Human-Computer Interaction

I promised recently that I’d talk about a project I’m working on for the Human-Computer Interaction course I’m taking through Coursera.  The course takes us through a standard design process, starting with a very short and broad design brief and applying various methods to understand user needs.  Students move through 2-3 iterations of prototyping, beginning with low-fidelity prototypes using Balsamiq’s Mockups (a great tool, by the way), and advancing to higher-fidelity interactive prototypes using Justinmind’s Prototyper (I was less impressed with this tool – it has some serious usability issues itself, which seems ironic considering the space they’re in).  We create development plans, user testing plans, and conduct user testing, while also covering topic areas such as human cognition, visual representation, information design, heuristic evaluation, and creating and running experiments.  It’s a great hands-on course that also offers lots of theory and practical information if you have the time to dedicate to it, and if you don’t, there’s a lighter-weight track that offers all the lectures and quizzes without the hands-on project.

I chose to implement the hands-on project because I learn best by doing.  Having recently finished a Gamification course, and being a regular user of LinkedIn, it struck me that there really aren’t any broad, technology-based career or recruiting services that address career change or make the process of looking for a job a particularly fun or satisfying experience.

On the topic of career change, there seem to be too many companies complaining that they can’t find the resources they need, even with the ridiculous unemployment rates we’ve experienced in the past few years.  Add to that that people are living and working longer, and much more likely to have 2 or even 3 distinct “careers” over the course of their working lives, and you’d think this would be an opportunity someone would take a stab at.  I personally think there’s a need on both sides of the fence – companies need a broader pool of resources to pull from, and there are plenty of people that need jobs and can’t find them, or could use some help moving in new directions.  Jobs have become so specialized that it can be really difficult to shift after you have any significant experience.

On the topic of fun, I think a career site that focuses on more than just a place to post what amounts largely to an online version of a resume, and does so using gamification, would be a big hit with job seekers.  It can be disheartening to look for a job, especially when the path to the job you want isn’t obvious.  I think this calls for a service that analyzes existing skills and interests, while also mapping them to other compatible job types.  Think of a site that would be integrated with learning resources, give you the ability to test in certain skills, and reward you for building your skills or spending more time breaking down information about your history and interests.  A site that allows you to set multiple objectives so you can keep your eyes open for opportunities you might not normally think of yourself.

I could go on and on about this topic, but for now, I’ll share screen shots of both the low-fidelity and higher-fidelity prototypes from two screens in the project – the Home Page, and the page you’d see if you clicked on ‘Build my knowledge.’  In the end, my idea was a bit too big for the course, so I’m not going to be able to flesh everything out that I originally had in mind, but I’ve had fun with the concept and it’s gotten me thinking about not only literal design, but also about a real life problem that I think needs a solution.

Early prototype of Home page made with Balsamiq Mockups

Higher-fidelity prototype of the Home page

Early prototype of the Knowledge center screen made with Balsamiq Mockups

Missing Features: LinkedIn

I use a lot of software, and I spend a lot of time using most of the applications I use.  Sometimes I am particularly frustrated with missing or poorly implemented features.  Other times, I’m not necessarily frustrated, but still stumble upon thoughts or ideas about features I think would be a great addition to a product.  Since I periodically post about the clever or well-designed features I notice, I thought it appropriate to write about the converse as well.

First, let me start by saying I think LinkedIn is a great company.  They offer a very useful service, and in the past year or two, I have relied almost entirely on LinkedIn when searching for job opportunities.  There are a couple of areas where I think they fall short, though.

Saved Searches

The concept of saved searches and associated email notifications of jobs that match your search criteria is a must-have for any job posting service today.  LinkedIn offers this feature, but it doesn’t seem to consistently work.  I have found that over time, I stop getting emails, and it’s not because there are no jobs that match my search.  While I can’t prove this beyond a doubt, my experience is that I can run the saved search from the LinkedIn site and see results even when I’m not getting emails.  If I delete and recreate the saved search, the notices will start coming again.

I imagine that the volume of automated emails that LinkedIn sends is significant, but that’s a feature that has to be absolutely rock-solid.  Too many professionals don’t have time to come to the website to run searches on a regular basis, especially if their interest in new opportunities is fairly passive.  Not to mention, those emails don’t simply provide a service to users – they represent a significant channel through which LinkedIn gets people to come back to their site.

My last complaint about saved searches is that they are not editable.  The ‘Settings’ link below each saved search allows you to change only the email notification frequency.  None of the search settings themselves are even viewable, let alone editable.  Some simple features that allow users to copy and modify saved searches would be very welcome.

