Tag Archives: new scientist

Online eye contact triggers altruism

This week I presented my C2 training course, Web Design & Content that Delivers ROI, at Proven Direct. One technique I discussed was the uncanny ability of a type of online graphic to attract attention (as measured by eye scan heatmaps) and move people to action. A lot of ads have used this technique, either intentionally or accidentally.

The technique: Have a person in your ad look directly at the user.

One example I gave was about a coffee station at a university with an “honors system” money collection jar. When the pricing sheet on the wall included the eyes of a person looking back out at the coffee drinkers, the money collected in the jar more than doubled, compared to weeks when the photo used was of a field of flowers. The photo could include any human, as long as the gaze was straight out.

What’s more, apparently the gaze does not necessarily have to be convincingly human — instead, just human-like. The graphic you see to the right depicts an application of this is fascinating technique described in New Scientist magazine. Here’s the account, as I described it to my class:

The researchers split the group into two. Half made their choices undisturbed at a computer screen, while the others were faced with a photo of Kismet — ostensibly not part of the experiment.

The players who gazed at the cute robot gave 30 per cent more to the pot than the others. (Investigators Terry) Burnham and (Brian) Hare believe that at some subconscious level they were aware of being watched. Being seen to be generous might mean an increased chance of receiving gifts in future or less chance of punishment …

Burnham believes that even though the parts of our brain that carry out decision-making know that the robot image is just that, Kismet’s eyes trigger something more deep-seated. We can manipulate altruistic behaviour with a pair of fake eyeballs because ancient parts of our brain fail to recognise them as fake, he says.

Keep this in mind where you are seeking to design an ad or interface that you don’t want overlooked.

If you’re in the Milwaukee or Madison areas, please be sure to attend my second course, presented by C2: Web Analytics That Clients Love. It will be held in Madison on April 27, and Milwaukee on May 11. Either of these presentations is just $69, but the Milwaukee course continues its $59 Early-Bird Pricing for another 12 days.

I hope to see you there!

What was sorely missing from yesterday’s iPad unveiling was … Graffiti?!?

The iPad, unveiled WednesdayYesterday’s unveiling of the Apple tablet, which we now know is called the iPad, showed a device with a larger surface than the iPhone / iPod Touch. It allows for a better reading and video experience and provides improved ways to do things like manage emails and photographs. Largely unaddressed with this release is a far more important question: How will this multi-touch make me  better at thinking and creating?

Rocking the PDA old skool with Palm’s Graffiti

Return with me for a moment to a simpler time, before smartphones got “smart.”

It was a time when the handheld device du jour was a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). In the 1990’s, Palm released their Pilot PDA. These Treos, sans cell phone required a stylus for text entry. There was no QWERTY keyboard, and not even a cell phone number pad.

The user needed to learn a type of stylus script called Graffiti to get text into the thing. Some people got good enough to write with something close to the speed of traditional longhand. Personally, as a lefty, I found it more comfortable to use Graffiti than to write in longhand. I didn’t have to think about the angle of the paper in relation to my contorted left hand. Smearing ink wasn’t an issue.

This was many people’s introduction to a computer user interface beyond the keyboard. There was a lot wrong with it, though. Styluses are a pain to use. And many Palm users found Graffiti so difficult to use that they simply called up a hunt-and-peck keyboard. Here’s a YouTube demo of it in use.

For me the golden promise of multi-touch monitors is not the ability to flick through photo galleries or zoom into a map — as cool as those functions are. Ever since the first mass market multi-touch keyboard was made available with the invention of the iPhone, I was waiting for a faster way to record thoughts.

I was hoping yesterday to learn of a gestural script — a Graffiti without the stylus.

What’s so wrong with QWERTY keyboards?

Whether displayed on an iPhone, an iPod Touch, or now the iPad — old-fashioned keyboards simply don’t free the user to quickly jot something down and get back to work.

Instead, these devices force users to leave the fluid, intuitive work of (let’s face it!) grown-up finger painting. The appearance of the QWERTY keyboard sends them marching back indoors like a recess bell. Ugh! The taps of fingers on keys — even ultra-modern keys, projected on slick glass iPad surface — still evoke the drudgery of an oppressive cubicle farm.

I know this sounds a little glib, but think about it. Our speed of productive output are in many ways limited by our office supplies. Give someone a soul-crushing keyboard to think with and you’ll be producing something constrained by that medium. If their work soars, it’s in spite of the keyboard, not aided by it. In 2003, Jeff Han demonstrated to cheers the full effect of a multi-touch experience. I predicted then that this technology will quickly change the very nature of our work experience.

Apple knows this.

There have been accounts of Apple applying for and receiving patents on what would be the building blocks of a new gestural interface. New Scientist recently recounted the patents Apple has applied for to tap into “touch or hover” and “gesture dictionary.” That day may arrive with a new version of the iPad. It cannot come soon enough.

Related post:

  • Jeff Han’s demonstration of multi-touch screens
  • Research proves it: People like it when your web site is nice to them

    As mentioned earlier in this blog, Daniel Pink has done informal research into how your web site’s prompts and error messages could stand a little humanity. Now there is formal research to back this up. New Scientist magazine (paid registration required) covers research that proves “computer glitches would be a lot less annoying if the machines were programmed to acknowledge errors gracefully:”

    The trick, according to a researcher who has analysed users’ responses to their computers, is to make operating systems and software more “civilised” by saying sorry more often. That way people won’t feel they are stupid or at fault, so they become less apprehensive about using computers, and perhaps more productive and creative.

    National Tsing Hua University’s Jeng-Yi Tzeng is quoted in the article as being inspired by the Chinese saying, “No one would blame a polite person.” He wondered if this applied equally to “polite” computers.

    So Tzeng wrote a couple of versions of the same computerized guessing game, and recruited nearly three hundred students to play one version or the other. The control group got a brusque version, and the test group, an apologetic one.

    The game’s goal was to guess a Chinese saying, but annoyingly, the program often made users guess the same sayings again and again. It was also unhelpful in the clues it supplied during the guessing process. The control group received a typical set of error messages, but the test group saw messages such as, “We are sorry that the clues were not very helpful for you. Please try the next game.”

    After half an hour’s play, users of both versions were equally disappointed with the game itself. But those who had played on the apologetic version were more likely to describe it as fun, and 60 per cent of them said the apologetic feedback made the game more enjoyable.

    However, apologies made no difference to 25 per cent of them, and 12 per cent said they felt they were being manipulated. Tzeng will report his findings in a forthcoming edition of the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.

    “It is what I expected,” comments Eric Horvitz, manager of Microsoft’s Adaptive Systems and Interaction Group. “Arrogant software rubs people up the wrong way just like an arrogant person would.”

    The take-away: Take another look at the error messages you show your prospective and current customers. Although hyper-politeness can be as grating in certain cultures as bluntness, softening messages, and making more “human, ” can only serve to improve outcomes.