Archive for October, 2008


Can I have some context with that please?

21 October, 2008

I’m getting more and more of the view that ‘context’ is the missing ingredient in some many services that are designed, both online and on mobile.¬†

I’ve talked about soft personalisation, and the idea that people will happily just through hoops to tell you about themselves if you give them a good reason (like improving their experience, finding the content they like, telling them about places that are open now, or serve the fool they like best). But most of the time, I think we find it far too easy to build a ‘one-size-fits-all’ offering and just let the consumers do all the hard work.

Context is different to personalisation. Context is thinking about the ‘where’ and ‘how’ and ‘what before this’ that people have done that should influence what you do next with them. Yes, it’s about making some assumptions that are designed to improve their experience, but it isn’t about limiting what they can do, just structuring it better. And no, I don’t mean rearranging the options on a menu – that’s far too confusing for people!

So, some examples:

It’s 10am on Friday morning. You access an online gig guide. What are you really¬†interested in? Most likely – what is on this weekend, particularly Saturday and Sunday. So let’s put the weekend highlights up the top, then give you the ‘what’s on’ in date order.

Let’s compare that with the same access made at 6pm on a Friday night. What are they looking for now? Likely what is on tonight, maybe near here, maybe soon. So let’s put tonight’s highlights up the top and then provide the recommendations for the rest of the weekend.

Could we be wrong? Of course! But we’ve not removed anything, just picked a different feature to highlight.

Another example. I am looking for a car. On Tuesday at 2pm, from my computer, I start a search. I am likely checking out what is available, reviewing my options, seeing what’s in the market. But if I access that exact same site from my mobile phone at 11am on a Saturday – there is a really good chance that I am standing in front of a car and want to know how this one stacks up against other similar ones. Same site, different device, different context.

But apply the right rules:

  • no changes of menu options (we learn those, so be consistent)
  • tailor the results to likely context, but don’t limit my options to chose differently
  • if you konw things about me that can help (like the shortlist of cars I made on Tuesday, or the music I usually like to go and see) – use this to make it even easier

This is even more important on mobile. I keep seeing sites where people think getting an internet site on a mobile phone is rocket science. It isn’t. It’s dumb unless you do something smart with it.

Like put it in context.