General Search Features

When you run any job search on LinkedIn, you have a variety of ‘Refine By’ options to narrow down your results if you so choose.  This is great and also necessary from a feature perspective.  What would be even better, though, would be the ability to EXCLUDE certain values.  For instance, there are some recruiting companies out there that I’m not particularly a fan of.  I would really love to be able to exclude them from all of my searches.  To be fair, when I run my search, I can go down to the ‘Refine By … Company’ section, un-check the box for ‘All Companies,’ then re-check the boxes for all the companies except the one I don’t want to look at.  But, that’s crazy.  There’s no way I’m going to do that for every search I run.  If I could store some global search settings, though, I wouldn’t have to worry about it.  I’d extend this ability to other search criteria, as well, like City.  For those of us that live in major metro areas, we might want to do a 25 mile radius search, but filter out some particular cities or areas that fall within that radius.

As a side note, if you combine a feature like this with a feedback mechanism, you could end up with a new value-add service for employers posting jobs.  If I chose to explicitly exclude a particular employer from my searches, I’d be happy to provide the reason why I’m excluding them.  If I were an employer that relied heavily on a service like LinkedIn, I’d want to know why potential candidates didn’t want to see my job openings in their searches.

I’ll close by saying again that I really like LinkedIn, and I think they are the premier place to look for jobs, build a professional profile, and create and stay in touch with your network in an increasingly distributed professional world.  I’m excited to see where the company goes in the future, and I think they have a lot of opportunities to develop additional features to make their service even better for both job seekers and employers.

E-Book Readers and Big Data

The July article, “Your E-Book is Reading You,” published in the Wall Street Journal, is an excellent example of how marketers can use big data to learn more about what consumers are doing, thus tailoring what they offer the public.

“Barnes & Noble has determined, through analyzing Nook data, that nonfiction books tend to be read in fits and starts, while novels are generally read straight through, and that nonfiction books, particularly long ones, tend to get dropped earlier. Science-fiction, romance and crime-fiction fans often read more books more quickly than readers of literary fiction do, and finish most of the books they start. Readers of literary fiction quit books more often and tend skip around between books.”

While it’s clear that a primary objective of B&N (or any other company operating in this space) is to make more money by learning about consumer reading behavior, I see plenty of opportunity for this data to be beneficial to individual users, too.  The article states that B&N reviews data in terms of groups of readers, not individuals, though it’s not clear whether they do so for consumer privacy or other reasons.  Personally, were I offered the ability to view statistics and information about my own reading habits, I would happily opt in to a program as long as my data couldn’t be shared for the wrong reasons or without my permission.  Here’s why.

1 – The software and devices have the ability to track how quickly I read.  That’s interesting information to me.  Assume an average reading pace was established for me, and I was reading a particular piece more slowly than normal.  Perhaps that’s because the material is difficult to digest.  I might really like to have new features enabled in the piece I’m reading, such as links to other related explanatory materials – word definitions, wikipedia entries, whatever.  I can imagine this having educational applications, as well.  iPad popularity has exploded in public education.  Imagine content designed with features that could help educators track the skill level of readers and tailor assistance and interventions based on detailed data profiles for students.

2 – I am an avid reader, and though I don’t read on my iPad or Kindle all that often, I might increase the time I spend on those devices if I felt I’d get legitimately strong recommendations for further reading.  Amazon is in an obvious position to capitalize on this, and you might argue they already do so via their primary e-commerce website.  But imagine how much more relevant their recommendations might be if they could analyze data from within a book (the lines or phrases I highlight, the bookmarks I place, etc.), and not just based on the titles I’ve purchased with them.

3 – Similar to my point about recommending related or similar reading, there are other recommendations that could be relevant to specific kinds of readers.  For instance, if I read multiple books by a particular author, I might want to know if that author is going to be speaking at a conference or signing books in my area.  If I tend towards academic reading, I might want to know about related courses offered by local or online universities.

4 – Often we are measured for job opportunities based on degrees and job experience, and not much more.  If I invested significant time reading and learning about topics that might be relevant to my career, or even a career change, imagine the benefit of being able to integrate information about what I’ve read into my LinkedIn profile.  I can currently link to my GoodReads page if I want to, or incorporate an Amazon reading list – but these lists don’t show I’ve actually read any of the material.

There are probably plenty of additional ideas around how this data could be used not only for a seller’s benefit, but for a consumer’s benefit, and I believe success with Big Data is going to be “bigger” when both parties are served.