Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Puzzling Phone Algorithm; Virtual Reality Consumer Product Research

Recently I had a conversation with Franz Dill, who maintains one of the most prolific blogs I have run into. The name of his blog is The Eponymous Pickle, and you might want to think about that name. Once you figure out what that title is all about, you'll have a window into what a conversation with Franz is like. Without letting the cat completely out of the bag I'll just say...really interesting and loaded with ideas.

Before we even got into "the real conversation" something interesting happened. We were discussing the fact that I was on Skype from my computer and he was on Skype from a mobile phone. In comparing our reception quality (which was fine) I noted that if he had another call come through that the Skype call would be dropped. The first time it happened to me it was quite puzzling. One moment the person I was talking to was there, the next moment he was gone. poof. No warning for either of us, just - gone. Franz suggested this was probably the result of call prioritization.

Hmm? Now, looking back on it I'm wondering - that seems like an odd arrangement. Who wrote the software that made the decision that a current call should drop if a new one comes in? Did anyone test that out on users? It doesn't follow usual phone protocol. It also doesn't lead to a positive interaction moment, and in the case of a critical negotiation for example, could be quite disruptive. Why do you think they (whoever "they" is) wrote the algorithm that way?

Moving of the interesting things Franz and I discussed was his role in creating the first Innovation Center at Proctor & Gamble. The Center was (and still is) used to creatively experiment with the impact on consumers of various home and store environments. They took over a warehouse in the middle of a cornfield and built a house inside it (yes, you read that right) and later built a store next to the house - inside the warehouse. Apparently one reason to build a house inside a warehouse was so they could make constructive adjustments to the facility (such as punching holes in the wall :)  for the purpose of improved experimentation and monitoring. Presumably, having your own house in a warehouse meant that the house could be recreated and repurposed over and over again as needed.

Franz and his colleagues performed all sorts of experiments with real consumer/users and these experiments eventually moved into the realm of virtual reality. For example, they created wall size displays that people could interact with (you can see a picture of one and read about it in detail in the Eponymous Pickle).

I wonder if the current development team is working on a 3-D virtual store yet. Imagine what it would be like not only to look at and touch the wall display but to reach out and pick up items items off a virtual shelf and put them in a virtual shopping cart. Or perhaps pick up virtual items and put them in a physical shopping cart. The technology to do this exists. I didn't ask Franz about 3-D virtual consumer experimentation and I wish I had.

What do you think the consumers/users reaction to virtual 3-D shopping would be? (That!)

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