaces have not experienced a single failure in the two years they’ve been used on NFL sidelines. In the past two years, Surfaces have supported nearly 100,000 minutes of sideline action, and in that time, not a single issue has been reported that is related to the tablet itself.”

Microsoft Devices Blog

Their attempts to change the perception that their devices failed is admirable but probably ultimately futile, we live in a world of headlines and algorithms.

The search algorithms aren’t too bothered about presenting a balanced story, they are presenting the popular story and the popular story at the moment, in the headlines, is that Microsoft Surface failed.

The natural thing to search for is surface fail, or nfl surface fail both of which start with the stories that have headlines that include the words surface and fail, it’s only lower down the list the more balanced headlines come out.

Search twitter for surface fail and it’s a bit easier to see the progression of the story because the results are presented on a timeline where later developments are reflected at the top. The algorithms aren’t having as much of an impact, but even there the top story is this one:

As I said in my disclaimer, I’m not commenting on whether the Microsoft Surface is any good, or not. What I was intrigued by was the progression of the story. The headline was one thing, the real story was another, the conclusions jumped to were incorrect and yet the overarching commentary remains with the headlines, remembering that the headlines have been cleverly constructed to appear high in the algorithms.

This challenge is nothing new, we’ve always had a story told to us by various agents. It used to be the newspapers:

You can never get all the facts from just one newspaper, and unless you have all the facts, you cannot make proper judgements about what is going on.

Harry S Truman

Now the story agents are on-line media, but we still have to remember that the story we are receiving is filtered and even manipulated. We need, therefore, to approach the on-line media with the same dose of suspicion that we approached the newspapers.

Just because all of the other fish are swimming in one direction doesn’t mean that they are swimming in the right direction.

Living with the algorithms

They are watching you

I’ve been struck recently by how much of our life is influenced, even controlled, by algorithms.

If you found his post through a search engine then you were only shown this post because an algorithm aligned my writing with your search terms. We trust these search algorithms so much that we rarely go to the second page of a set of results – our viewpoint of governed what we read and what we read is governed by the search algorithm. There’s a whole industry of people seeking to manipulate the results of the search algorithm to try to appear at the top of the list. Sometimes this is done with good intent, at other times it’s more malicious.

Facebook is fundamentally an algorithm. You don’t see every bit of content that your friends create, the Facebook algorithm decides for you. As you like things, reply to posts, unfollow people you are tuning the algorithm to your preferences. You are also tuning the corresponding advertising algorithm so that it knows what to try to sell you.

Twitter is a bit lighter on algorithms. At the top of your twitter feed are the last few tweets by people you follow in time order, but go a bit further down and you’re likely to come across a tweet that is an advert which is being shown to you because an algorithm decided you might like to see it. A bit further down and you’ll find a bar that says while you were away. The tweets that are shown below this bar have been chosen by an algorithm. Click or tap on Follow people and another algorithm will tell you who you might like to follow. The reason some malicious organisations reach out and follow lots of people is to try to manipulate this algorithm.

While you are tapping into your phone another algorithm is deciding what you’ve just typed – automatically correcting (or mangling) it for you.

Algorithms are looking through all of our email to try to decide which are SPAM or harmful.

Deep inside the computing device that you are using is another algorithm that is deciding how to manage the memory.

Algorithms aren’t limited to the on-line world though. Take any extended drive and the signalling that you’ve been presented is governed by an algorithm. Near my house there are multiple sets of traffic lights the scheduling of which is integrated together to give the best traffic flow (or at least that’s the theory).

The satnav system that you use to get you home is also using a set of algorithms to decide the best route and how to reroute you around traffic.

Flight scheduling is primarily done by algorithm; the price of the tickets is generated by another algorithm.

The algorithms that pollsters used to predict the last General Election result in the UK were forecasting a completely different result to the real outcome. Recent studies how highlighted where the algorithms need to be enhanced if they are going to get it right in the future.

The playlist used by most radio stations is based on an algorithm. The songs are then compressed and transmitted over the air using another algorithm.

Weather forecasters use massively complicated algorithms so that we can know that it’s going to rain again tomorrow.

The engine management system in your car has a whole set of algorithms which you can often manipulate to give you better economy or better performance.

If you go to the bank and ask for a loan, their answer to that question will be based on the output from an algorithm. The cost of your insurance policy is defined by an algorithm.

Look on Wikipedia at the list of algorithms and be amazed by its length.

Imagine what would happen if some of these algorithms started misbehaving or had to be turned off.

A number of people have experienced the impact of a misconfigured algorithm in their satnav and ended up in a river or down a dirt track. What would happen, though, if it was more significant than that? What would happen if all the algorithms went on strike? In the wrong hand the search algorithm could be made to manipulate the viewpoint of whole populations. Imagine being able to completely surprise a political viewpoint counter to your own?

Facebook used its algorithms in an experiment on people’s emotions. They were rightly criticised for this, but how do we know this kind of thing isn’t happening every day? For organisations like Facebook and Google the algorithm is the most closely guarded of all corporate assets because it is so valuable. I’m not wanting to scaremonger, I’m just pondering whether we have the right levels of controls in place for us to be confident that we aren’t being manipulated.

Today's interesting customer experience – the challenge is integrated experiences

I’m expecting a delivery today – it’s the delivery of a new mobile phone.

The delivery company has sent me an email to tell  me that they have sent me a text message stating the one hour slot when my new mobile phone will be delivered.

Unfortunately the mobile phone company have already processed the change and have disconnected my current SIM card.

The delivery company’s web site allows me to track the order, but does not tell me when they are planning on making the delivery.

Each of the components of this process have done what they were asked to do. Where this process has become broken is integration. It’s integration where most experiences break.

In technology we have a complexity problem. While the devices that we use may be getting simpler to use, we are using more of them and the integration between them is driving up the complexity. Some people think that the complexity is so severe that we are heading for a technology crash, maybe, I’m not sure. What do you think?